Yoga for Holiday Season  
by: Vasanthi Bhat (vasanthi@vasanthayoga.com)

The holidays are a time for sharing, caring, and simply being with your loved ones. However, the holidays are often accompanied by anxiety and stress. Whether it be shopping for gifts or preparing the home for decorations and guests, the holidays can be quite draining. It is important to take time out for yourself and listen to what your body needs to make sure you have a healthy holiday season.

Depression is common during the holiday time as often thoughts tend to be about those who are no longer with you. People tend to feel alone and as a result, stay home and close themselves off from others. However, opening the windows, letting in fresh air and sunlight will help lift your spirits. Think about how fortunate you are as there are those who do not have enough food to eat or even a place to stay. It is essential to take time to heal by practicing the various breathing techniques. These are a few simple pranayama techniques anyone can practice at any time during the day.

One such technique is practicing complete breathing. Sit comfortably with your back straight and close your eyes. Focus your awareness on your natural breath and gently prolong the exhalation while pulling your stomach in as much as possible. As you breathe in, let your compressed stomach come up naturally, making sure you do not expand it more than normal. Breathe out from the chest to the stomach while pulling the stomach in as slowly as you can. Good complete breathing always starts with good exhalation. Do this procedure gently and slowly, making sure to never allow your stomach to jerk as you breathe. Practice for about 15 breaths or one to two minutes. Rest for 10 to 15 seconds before you start another pranayama.

Another useful breathing technique is alternate nostril breathing. Sit comfortably with your back straight and close your eyes. Rest the index and middle fingers of your right hand on your eyebrow center. Close your right nostril with your thumb. (Left-handed people need to switch the thumb and ring finger.) Breathe in moderately through your left nostril and close it with your ring finger. Open your right nostril and breathe out gently. Breathe in through the right nostril and close your left nostril. Breathe out through your left nostril and start the next round. Practice three to five rounds.

A third technique is called bellows breath. Assume a comfortable sitting position with your back straight and breathe in deeply. Breathe out forcefully while contracting the stomach muscles quickly and rhythmically, pushing them toward the spine and relaxing the stomach muscles back to normal. Breathing in comes naturally in this process. Keep contracting and relaxing the stomach muscles until the active exhalation and passive inhalation sound like bellows. One round consists of 20 in and out breaths. Depending on your ability practice from as little as a few breaths to as many as you can comfortably handle.

Moreover, many tend to feel sick during the holidays. Everyone seems to have the flu or have allergies and stress further weakens the immune system. It is important to take a few moments to relax during this hectic time and allow your body to repair. Rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit by practicing these yoga techniques.

Along with the practice of pranayama one can do some simple forward and backward bending postures to help deal with any ailments associated with the cold and flu season. The forward bending postures stretch and expand, thereby relax the thoracic cavity. When the upper back is stretched in such a manner, tension is released to provide benefits in that area, including the lungs. The backward bending techniques expand and purify the chest and lungs, allowing more oxygen to enter into the body. Some powerful postures include the cobra (Backward bending), the fish (Backward bending), the pose of the moon (Forward bending), and the preliminary leg-pull (Forward bending). All these exercises are highly beneficial and can save a person weeks or perhaps months of agonizing through a cold or allergy. With the flu season approaching, now is a perfect time to start practicing yoga and making sure that this winter is going to be a healthy one!

Another holiday stress is weight gain. Often people struggle during this time. Why? There is nothing wrong in partaking these delicious foods, but it is important to have to a balanced meal. Eating low calorie food along with salads and fruits is important to give your body nutrients. If you desire, you can also eat desserts as dieting by simply by suppressing these cravings may not necessarily be the correct approach. According to Vasanthi Bhat, eating mindfully is the key.

You should also be regular to your exercise. The three breathing exercises explained above are also highly beneficial to loose extra weight. Make a habit of practicing before your meals. Compression on the abdominal area improves digestion and relieves constipation. Constipation is one of the obstacles to loose weight.

Gently stretching and breathing fresh air while walking can start to energize you. By utilizing these useful yoga techniques and exercises, your holiday season can be a more enjoyable, stress-free, and healthy one.