Holidays are a time for family, friends and — let’s not kid ourselves — food. I love to go away for a few days and eat things I normally don’t in amounts that would shock a Sumo wrestler. Hence, it may be the season to be jolly, but it’s also a time when it’s all too easy to pack on the pounds along with the cheer.
Luckily, your yoga practice can serve your body as much as your mind, helping you combat those sneaky yuletide calories and stay slim and trim throughout the merrymaking … and beyond.
Add the following muscle-building, metabolism-amping poses into your regular yoga routine to help turn that sugar cookie into abs — not love handles!
Sukhasana: A mindfulness meditation
Begin in Easy Pose, or Sukhasana, for a mindfulness meditation. Close your eyes and be still for a moment. Listen to your breath, and make a mental note of any sensations arising in your body or heart. Focus on what it is you really want; although it might appear to be that whole bowl of dark chocolate truffles over there, is it really? Listen closely to your inner teacher, and envision the “you” that you most want to be right now and in the future. Do they match?
It takes about 14 minutes for even the worst craving to subside, so if that second helping of pie is still calling your name, first try sitting and meditating. Mindfulness in the face of desire, asking yourself if this is going to serve your ultimate goals or not, is a surefire way to meet your holiday eating habits head-on.
After a few minutes, if you decide that it’s worth it, then by all means … enjoy! But you might find that a moment of reflection before action goes a long way toward helping you stay more in balance in any situation.
Crossed Boat pulses
From Easy Pose, either (in order of difficulty) place your fingertips on the floor behind you (facing your hips), hang onto your knees, make Namaste hands, or stretch your arms out in front or you. Cross your ankles and lift your feet to knee height or lower, wherever you can do and still retain your natural low back curve, coming into Boat Pose.
Inhale and stretch your feet away a few inches. Exhale deep into the pit of your belly, and draw your navel and low back curve in equally.
Repeat five to 15 times slowly.
Core Plank to Side Plank to Core Plank sequence
After you’ve warmed up, try this sequence for total body transformation:
Starting in Downward Dog, lift your right leg into the air for Dog Splits.
Exhale and bring your shoulders forward. Your back rounds as your right knee sweeps into the chest for Core Plank. Repeat Dog Splits to Core Plank three to five times.
From your last Core Plank, lift your hips high, and spin onto the outer edge of your left foot. Either step the right leg onto the mat in front of you (halfway up the long right edge of your mat) or stack your legs on top of one another for Side Plank.
After a few breaths, spin back into Plank, then take Dog Splits, Right Leg Lifts, and Yogi’s Choice: Sweep your right foot to your right thumb and take the next standing series. Or continue to the Left Side Dog Splits and begin the sequence again. Or simply rest in Child’s Pose between sides.
Bound Lunge to Side Angle
Come into Lunge Pose, then interlace your fingers behind you to move into Bound Lunge. Keep a micro-bend in your elbows, and let your shoulder blades lift your heart as your tailbone carves down. Exhale and lower your torso as close as you can to your front thigh, lifting your navel to spine for support. Keep your heart open and your back leg strong.
From this position, ground your back foot down, and bring your right hand to the floor outside your right heel. Or if this is too low, bring your forearm onto the thigh. Sweep your top arm over your ear in Side Angle Pose and breathe, broadening and lengthening the bottom ribs as you breathe into the top to counter-pose your Side Planks.
Take three to five breaths in each of these poses, then return to Downward Dog, and repeat your creative sequence on the left.
This a quick way to do double-duty: You strengthen your muscles while gaining proficiency for your inversions and arm-balances. Handstand will be a breeze after a few hundred of these. Luckily, you won’t be doing all of those today. Just 10 to 30.
Come onto hands and knees. Place your hands under your shoulders, arms straight, fingers wide, wrists forward and fingertips super engaged.
Tuck your toes under, and use your low belly to lift your hips. Take care not to move your arms from their position — your head will be forward of your straight arms. Gaze is down just in front of your thumbs.
Walk your feet together, bend the knees and inhale. Soften your heart and bring your shoulder blades onto the back naturally. Exhale and push into the hands, lift your navel strongly, and hop your feet toward your seat. Tiny hops are fine if that’s where you’re at — just keep those arms unwavering. Chip away at it until one day you hover your hips over shoulders and heels by the sitting bones.
Do 10 repetitions, then rest in Child’s Pose, and if you’re able, repeat two or three times for a total of 30.
Your muscles will actually gain much more density if you stretch what you just worked. With more room, muscles can rebuild leaner and stronger — and this will require more calories all day long. Enter: Revolved Pigeon, the best all-in-one stretch I know.
Come into regular Pigeon with your right, front knee straight out from the right hip, or wider if you’re flexible. Your left, back leg stretches long. Keep your hips centered.
Plant your left hand at the front, center of your mat. Press firmly into both legs to ground them as you lean your torso forward, and bend your back knee. Reach your right hand around, and take hold of either a strap around your right foot or the outer edge of the foot.
Spin your right shoulder and gaze behind you, and breathe into the stretch and twist. If this is comfortable for you, bring your left forearm to a block or the floor to deepen the pose.
Breathe in the pose for one minute or more. Then move into Downward Dog and switch sides. Rest in Child’s Pose after both sides for at least two minutes to neutralize the spine.
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