The holidays are upon us, and so are soaring levels of stress, anxiety and depression. The happiest time of the year? For many, not so much. At the end of every semester, I ask my yoga students at the University where I teach to write a paper summarizing the benefits they have received from their yoga practice. It’s staggering to me the number of young people who report suffering from depression, general anxiety disorder (GAD), sleep disorders, and general stress.
The good news is that yoga has turned out to be one of the best things they have found to alleviate the symptoms and give them some moments of peace. There is some evidence to support yoga as a complementary treatment for GAD. In one study, participation in a two-month yoga class resulted in significantly lower perceived anxiety in women with anxiety disorders. In particular, research suggests that yoga may be effective for anxiety disorders because of its focus on the present moment and bodily sensations, which keeps the mind focused, rather than wandering to worry or anxious thoughts.
If you’re suffering from any of these conditions, consider asking Santa for a yoga DVD or a pass to your local yoga studio. Here are some practices that have been found to help with relaxation when life gets crazy:
Balance. Tree Pose is a good place to start. Stand on one foot and place the other foot on the inside of your lower leg or inner thigh (avoid the knee). Fix your gaze on a spot that is not moving and tune into your breath. Just the act of finding balance is calming. Try to hold this pose for 10 breaths on each leg.
Go Upside Down. Inversions like headstands are calming and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. If the thought of standing on your head creates stress, just lie on your back, place a pillow under your hips, and stick your legs up in the air. Stay in this restorative pose for several breaths with your eyes closed. Listen to the sound of your breath and let that take your attention off of your worries, if even for a few minutes.
Savasana (Corpse Pose). Lie flat on your back for 5-10 minutes. You can place a pillow under your knees if that relieves pressure in your low back. Use an eye pillow or a soft towel sprinkled with Lavender. Tune into the rhythm of your breath. Four counts in, four counts out. Imagine that with every exhalation, tension is melting from your muscles. Physically relax one body part at a time. Start with large muscles like your quadriceps, your abs, your calves. Then, relax small body parts. Your eyelids. Your cheeks. Your toes. By coming into awareness of your body and it’s rhythms, you are taking a mini vacation from the endless chatter in your mind that is the real cause of your stress.
Try these three exercises every day for seven days, and let me know how they help you.
Here’s to happy, healthy, stress free holidays!
For more fitness and yoga tips, visit my website: www.DeniseDruce.com.
(Photo courtesy of Gabriella Fabbri)