Tuesday, December 27, 2011
During October and November, we've done our yogic best to keep stress at bay. We have swayed like trees in the breeze and gone upside down to battle the extreme conditions of the holiday season.
Now, as we hit the season's crescendo, maybe the best defense is none at all. Perhaps the best course of action at this point is -- surrender.
As the saying goes, "It takes two to tango."
We choose to dance with holiday stress. Sure, unforeseeable things can happen that can cause strain. However, it is how we react to these moments that define whether we do in fact tango with added pressure and hassles or if we choose to let the whirlwind of urgency pass on by.
Savasana, or Corpse pose, is named dramatically to capture its pure surrender. We can use Savasana to release ourselves from stress caused by the holidays. If you are dead, you can't fight. If you can't fight, chances are you will be peaceful.
To enjoy Savasana, it is helpful to complete a full yoga class, participate in some other exercise, or do something physical like putting up holiday lights. Physical work helps burn off excess energy and it helps to get the kinks out of the body.
Next, find a nice comfortable spot to lie down on your back. You can use a yoga mat, a couch, a bed, or even the floor.
Once you are lying down, check in with your body to make sure everything feels comfortable. For example, if it bothers your lower back to lie flat, bend your knees and support your back by leaning your knees against each other with your feet in a wider stance on the floor. This position alleviates pressure on the back and lets the thighs rest.
Once your lower body is comfortable, tuck your shoulder blades underneath you like a bird tucking in its wings and release your shoulders down away from your ears. Relax your upper body and close your eyes. Check in with your body again to make sure everything feels relatively relaxed.
Next, focus on your breath. Breathe into your lower belly (diaphragm), your lungs, your front, back and side ribs, and all the way into your chest. Release your breath slowly. Time your breath so that your inhalation is the same length as your exhalation.
Imagine a wave washing up over you as you inhale and as you exhale, let that wave wash away any remaining stress or tension.
Now, notice the space between breathing in and breathing out where there is no breath at all. In yoga, we describe this stillness as a tiny death. Rather than being fearful of this we see this as an opportunity for rebirth, a chance to start over, a fresh start.
It is encouraging to have another chance with each breath; it is very difficult to stay in a rut.
Once you feel at ease, allow your breath to become more shallow and natural in the chest. Bring your focus inward and begin to systematically relax each body part. Begin with your feet, work your way up your legs, gluteal muscles, hips, belly, back, chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, face, eyes, brain and scalp.
Bring awareness to every inch of your body and allow it to release completely. Allow your body to metaphorically die. You may feel like a big puddle. That's perfect!
Let your mind explore the body in this state of stillness and peace. Notice how serene the mind is when the body surrenders. Notice how calm the body is when the mind is undisturbed. Continue to breathe softly and sink even deeper into this relaxed state.
When you are ready, bring your focus back to your breath. Begin to inhale deeply as though you are pumping air into a tire. Symbolically pump your body back into shape with your breath. Each inhalation is full of fresh oxygen and you begin to feel revitalized.
After you begin to feel the energy of the fresh oxygen pumping through your body, roll over onto one side and lie in this position for a few more breaths. Finally, come up into a seated position.
As you sit, notice the feeling of being revived and renewed. After the "death" of Savasana pose, you have no choice but to begin again bright and unmarred by the stress of the holidays. Just remember, if you decide to dance during the holidays, pick a pleasant partner and leave stress sitting on the sidelines!Rebecca Thorpe is a group fitness and Yoga Alliance-certified instructor, teaching classes at Whitman College and the Walla Walla YMCA.