Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner. With the rise in COVID cases and restrictions on travel, a large majority of people might not be able to see family or friends. No turkey or pie-induced food coma or football-screeching. Yes, this is necessary to save lives, slow the spread of the virus, and ease the burden on our hospitals. Can we agree that navigating the holidays will be triggering and disappointing for many of us? Think of people who live alone. Or the ones who are estranged from their families. The pandemic will add to the loneliness and negatively impact mental health.
This is where yoga comes in. Yoga isn’t voodoo. There is science behind how it works and what are the health benefits. I have had a daily yoga practice for over 15 years now. During the pandemic, yoga has been both cathartic and therapeutic. It reminds me constantly that the only thing we have control over are our thoughts. Yes, the physical practice of yoga has been great for my flexibility and posture (remote working isn’t fun on the back). But it’s also been healing for my mental and emotional health as each week brings new uncertainties.
I often ask my students and clients to get into Balasana or Child’s Pose and stay anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. It’s a resting pose that works as a deep forward bend. Child’s Pose helps to stretch the hips, thighs, and ankles while reducing stress and fatigue. It gently relaxes the muscles on the front of the body while softly and passively stretching the muscles of the back torso. This resting pose centers, calms, and soothes the brain, making it a therapeutic posture for relieving stress. When performed with the head and torso supported, it can also help relieve back and neck pain.
When I asked Zoe Isaacson —(Instagram @skybranches) a yoga teacher who specializes in teaching prenatal and restorative yoga and whose yoga classes I turn to for compassionate practice — what asanas she would recommend to ease into holiday stress, Zoe suggested three grounding poses:
1) Warrior 1: Start from a standing position. Feel the ground beneath your feet and take a few deep breaths. Step your right foot back for Warrior 1. Turn your back foot at a 45-degree angle. Press down on the outer edge of the pinky toe and lift the arches of your feet. Bend the front knee over the ankle and press your seat down towards the floor. Work the thighs towards each other as you lift the belly in and up, while the tailbone lengthens down. Allow the shoulders to roll away from the ears and extend the arms up to the sky in a wide “V” shape. Palms can rotate open towards one another while shoulders rest down away from the ears. For tighter shoulders, reach the arms forward or place a cactus bend in the elbows. Take 5-8 even breaths. Feel grounded through your feet and legs and steady with your breath. Switch sides. Repeat on the other side.
2) Constructive rest: Place a folded blanket at the top of your practice space. Lie down on your back. Rest your head and neck on the blanket for support while the shoulders can rest on the ground. Bend knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor. Knees can touch together, and the feet can widen out towards the edges of your mat or practice space to release and soften the low back. Place an additional heavier folded blanket on top of the hips and pelvis, for extra grounding. One hand can go on the heart, one on the belly. Else, keep the hands alongside the body. Take a couple of even breaths through the nose, feeling the breath move beneath your hands. Stay any amount of time to feel the earth support you.
3) Viparita Karani: Place a soft, folded blanket against the wall without any wrinkles or bumps. Place one hip towards the wall, and then swing your legs against the wall, while you lower yourself to the floor with your hands. Make sure you aren’t too far away so your leg muscles don’t have to “work” to stay there. Take a pillow or a rolled blanket under the thighs to relax the muscles, so you don’t have to strain to keep the shape. Cover your feet, legs and chest with a blanket so you are nestled in, and use an eye pillow, eye mask or washcloth to cover the eyes. Relax the arms down by your side. Put bags of rice or eye pillows in each palm to feel grounded. Imagine the heaviness, the fatigue and tiredness of your legs releasing. Ease into the ground taking as much time here as you need to restore and calm the nervous system. To come out of the shape, bend your knees and bring the thighs to your belly. Roll on to one side and come up to sit.
“I think it’s interesting that the opposite of being active in yoga is not being passive. It’s being receptive.” ~ Cyndi Lee
According to Irene Gutleber, a 200-hour registered yoga teacher who first discovered yoga as a college student in Washington, DC, “One of my favorite grounding asanas is tadasana or mountain pose. It might not be the first pose most think of when it comes to a ‘grounding’ asana, but I love to use it for that purpose. During class I’ll often have my students pause in tadasana for a few breaths. I tell them to feel their feet rooting into the floor. From there, they can lengthen through the spine and find the space between each pair of vertebrae. They may even begin to feel taller. From there, let go of any tension in the shoulders. Let the shoulder blades work together towards the back of the spine; find broadness in the chest. Last, lift the chin slightly and gaze forward. I especially love this pose in context with the holiday season. Not only is it grounding, but by standing up straight and broadening through the collarbones, one automatically gets a sense of confidence. So many times, during the holiday season, we are forced into old roles and relationships that might take a toll on our self-esteem. Standing in the mountain pose for a few breaths can help to bring back a sense of self. Also, when we are generally anxious, we tend to curl up, rounding out shoulders and spine. This pose invites the opposite movements to counteract anxiety.”
“Yoga is not a work-out; it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice: to make us teachable, to open up our hearts, and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” ~ Rolf Gates