01/23/2013 03:34 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

Yoga and Stress Relief: Benefits From the Mat

The holidays may be over, but my body still bears the residue. I'm bloated and weary from too many glasses of wine and midnight awakening. Let's not even talk about Aunt Becky's white chocolate pretzels -- an extra large tin this year, thanks so much.

The skin beneath my cheeks has started bringing its own bag. Yes, I'm getting a jowl.

I shouldn't be surprised. I know the way this works. But I guess my inner wisdom took a holiday hiatus, too. Now, the truth is staring back at me in the mirror: We carry our stress in our physical being.

Or, as my beloved teacher used to say, "The issues are in the tissues."

Yoga teacher Hala Khouri is trained in somatic therapy, a system for identifying and discharging blocked energy that keeps our bodies stuck in flight-or-fight mode.

Maybe that's why I reach for the candy or the wine to settle my nerves when I'm among loved ones. Visiting family can trigger traumas that live within our bodies, even if our minds manage to erase them.

When the time came to take action, I made a beeline for Khouri's "Yoga for Stress Reduction." I knew I would benefit from her gentle guidance on how to keep body, mind and heart happy and integrated.

Secrets our bodies hold

Our bodies tell the truth. We can deny our psychological pain, but it will show up somewhere else. To feel better, we have to increase our awareness of the body's sensations. When we can identify where we tend to hold emotions, then we can move in ways designed to release these blockages.

Makes sense, right? Of course, like all important work, it takes time and concentrated effort.

Practicing with Khouri makes this investment a joy. In this practice, she details how we can become more conscious of the messages our bodies have for us. We learn where we store stress physically, as well as tools for dissolving the barriers that disrupt the flow of energy.

The spine is the heart of the nervous system, according to Khouri, which makes perfect sense. Tension in the low back or neck often reflects emotions that need to be released. "Yoga for Stress Reduction" helps to restore health and vitality.

Take time for yourself

I love how this class is presented in segments, which makes it easier to squeeze into a busy day. I might warm up with Khouri before heading to a meeting where I'll have to sit for hours. I do the standing sequences to get grounded and free deeply-held stress from my hips and shoulders. Often, I use the self-massage techniques to release tension after a night of indulgence or long day at the computer.

Of course, it's wonderful to take the complete sequence when I have the time. It's like a mini spa experience. But I don't always have time. With this class, you can make a positive difference in your mood and well-being in as little as 20 minutes.

We can wave goodbye to the holidays but, for most of us, stress is a recurring event on the calendar. Still, there's no reason to get discouraged.

I'll be making Hala Khouri's class a regular part of my routine as I strive to resume healthy habits and repair my well-being. To join me, just plug some time on the mat into your schedule and discover some much-needed ease.

Amy Taylor is a freelance writer for She also teaches yoga to students of all ages. Find her columns on yoga and parenting here.

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