THIS week I am teaching and practising only restorative yoga. No pulling or pushing, planks or pyramid poses for me. It’s all bolsters, blankets, breathing and forward bends to counteract the Christmas craziness.
It sounds a little, well, lazy, doesn’t it? Indulgent, even. But it’s not. It’s what your body needs in the run-up to Christmas.
When you’re racing around, sorting food, wrapping presents, doing drinks and dinners and everything in-between, you don’t need to be stressing out your body even more by trying to break your PB on a run or upping your reps in the gym. You need to balance the extra ‘yang’ of Christmas with a bit more ‘yin’ down-time.
I can see the disappointment on some people’s faces when I announce it’s going to be a yin class. People come to yoga for different reasons, and for many it’s part of their tone and train regime. But often it’s those of us who don’t enjoy slowing down that need to do it the most.
After a session of softening and sinking into gentle, restorative postures, each held for a good few minutes, followed by an extra-long relaxation, the relief on everyone’s faces is always clearly visible.
So here’s my suggestion. Find a spare ten minutes (you can do it!). Get a yoga mat or lay a rug on the ground, preferably in front of your Christmas tree with all its twinkly lights on. Find a blanket or two and a cushion or three.
Warning: don’t try this in bed or you will more than likely doze off. You are trying to cultivate a deep, relaxed state here, which is a totally different thing altogether. It’s also best to set an alarm — nothing too loud but enough to stir you — because it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in a state of deep relaxation.
Lay down and pop a cushion under your head and one or two under your knees if it feels good. Cover yourself in a blanket. Think about where you hold your stress. Perhaps it’s in your chest and shoulders, or maybe in your stomach and hips? Fold your extra blanket and place it on whichever area you feel holds the most tension. This adds a little extra warmth and weight where you need it to help you relax more deeply.
Close your eyes. Place your hands on the ground, palms facing upwards, and feel the shoulders relax. Flop your feet outwards and rock your head slowly from side to side for a gentle head massage.
Come to a place of stillness. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, relaxing your jaw as you do so. Repeat twice more, each time feeling your exhale become a little longer and slower.
Now start to cultivate a warm, soft feeling in your heart space. It can be a colour if you like. That warm, fuzzy feeling becomes stronger and, with every exhale, it starts to spread.
Feel that warmth and softness start to fill the chest and ribcage, drifting up into the shoulders and down into the belly. Feel it slowly travel into your legs and arms until it reaches the fingertips and toes, and the top of your head, until your entire body is filled with warmth and softness.
Rest here. Forget your breath, forget your body and simply ‘be’. It’s much harder than it sounds. The mind will wander, and that’s perfectly natural. When thoughts pop into your head, make a note of them and let them drift away.
Stay here for 10 to 20 minutes. When you’re ready to rejoin the day, start to wiggle your fingers and toes. Breathe a little deeper and feel the ground under your body. Slowly draw knees into chest and give yourself a hug before rolling onto your side and coming up to a sitting position. Slowly open your eyes.
If you’ve read this and think I’m mad, please give it a go. See what happens. How can you not benefit from a little peace? It’s free, easy, takes no time at all… and it might well help you turn Christmas into Blissmas.
First published in the Irish Daily Mail on December 18, 2018