With the holidays in our rearview mirror, you’ve likely spent the last few weeks having endless family time, friend gatherings, giving, sharing, cooking, cocktails and of course, indulging. With all of that, there comes a whole lot of hustle and bustle and, yes, stress. Even if you love every minute of the busy, festive season, it’s hard not to run yourself ragged. Skimping on sleep, not eating healthy, balanced meals and sipping too many cocktails can leave you feeling fatigued and stressed. Worse, the combo can even play out on your skin in the form of dryness, redness and dullness. Carving out some time to do something good for your mind and body in the new year will help you feel balanced and calm and recharge your batteries when you’re running on empty. Enter yoga to reduce stress.
According to Nicholas Perricone, MD, in his book Forever Young, the word yoga comes from Sanskrit and means “to yoke” or “to unite.” That’s because this ancient form of exercise bridges the mind and body through movement and breathwork. Yoga gives you the ability to check in with yourself and go deeper in your own body via a series of challenging poses. “Yoga offers the opportunity to wake up the body, to bring a sense of alertness and awareness to our physical self,” says Dr. Perricone.
How does yoga benefit your health?
The list is lengthy. Yoga has an almost meditative benefit, “As you match your breath with the poses, your mind quiets,” says Dr. Perricone. Yoga also offers a sense of control, which is something that can be hard to come by in this busy, unpredictable world. By allowing you to practice a sequence of different poses and concentrating on breathing to delve deeper and learn how to check in with your body, yoga empowers and helps you focus on the things we can control — such as your well-being.
Through meditative breathwork and instilling a sense of control, you get a natural reduction in stress and anxiety. Still, Dr. Perricone says yoga also helps bring your stress hormones such as cortisol into balance, which can help you feel calm — and not in a constant state of flight and fight when times are tense. Elevated levels of stress hormones have been linked to high blood pressure amongst other health issues. Research has shown that those who practice yoga regularly have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Another small study found that those who practiced yoga for three months reduced cytokines, proteins that cause inflammation.
Yoga has also been proven to be helpful for bone health. Bone density naturally decreases with age, but weight-bearing exercise can help offset the loss. Thirty minutes of a day is the general recommendation for bone health, but a large-scale, 10-year study showed that just 12 minutes a day of yoga was enough to improve bone density in the spine and femur successfully. Weight-bearing yoga poses are essential for bone health. “They also improve joint mobility, lubricate joints and boost overall strength,” says Dr. Perricone.
Yoga Poses for Stress Relief
It’s helpful to know the best poses to keep you feeling balanced and recharged when you’re extra busy. Here are three easy-to-do yoga moves Dr. Perricone recommends in his book Forever Young to do daily during the holidays (and beyond), so you can keep calm and carry on with the merriment.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
Step 1: Stand on your mat with your feet about four feet apart. Extend your arms out to both sides.
Step 2: Now turn your right foot 90 degrees outward and turn your left foot slightly inward. Exhale as you bend your torso to the right and place your right hand on your right shin or the floor behind your ankle.
Step 3: Open your chest toward the ceiling and glance upward. Roll your left shoulder back, and raise your left arm toward the ceiling.
Step 4: Inhale and exhale for five breaths. Then slowly come back to a stand. Switch sides and repeat.
Seated Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Step 1: Sit on the floor with both legs extended out in front of you.
Step 2: Bend your knees and place your left foot under your right leg and your right foot over your left leg.
Step 3: Press your left foot flat against the floor with your right knee pointing toward the ceiling. Lengthen your spine and gently twist toward the right while pressing your right hand onto the mat just behind your pelvis.
Step 4: Place your left elbow on the outside of your right thigh. Lengthen a little more with each breath. Hold for five breaths. Then switch sides.
Supported Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Step 1: Sit in a seated position on the floor, spine long and your legs extended out in front of you.
Step 2: Use your hands to roll the tops of your thighs inward. Extend both legs, pressing out through your heels.
Step 3: Now place a rolled-up blanket or bolster across the tops of your thighs. Keeping your torso long, lead with your sternum and move from your hip joints to bend forward. Hold the sides of your feet or your shins. Rest your forehead on the blanket or bolster.
Step 4: As you inhale, lift your chest slightly. On the exhale, sink deeper into the pose. Release into the pose for one to three minutes.
Doing yoga to reduce stress may be key for not only surviving but thriving this holiday season. Make a commitment to your self-care by finding at least 15 minutes to hit the mat and reap the benefits of feeling calm, recharged and rejuvenated.