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A TCM-Inspired Home Practice to Ease Holiday Stress

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This 12-pose sequence will help you remember what the season is really all about.

Feeling stressed? This TCM-inspired sequence will help. 

’Tis the season of good tidings, peppermint mochas, and gatherings with friends—and also lots to accomplish (gift-giving anyone?), people to accommodate (hello, Aunt Erma!), and more than likely, weeks of over-extending ourselves.

And while all of this busy-ness is due to a truly wonderful time of year, it’s important to get clear on what “stress” actually entails.

See also Ready to Let Go? A TCM-Inspired Sequence for Fall

The Physiology of Stress

When we are in high gear, plowing through a long to-do list to get stuff done (read: we’re stressed!), the body turns on the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), otherwise known as the fight-or-flight mode. When the SNS is turned on and we’re under perceived stress, it triggers energy to be released, allowing the body to fight or take flight.

By activating the SNS, the energy is directed to prioritized systems to fight or flight and takes energy away from (or shuts down) non-priority systems, such as the immune, digestion, and reproduction systems. This is why some people are more prone to illness, digestive upset, and for women, menstrual irregularities during or after stress.

The SNS’s counterpart is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), or the rest-and-digest mode. When the PSNS is activated, the body conserves energy and turns “on” all down-regulated systems.

So, how can you activate the PSNS? By stimulating the vagus nerve: the longest cranial nerve that interconnects the brain to many organ systems and runs through the back of the throat and through the diaphragm.

Pranayama and Yoga are primary ways to access the vagus nerve, because the breath has the capacity to stimulate the vagus nerve through the back of the throat (hello, Ujjayi breath!) and diaphragmatic breathing (a.k.a. belly breathing). By stimulating the vagus nerve, we increase our vagal tone and turn on the PSNS, ultimately counter-balancing the stress response.

See also 8 Detoxifying Poses to Boost Digestion of Holiday Feasts—& All That Seasonal Stress

Interval Yoga: The Ultimate Counter to Stress

Interval Yoga is a combination of heart-pumping, timed movements interspersed with strengthening flows. The dynamic change between increasing heart rate and space for the heart rate to slow is great for a few reasons:

  1. Research indicates interval training may lengthen telomeres by increasing activity of the enzyme telomerase. Telomeres are the ‘end-caps’ on chromosomes (DNA that carries our genetic information) that protect the genetic information and prevent cell aging. Every time a cell replicates, the telomeres become shorter, eventually leading to cell death when the telomeres have been “used up.” By increasing telomerase activity to add telomere length, we are essentially adding longevity to our cells—and therefore ourselves.
  2. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the energy of yin within yin—and yin equals cold, rest, and non-movement. To counter-balance all of this yin energy, we will add yang energy (heat and activity) through movement and blood-pumping intervals.
  3. In TCM, stress affects the energy of the liver, creating Liver Qi Stagnation. One of the liver’s functions is the free-flow of energy throughout the body and to all organ systems. Which means stagnation here can feel like constriction in the body, neck and shoulder tension, constipation, irritability, and being quick to get angry. The best remedy for liver Qi stagnation is movement. Moving the body and getting the blood flowing will move the liver Qi to alleviate the above symptoms.
Try this 12-pose TCM-inspired sequence when you’re feeling the holiday stress. 

A 12-Pose Home Practice to Counter Holiday Stress

The Holiday season is about giving to others—our time, presence, presents, and energy. That’s why it’s especially important to make this practice about giving to yourself. Create a space that feels supportive to you: play music that feels good for movement; light a few candles; diffuse your favorite essential oils; and set an intention to nurture you.

Also, keep in mind that you can customize how fast or slow you move based on your energy levels. Please, honor your body and modify this sequence to fit your needs.

See also Slow Flow: 4 Tips to Polish Your Step-Forward Transition

About our author

Teresa Biggs, AP, DOM is a board-certified Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Yoga Medicine Instructor and founder of Biggs Acupuncture & Wellness Center in Naples, Florida. Learn more about Teresa at biggsacupuncture.com.

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Advanced Challenge Poses

Claire Mark's Handstand Balancing Tip Will Forever Change How You Invert

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It’s a simple tip with a big impact.

Yoga teacher Claire Mark loves getting into Handstands and other yoga inversions. This balancing tip is so simple, but will make a big impact for your practice. 

See also This Sequence Will Help You Practice Inversions Safely



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Advanced Yoga

4 Quick Tips to Finding Balance in a Handstand

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You’ll be mastering handstand in no time.

Master handstand with these 4 quick tips from Irene Pappas. 



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Advanced Yoga

5 Poses to Help You Reconnect With Your Partner After a Miscommunication

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Even after a disagreement has ended, the effects can linger. Here’s how to foster communication and love after a fight.

When you have a disagreement with a loved one, it can be difficult to get back to a place of love. Here’s how to use your yoga to heal a broken heart.

I lost my mind the other day. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. One second, I was me—and the next I was time-warped into my childhood. My perception of the present moment was confused by old emotions and past hurts. I all but blacked out, unable to remember things that were said. And then I went catatonic. I felt trapped in a prison of anxious thoughts, yet I was unable to put anything to words. And all of it seemed to happen in an instant.

The catalyst for this temporary insanity? A spat with my husband about household chores.

We laughed about it once we were brought back to the present moment. But in the moment of the fight, we were anywhere but in the moment. If we could have listened above the noise of the thoughts to the omnipresent hum of our hearts, maybe we could have seen how silly this whole thing was much earlier. If we could have met on the heart-level instead of the head-level, maybe we could have had that extra hour to do what most fights in relationships are really about: connection.

According to the cardinal yogic text Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as citta vritti nirodhah, or quieting the movements of the mind. In other words: Get out of your head. What happens when we do that? We get into our hearts, where we are connected to everyone and everything all the time. Yogis work on differentiating between the mind and the heart every time we come to our mats.

See also 3 Things I Learned After Taking a Break from My Yoga Practice

But, can we get real for a minute? When it comes to miscommunications with our partners, quieting the mind is particularly challenging. Put a yogi in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) for three minutes and most won’t bat an eye. Yet even the most grounded people I know can find themselves turned inside out and upside down by a fight with their partner.

On the surface, a fight may look like a squabble about a specific issue, such as your partner being on his phone during dinner or you always forgetting to close the dresser drawers. Yet what most fights are really about when we strip them down to their core is a request for connection. We are asking one another to hear above the words, “Please, can you put your phone down when we’re together, or remember to close the drawers when you are rushing to work?” What we are asking is that our partners hear our hearts’ requests, which is really asking our partners to be more present and conscientious.

The thing is, most of us get so caught up in the fears and emotions around the surface hurt that it’s hard for us to make the connection request from the heart. So instead, we attack one another from our minds and egos.

This is where our yoga practice can help and any tiff—big or small—become an opportunity for growth. Disagreements with our partners push us out of our comfort zones and ask us to take responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions. They ask us to remove the walls we have fortified around hearts and stand vulnerably before someone, even when we are both upset. If we can learn to settle our thoughts and emotions, the ego is removed, and we tap into a special place that exists inside us all.

In this place, we are pure love. This is our true nature. This is our heart.

See also Two Fit Moms’ Heart-Opening Partner Yoga Sequence

What I was reminded of during this most recent spat with my husband is that sometimes, we must lose our mind, to find our heart. I created this five-pose yoga sequence to help all of us reconnect to our hearts—and our partners—after a miscommunication.

See also This 7-Pose Home Practice Harnesses the Power of Touch

About the Author

Sarah Ezrin is a yoga teacher in San Francisco. Learn more at sarahezrinyoga.com. 



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