The holidays are a time for giving, for spending time with family, for good food, and, for many, a time of stress.
Dealing with the hordes of shoppers, family visits and endless holiday parties can take its toll, both mentally and physically.
Yoga may be just the thing to ease the tension. Studies have proven that yoga can reduce stress and anxiety in the body.
“It’s the only thing to do,” said Kate Coughlin, yoga teacher and owner of Downtown Yoga in Pleasanton.
Coughlin says the holidays have a way of unearthing painful emotions and old expectations of how things should play out, which can cause mental and physical stress. She recommends yoga as a grounding tool during these often challenging times.
“The yoga practice is, in my experience, the best way to be in the moment and to be still with yourself,” said Coughlin. “It’s perfect for reminding us to be appreciative for what’s happening in the moment. Anything that comes after that, you can deal with.”
At Coughlin’s studio, which she co-owns with her husband Jim, safety and proper form is key. Teachers give detailed instructions to students, and poses are generally held for some time.
“Each one of us has a way to be in the pose that’s suited to our body in the best alignment we can find,” said Coughlin, a yoga practitioner for over 40 years. “It’s a very specific practice, and every class is taught with that kind of detail.”
To combat stress, Coughlin recommends supported poses. A simple but effective pose is to lie on your back with your legs up the wall, she said. Place a pillow or cushion under your hips so they elevate slightly, then relax and watch your breath for five minutes.
“If everyone would do that once a day we’d probably have no more wars in the world,” Coughlin said.
We carry a lot of stress in our spinal column, neck and shoulders, she said. She suggests twists as a way to ease the tension.
“Gentle seated twists should be a daily thing,” Coughlin said. “[Twists] keep space between the vertebrae.”
For Dubliners looking for some heat, Get Fit Yoga on Village Parkway offers many of its classes in a heated room, sometimes as hot as 95 degrees.
The studio teaches a range of styles, including Hatha, Bikram, Vinyasa and Ashtanga.
Owner Greg Ja, who opened Get Fit in April, said yoga can help reduce levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Yoga also has a spiritual component.
“During the holidays you’re getting more bombarded with family issues, work, going out, and buying presents,” said Ja. “Yoga gives you a chance to take a break and really find out what’s important to you.”
To relieve stress, Ja recommends any pose where you can hold still for a period of time. This includes savasana, or “corpse pose,” traditionally the last pose of the practice where you lie flat on your back, arms at your side and legs hip-width apart.
Heat also helps reduce stress, Ja said, and provides some humid respite from the dry cold outside.
Both Ja and Coughlin said yoga should be a daily, lifelong practice to really experience its many benefits.
“It’s about consistency,” said Coughlin. “I really think doing it daily is best, but even if people can get consistent for 3 times a week, they will see a difference.”
Downtown Yoga is at 220-B Division Street in Pleasanton (925) 819-9983. Get Fit Yoga is at 6930 Village Parkway, Suite E in Dublin (925) 828-9642.