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Stressed? Getting the Grinch Out of Christmas with Yoga

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Sure, you want to deck the halls and be merry, but with the traffic at shopping malls, the interesting personalities of friends and relatives at family gatherings, and the incessant holiday music spouting from every possible storefront, can make a person feel downright crazy during the holidays. Thankfully, yoga can be a great way to restore your sanity at a time when most people are starting to feel a little less than full of holiday cheer. Here are 4 ways yoga can bring out the joy in the holidays and eliminate the grinch:

  1. Yoga changes your physiological response to stress. Let’s face it, you can’t change other people, but you change you. When you focus on your own breath and keeping calm during a yoga class benefits train your body and brain to stay calm when you are out in the ‘real world,’ even during the holiday crazies. Specifically, yoga helps to minimize the fight or flight response, (also called hyper-arousal) which happens when we are faced with


    perceived danger or extreme levels of stress. While the nervous system developed this response as a means to engage the body in extreme muscular action, it isn’t so helpful for dealing with long lines at the toy store or staying patient when your in-laws want to talk politics at Christmas dinner. Yoga counteracts the following responses in the body which happen when we are stressed:

  • Blood vessel constriction
  • The acceleration of the heart and lungs
  • The release of adrenaline and noradrenaline, as well as Cortisol
  • Relaxation of the bladder
  • Tightening of the sphincster muscle
  • Loss of hearing
  • Tunnel vision
  • Loss of sexual appetite
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Shaking
  • Spinal reflexes are overly promoted

In liu of these actions, yoga helps to promote:

·       The creation of happy hormones like melatonin and seratonin

·       The calming of the heart rate and respiratory rate

·       The widening of the vision and perception

·       The relaxation of muscles, tendons and fascia

·       A greater acceptance of things as they are without resistance

  1. Yoga Helps Change Your Breathing Patterns. When we are stressed out we tend to hold our breath. During the holidays this tendency is exaggerated. In ancient yogic teachings, animals were used to describe the ideal type of breath to live a long life. Animals who have slow respiratory rates, like elephants, live a very long life, and those with very short respiratory rates, like dogs and squirrels have a significantly shorter lifespan. When you breathe a yogic breath, one that is deep and utilizes the diaphragm instead of just the upper portion of the lungs, you are able to increase your lung capacity and induce what Dr. Herbert Benson calls the ‘relaxation response.’ While the first steps toward practicing a yogic breath come from doing it in a class, you can also practice it while you are driving in circles at the mall or dealing with other holiday stressors. Not only will you calm the nervous system and brain, you will take your attention away from the perceived annoyance you are experiencing and take it instead, to the great practice of breathing for better health and longevity.
  1. Poses like Uttanasana and Shavasana take the Yuck out of Christmas. Several asana like standing forward fold and corpse pose, plow pose and shoulder stand are wonderful for reducing stress and allowing you to chill out when things get crazy. Forward folds and inversions change a sour mood, and the restorative pose of Shavasana resets your entire nervous system so that you can face another day of Christmas shopping without wanting to go postal. Just one yoga pose, has tremendous effects on your body. Take Halasana (Plow Pose), for example. It does all of this:

·       Tones and strengthens the muscles of the back, the legs, and abdominal muscles. It helps to relieve pressure and rigidity that has built up in the spine.

·       Stimulates nutrient rich blood flow to the spinal muscles, especially putting pressure on the neck muscles, which are predominantly sympathetic (meaning they induce relaxation instead of stress).

·       Increases the health of the thyroid, parathyroid, thymus and pituitary glands, all of which help promote the functioning of the other systems within the body.

·       Improves elasticity of the spine and reduces shoulder and neck tension.

·       Improves digestion and eliminates constipation. This is essential during the holidays when we tend to stray from a normally healthy eating regime.

·       Supports the actions of the liver, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys.

·       Helps to promote the immune system.

·       Helps to induce a sense of withdrawal into the self (called pratyahara in Sanskrit) that can help us tune out of the holiday chaos and into a greater sense of peace available to us internally.

  1. Yoga Helps Put the Fight Back in Our Immune Systems. Extra stress puts us at risk of getting sick. The holidays are already stressful enough without having to deal with a Christmas cold or New Year’s flu. When we are drained or exhausted, our bodies are more susceptible to disease due to stress’s dampening of the immune system. Yoga helps to promote the creation of lymphocytes, the body’s natural fighter of foreign invaders. These important white blood cells eliminate viruses and bacteria, and when we practice yoga, they get an extra boost, so we can stay healthy and strong during the holidays.