When you have a to-do list that could rival Santa's, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the holiday season. That's why you need yoga more than ever right now.
"You practice yoga to find joy and peace in your life all year long," says Leslie Kazadi, a restorative yoga teacher in Santa Monica, California. "Then the holidays arrive -- a whole season devoted to joy and peace -- yet these are not the words that come to mind when you imagine shopping at the mall, navigating traffic at the airport, or circumnavigating the in-laws at holiday gatherings. Yoga is the calm in the storm of the merry-making madness."
Kazadi created this 20-minute restorative yoga sequence exclusively for YJ readers to help you relax and truly enjoy all the season has to offer. "Restorative yoga shifts you out of the stress response into the relaxation response so you can deeply rest and rejuvenate," she explains.
Spend five minutes in each supported posture. Set a time so you can focus on savoring each moment of stillness, tracing the steady rhythm of your breath, enjoying the pleasure of simply being.
This sequence requires a mat, a strap, two blankets, a bolster, and an eye pillow.
Photo by James Wvinner
Adho Mukha Savasana
Place the short end of your mat against a wall. Place your bolster at the edge of your mat next to the wall crossways. Create a trifold from the long end of a blanket, and place it crossways in the middle of your mat. Lie facedown on the blanket so your pelvis is resting on it and your tailbone is dropping down toward the mat, giving traction to your lumbar spine. Let the tops of your feet rest on the bolster. Turn your head to the right and place your cheek on the mat. Arrange your right arm in a soft cactus shape and take your opposite arm down by your side to soften any tension in the neck.
At the halfway point, gently switch the position of your head and arms. Let your eyes softly close and draw your attention inward. Take a few deep breaths with luxuriously long, slow exhales. With each exhale, feel yourself surrendering into the support of gravity, into the tranquility of this moment. Continue watching the steady rhythm of your breath and sensing the support of the earth beneath you. Make a pillow with your hands for your forehead and take a few breaths like this, feeling the full weight of the head sink into your hands, allowing the back of the neck to be long and the front of the throat to feel soft.
Slide your hands underneath the shoulders and press yourself up to all fours. Slide your knees a little wider than your hips and take your big toes together and shift your hips back for a few breaths in Child's Pose (Balasana) with your forehead resting on the blanket. To come up, press your hands into the mat next to your knees and slowly roll up your spine, letting your head come up last. Pause here for a couple of breaths.
Photo by James Wvinner
Take your bolster and place it a hands width away from the wall. Put a blanket at the other end of the mat as a pillow for your head. Make a loop in your strap. Sit on the edge of your bolster and wrap the strap around the arches of your feet with the buckle in the space between your feet. Swing your legs up the wall and use your hands to support yourself as you lie back onto the mat. Rest your pelvis on the bolster with your tailbone dripping down toward the floor. Let your heels lean into the wall and separate slightly. Your legs may be straight or bent so there is no tug on the hamstrings. Draw the blanket behind your head and melt your shoulders onto the mat. Position your arms so that your chest feels open and your breath feels free.
Receive the weight of your legs descending into the cradle of your hip sockets. Feel your hips sink into the cushion of the bolster and observe the muscles softening and widening into the support. Imagine your organs descending into the back body as the belly releases any tension, drifting out of the body with the breath. Let your attention float on the rhythm of your breath. Let yourself rest.
Slide your feet down the wall and pause with the knees bent. Carefully roll onto your side and off of the bolster. Let your cheek rest on your upper arm as you linger here, curled up for several breaths. To come up to sitting, press your palm down on the floor in front of your chest. Press down into your hand and use the strength of your arm to press yourself up, rolling the spine up, allowing the head to float up on top of your spine.
Photo by James Wvinner
Take the blanket for your head and slide it to the edge of the mat away from the wall. Place a bolster to the right of your mat and place a second blanket to your left. Lie back, resting your head on the blanket with both knees bent. Stretch your arms out for a comfortable opening across the chest and shoulders and snuggle your shoulders down toward the mat. Anchor your left shoulder on the mat as you let both knees drift to the right. Allow your knees to rest on the bolster and feet to rest on the mat. Take the second blanket and nestle it behind your waist so your back is fully supported.
Midway through, switch sides. Sense yourself yielding into the support beneath you. Observe the gradual unwinding of your softly spiraling spine. Discern the subtle shifts of your breath, experiencing each sensation as it unfolds, noticing how sensation is in a constant state of flux.
On an exhale, draw your knees back to center and give yourself a hug, gently rocking side to side. Place your feet down as wide as the mat and let your knees knock together. Place your hands on your belly. Let your belly rise to meet your hands as you breathe in and hug your belly back toward your spine as you breathe out. Repeat this several times, acknowledging your center, your source of creativity.
Photo by James Wvinner
Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Soft Supta Baddha Konasana
Place the bolster crossways toward the end of the mat to support the backs of your knees. Sit behind the bolster and press the soles of your feet together, letting your knees splay wide. Place a blanket on top of your feet, wrapping it around and underneath both ankles. Give the blanket edges a gentle tug, as if you were tucking yourself in. Use your hands to support yourself as you lie back. Adjust the blanket behind your head. Take a moment to lift your hips and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels until your low back feels long. Place an eye pillow over your eyes to deepen your relaxation.
Rest your hands on your lower belly. Or, if it's comfortable, place one hand on your heart and one on your belly. Sink into the softness of the support beneath you. Feel yourself retreating and opening into each moment. Let your breath envelop each new opening, unveiling the spaciousness within. Place both hands on your heart. Let your breath and your attention expand into your heart. Listen to the whisper of your wisdom, the quiet intuition in your heart.
Release your feet from the blanket and stretch out through your heels as you float your arms overhead. Stay connected to your breath and to the wisdom of your heart, throughout the day, the season, your life.