The holidays: They're the most wonderful time of the year, but they can also be the most nerve-wracking. With the pressure to pick the perfect present for everyone on your list, fear of missing your flight or worry about clashing with relatives, the holidays can bring up a lot of anxiety.
If you're feeling more fretful than festive during the yuletide season, a little yoga may be just what you need to calm your nerves.
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How Does Yoga Help Anxiety?
Indeed, yoga and breathing exercises can help decrease symptoms of anxiety (and depression) and increase feelings of positivity in the short- and long-term, according to a November 2019 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
Anxiety (defined as an emotional state of hyperarousal) can be traced back to the autonomic nervous system, says Brendon Abram, author of Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and founder of Get Yoga.
"The fundamental elements of any yoga practice are mindful movement, mindful breath and the capacity to find focused awareness," he says. "Together, these elements have the capacity to regulate the autonomic nervous system and to keep our autonomic responses within a healthy, well-balanced range."
In other words, practicing yoga can soothe your body's stress responses — like reducing your heart rate and blood pressure — and help relax you. So when you're feeling anxious this holiday season, try this quick, re-centering yoga flow.
While yoga can help manage symptoms, for more severe or chronic anxiety, consult your doctor or mental health professional for more individualized treatment options, including medication and therapy.
5-Minute Yoga Flow for Anxiety
"Generally speaking, anxiety is best addressed with poses that open the front of the body and forward bends that tend to activate the vagus nerve complex (part of the parasympathetic system that dampens the fight-or-flight response)," Abram says.
This 5-minute flow, designed by Abram — which can be done in a chair — can help keep you calm during the holiday hoopla.
1. Side Bend
- Inhale as you raise your hands over your head.
- Reach your fingers and the crown of your head up, while keeping your shoulders relaxed.
- As you exhale, bend to the right side and hold your breath for a comfortable interval.
- Inhale as you come back to center.
- Repeat 3 to 4 times on each side, focusing on your breath.
2. Heart Opener
- Take a deep breath, then exhale as you reach your hands behind your back, interlacing the fingers.
- Roll your shoulders back and lift your hands upward to deepen the stretch if you'd like.
- Focus your awareness on being expansive across the front of the chest.
- Continue to breathe deeply, in and out, for 3 to 4 cycles of breath.
- Release your hands back to your sides.
3. Seated Cat Cow
- Sit upright with a long spine.
- As you inhale, roll the shoulders back to open the chest, send the bellybutton forward and arch your back.
- As you exhale, pull the navel back toward the spine and up toward the ribs, rolling your shoulders forward and rounding your back.
- Repeat 3 to 4 times, moving with your deep inhalations and exhalations.
4. Seated Forward Fold
- Sit tall.
- As you inhale, lift the heart to lengthen the spine.
- As you exhale, fold forward from the waist lowering the front of the torso toward the floor.
- Continue breathing and hold for 3 to 4 cycles of breath.
Place your hands on the top of your thighs to support your position.