Yoga to relieve holiday stress

Laura Luft

Have you noticed how the joy of the holidays can often get lost in the stress that accompanies finding the “perfect” gift or keeping up with the myriad other things on your holiday to-do list.

Yoga is here to the rescue.

Yoga is much more than the physical practice that you may see in magazines, on television or at the gym. If you thought that yoga was all about bending and twisting your body into pretzel-like shapes, it’s time to rethink.

Yoga is a dynamic practice, it changes your body as well as your mind.  When you bring your attention to your breath and your physical alignment in the postures, the mind has the opportunity to tune inward, to focus, to become more attentive, and more aware of the moment, now.

Through this practice, there is a realization that now is the only moment there is, that we must enjoy it to the fullest because it will be gone before we know it and why should we let the stress of the holidays take away our ability to enjoy the moment.

But how does this work, you may ask?

Yoga, through its focus on the breath, brings us back to our natural state of being in balance encouraging the nervous system to move into a state of “rest” (Now) versus a state of “fight or flight” (Holiday stress).

In this way, yoga offers the body as well as the mind a time to heal from stress-related symptoms.

And its as simple as breathing.

As you know, breathing does not require conscious awareness; our breath happens regardless of whether we focus on it or not.  However, when we bring our conscious awareness to the breath, the mind becomes anchored on this moment, what is happening right now, away from what has occurred in the past and not worrying or planning for what may happen in the future.

This moment brings us into the present which is free of past grievances as well as future expectations.  It is here where the mind can find peace and serenity and where the body can be at ease and in balance.

And it all begins with the conscious awareness of the breath.  When you add to that the physical practice of moving your body in rhythm with the breath, you have found the pathway to peace, a calm mind, an inner stillness and the natural state of being in balance.

To begin conscious breathing, come into any comfortable position, seated or lying down.  Take a few moments to scan your body and make any adjustments to your position to find ease.

Now begin to watch your breath.  Breathing through the nostrils, if possible (a cleaner and more focused breath), follow the journey of the inhale as it fills your body and watch the pathway of the breath as it leaves your body on the exhale.  Simple and easy, inhale… exhale.

It may seem so for a few moments, until your mind starts to wander, and you realize you are not watching your breath anymore but planning where to go tomorrow to purchase another gift.  And then (this is the fun part!) without judgement or any negativity, simple smile, realize that your mind has wandered, because that is what our minds tend to do, and return once again to the journey of your breath.

Take some time to consciously breath, giving yourself anywhere from a few to 20 minutes.  And then notice as you return to your regular day, how your mindset has shifted, how your shoulders are relaxed away from your ears, how your lower back may have released and how your mind is calmer and clearer.

Conscious breath is only a part of the yoga practice.  Yoga is a moving meditation as the body and the mind stay in tune to the rhythm of the breath.  As a moving meditation, this practice is not just meant as a physical exercise.

The practice of yoga enhances our abilities to focus, to become clear in our thoughts and to get to know ourselves, to calm ourselves, to heal and to awaken to life and to this moment.  We do yoga to discover our passion, to celebrate our experiences and to uncover our inner peace.

The genius of yoga is that you start where you are.  You don’t have to be fit or thin, you don’t have to be young or flexible.  There are no preconditions to be met, nothing to wait for.

You can and should begin now, right where you are.  Start with one conscious breath followed by another.  After you’ve gotten in touch with the breath, start to move your arms up and over your head in rhythm with your breath.

Inhale, arms rise, exhale, arms come down by your sides.  Continue this simple movement of connecting mind and body through the breath to find a state of ease, a calm mind and allow the stress of the holidays to be replaced by a presence to the moment that you are celebrating!

Leslie Luft is owner of Absolute Yoga at 1 Guilles Lane in Woodbury. For more information call,  516-682-9642  or visit


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