It’s called “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but the holidays are often also the most challenging. Even those of us with dedicated practices can experience frustration and anger with our families during this joyful (ahem) time.
Renowned spiritual teacher Ram Dass famously said, “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” I personally cannot count the amount of holidays I was wrapping my legs behind my head doing Ashtanga in the hallway to stay sane, while my family members wrapped gifts in the other room.
Why do we get so triggered?
Often, our mind is hijacked by old relationship dynamics and familiar scripts. We lose the clarity of the present moment and connection to our true Self. We start responding as if we were 10 years old again, instead of the more evolved adult we have become.
Luckily, we can call on yoga to help. Our practice is truly the gift that keeps on giving. As children and teens, managing our feelings and making sense of emotions might have been challenging. Now as adults, we have skills we can employ when frustrated or sad, such as language, self-compassion, and even specific poses. This can be incredibly healing.
Beneath even the most meaningful layers, like our identity and familial connection, there is a place inside of us that is eternal and invincible. This is a place of love, patience, connection, and generosity. This is our true nature. We glimpse this place every time we get on the mat, but we can also quickly lose it when we start fighting our brother for the remote control or are subject to mom’s comments on our weight.
This five-pose sequence will help you survive family during the holidays by reconnecting you to your true Self. You don’t need much space or time to do this. Whether you commandeer a bathroom for ten minutes or sequester yourself in the basement, this sequence will help you stay grounded in connection, so that you can give and receive love freely.
See also: Keep the Peace During the Holidays
5 yoga poses for family holiday stress
The first step to coming back to the present moment is to get grounded in who we are. And the best place to do that is to literally come to the ground. This seat is a staple meditation pose and hip-opener. It is also a helpful shape for accessing our root chakra, muladhara, which is located at the base of the pelvic floor. The root chakra relates to issues of security, survival and family. Accessing this powerful energy center helps us feel more secure and confident. By owning who we are today, we are also honoring who we were yesterday.
You know that feeling in your belly like an elevator is dropping? That is our sympathetic nervous system responding as if we are in grave danger. However, this system cannot tell the difference between a tiger and your little sister. When we are threatened, our instinct is to respond in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. Unfortunately, in the modern era, we get stressed and triggered all the time without being able to move that energy through our body. Because of Cat/Cow’s dynamic nature, taking a few rounds of these when the triggered can be helpful in moving energy through the body via the breath. Inhale in Cow. Exhale in Cat. Repeat for a few minutes.
One of the primary muscles related to the body’s fear response is the psoas. A main function of these muscles (we have one on each side) is to flex the hips, meaning bringing the thigh bone up to the chest, which is a crucial action to protect vital organs. When we are in fear or under high stress, the psoas can become overactive. A chronically tight psoas has been linked to a host of challenges, such as digestive issues and anxiety. The shape of the back leg in low lunge helps to release the the psoas from its chronic gripping. Low Lunge will also help get the breath moving since the top of the psoas and diaphragm are close neighbors.
Knees to Chest (Apanasana)
Now that we are grounded, the nervous system has settled, and the psoas is released, we can start to shift our energy toward reconnection and self-love. Apanasana is not only a great way to release the lower back and help with digestion, but it is an energetic hug for your whole being. What makes the holidays healing is that they are an opportunity to re-pattern our normal responses. They can remind us that no matter what is happening around us or outside of us, we are always connected to the universe within. We are always love.
Ending this brief sequence with a Savasana may seem frivolous at first, but one could say that the previous poses were really just preparation for this moment, just as all of your memories and experiences have prepared you for who you are now. The translation of Savasana is Corpse Pose. It is an opportunity to shed the parts of yourself that no longer serve you, and to open yourself for the next iteration of who you are to become. The very shape of Savasana—palms up, front body exposed—is one of receptivity. Before you return to join the family, observe how you feel after your practice and remember that this feeling of peace is not something that we just lose when we roll up our mat. This peace is always there. It is your true nature.