If the holiday season has you feeling more frazzled than festive, a restorative yoga session may be in order. No need to make time for the gym or plunk down $15 for a studio class—you can get your om on at home with this sequence, developed by Devarshi Steven Hartman, dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga in Stockbridge, MA. (Search: What is Kripalu yoga?) The routine focuses on the six movements of the spine—left and right twists, left and right side bends, forward flexion, and backward bend—and is designed to relieve both physical and mental stress, purge toxins from the body, and boost energy levels. At least once a day, perform as much of the following sequence as your schedule allows.
If you have 2 minutes…
Empty Coat Sleeves: Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart. Allow your arms to hang at your sides. Begin to twist your body from side to side, letting your arms swing and gently wrap around you. Gradually increase your intensity so that when you twist, your right hand slaps your left shoulder and your left hand hits your right shoulder. Throughout this exercise, practice "hara" breathing, inhaling through the nose as deeply as you can, and then exhaling through the mouth by making a "hah" sound. Fall into a rhythm, and continue to twist for 2 to 4 minutes.
What this does: Spinal twisting loosens up the back and shoulders and alleviates stress in the lumbar region. It also increases blood flow and delivers oxygen to the cells, providing your body with a boost of energy. Performing empty coat sleeves once per hour during the workday can perk you up better than a cup of coffee, says Hartman. Spinal twists give the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and the body's largest lymph gland a "squeeze," aiding digestion and flushing toxins from these organs. Hara breathing is perfect for the holiday season—it revs your metabolism by upping oxygen delivery throughout the body, releases endorphins, and boosts your immune system by cleaning out the sinuses.
If you have 10 minutes…tack on 2 more hara breathing exercises.
Monkey Breath: Position your feet about shoulder-width apart so that your legs form a triangle with the floor. Deeply inhale through your nose. Exhale with a forceful "hah" as you bend to the side, drawing your right hand down your right leg so that it is directly over your knee. At the same time, draw your left hand up into the left armpit (yes, you will look like a monkey). Inhale as you return to center, and exhale as you repeat on the other side. Continue with this exercise at a brisk pace for several minutes.
Breath of Joy: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, keeping your knees soft and your arms loose. Inhale deeply through your nose as you draw your hands up above your head, keeping your arms straight and creating a slight arch in your back. Then forcefully exhale with a "hah" as you bend your knees and fold forward. Fall into an up-and-down rhythm and continue this exercise for several minutes. Take whatever intensity is comfortable for your back.
What this does: Monkey breath and breath of joy strengthen the muscles along the lumbar spine and stretch and relieve stress in the lower back. Hara breathing increases oxygen delivery throughout the body.
If you have 15 minutes…add a fold.
Forward Fold: Inhale as you raise your arms out to the sides of your body and lift them up over your head. Exhale, floating your arms out to your sides with your palms facing down. Keep your back flat as you bend forward from your waist. Allow your head to hang heavy. Touch your fingers to the floor if you can, bending your knees if necessary. Hang in this pose long enough to allow blood to flow to your head.