With the cold temperatures and maddening rush of the holidays upon us, it’s extra important to make time to take care of ourselves, body and spirit. A simple home yoga practice is one of the best, most portable things that you can keep with you no matter where you find yourself over the next few weeks: all you need is, well, you, and a roughly you-sized rectangular space.
A quick yet very effective yoga routine called Kapalabhati breathing can be a great thing to practice regularly during this time when the body can feel run down and clogged up. This special form of breathing is slightly counter-intuitive and takes some coordination, but per its name (kapala means “skull” and bhati means “light”) it’s mean to raise heat and energy within this commonly sticky area. A form of pranayama–the control of the breath or vital energy–it’s a literal way to clear your mind through the breath.
To practice, sit well on something comfortable with your seat higher than your knees and feet (this can also be done reclining in fish pose if you’re extra clogged). Take a full inhale through the nose and complete exhale out the mouth; repeat. On your next inhale, fill your lungs to about half of their capacity and start breathing out forcefully through your nose, pumping your stomach and diaphragm with each exhale. (In this form of breathing, as opposed to natural or Ujjayi breath, the exhale is active while the inhale is passive.) It should feel like you’re pushing air of out of your nose, as if you were trying to clear out a bug that had flew into your nose, but only your stomach (not your chest) moves. Breathe at a relatively fast but steady pace for 25 breaths, then slow down your breathing for the final 10 breaths. Inhale and exhale fully twice between rounds, increasing by 10 breaths each time. Three to five rounds is good to start with, and as you get used to it you can increase your beginning number of breaths and tempo.
The effects of Kapalabhati are subtle but powerful. Its main function is to clear the nasal and breathing passages of impurities, but the intensity of the stomach work can also alleviate digestive problems (another pitfall of holiday sweets!).
Whenever you find yourself needing a breather (haha) this holiday season, find a quiet space and literally do that: breathe!
For a slightly more active, but equally space- and time-efficient and nourishing, try incorporating these poses into your end-of-day routine. After a long night of parties or decorating or baking, your body will thank you and more easily drift off into sleep.
1. Surya Namaskara C: This variation on the sun salutes eliminates chaturanga, which can be stressful on the shoulders (especially if done improperly) and put too much fire in the body.
Start standing in mountain pose; raise your arms above your head and swan dive down, placing your hands flat on the floor next to your feet. Inhale and look up with a flat back, exhale fold down.
Inhale step the right foot back then the left to plank pose. Exhale lower your knees, chest, and chin to the ground. Inhale slide forward and up into baby cobra, with your shoulders, chest, and head lifted off the floor, hands next to your breast bone.
Exhale lower, and push back through child’s pose to downward facing dog. Inhale step your right foot forward, exhale put your left knee down into low lunge. Inhale sweep your arms up and stretch back as if you were leaning over a large beach ball, and continue reaching for a full breath.
Exhale your arms down, and bring your left foot up to meet your right. Inhale look up with a flat back, exhale fold. Inhale reach up and around toward the sky, exhale arms at heart center in tadasana (mountain pose). Repeat on the left, for a total of three cycles on each side.
2. To relieve pressure from those fabulous pointy-toe shoes you don for all your holiday parties, try toes pose. Sit down the floor on your heels, with the toes curled under and flat on the floor. Separate your toes with your hands so all 10 are flat on the ground with a little space between them. As you sit back on your heels, you’ll feel an intense stretch; come up and stand on your knees after 10 breaths or so to relieve pressure, but aim to hold for around a minute.
When you’re done, lean forward and place the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your butt flat on the floor, and lean back, stretching the tops of the feet.
To increase the massaging action, sit with your legs in front of you in staff pose. Raise your arms and hinge forward, but instead of holding your feet intertwine your fingers between your toes. As you reach your chest forward and fold deeper, move your hands in a circular motion to massage the toes.
3. To relieve emotional stress–whether it’s from too much bonding with relatives and loved ones or from trying to be a top elf–release the hips with pigeon pose. Start in down dog and hold for a full breath. Raise your right leg behind you and bend the knee, opening the hip to the side. Pull your right knee between your arms and place the shin down on the floor, as close to parallel with the front of the mat as possible, with your shin and thigh approaching a 90 degree angle. If your right hip is off the floor, put support–and blanket or towel or pillow–under it. Put your hands in front of you and lift your chest, then exhale and fold forward over your leg, making a pillow with your hands for your forehead or stretching your arms forward for a more active pose.
Hold for as long as it’s comfortable, around 10-15 breaths. For more intensity, thread your left arm under your right so your shoulder is on the floor. Reach your right arm around behind your back and try to grab the toes of your right foot–hold and breathe, deepening the twist with each exhale.
To come out of it, push your torso up on an inhale, then stretch your right leg back and open your hip on an exhale, returning to down dog for a full breath. Flow through a vinyassa if you like, then repeat on the left side. As a counter pose, lay on your back and pull your knees into your chest. Wrap your right leg over your left into eagle legs, then roll to your left and put your knees on the floor with your arms open in a T-shape; look to the right and stretch. Come back to center, unwrap your legs and then reverse the wrap, rolling to the right side this time and looking to the left. Pull your knees into center, and give yourself a tight hug or hold your feet or shins in happy baby.
See more yoga tutorials on Your Dream Body!
Also by Jennifer: 5 Reasons to Be Thankful Wherever You Are
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling