The holidays are a tough time for all of us, particularly those of us who rely on routine day-to-day. Holidays mean a huge in break in routine between family gatherings, social pressure, and extended time away from home. It’s the ideal time for anxiety to slowly (or quickly) build to really intense levels. Often our regular coping mechanisms are harder to apply, or less effective, due to the upheaval in routine.
This holiday season, I’m hoping to add a few tools to your “Holiday Survival Toolkit”.
“Often our regular coping mechanisms are harder to apply, or less effective, due to the upheaval in routine.”
Now to start, one of the best ways to cope is to take breaks and take them often. Ask your host for a “safe room” you could go to if things get overwhelming, slip off to the bathroom for a few minutes every so often, find a quiet corner, and wear your noise cancelling headphones. Take your day-to-day strategies with you into the holidays as much as you can, making adjustments as you can. They may be harder to implement or less effective because the anxiety is just so high, but it will help to have these familiar habits at the ready.
Next, for some yoga pose-related tools. I’ve outlined below a few yoga poses and breathing techniques you can do just about anywhere – though I recommend borrowing a bedroom for some privacy, extra space & pillows. These techniques typically help relieve anxiety and allow our nervous systems to calm down from overstimulation.
Your breath in the following sequences is important, and an important part of your toolkit in general. The breath gives us an in, an access point, to our nervous systems.
Taking slow, mindful breaths can help to relieve some of the anxiety and strain we feel physically, like when our bodies send us into a fight or flight response in inappropriate situations (much like when that really loud family member is at it again). Often our brains can take the hint from the body, and that can aid us in calming down.
I like to aim for equal breathing: count to 5 on your inhale, pause, then count to 5 on your exhale. Another variation to try might be exhaling slightly longer than the inhale: 5 count inhale, pause, 7 count exhale, pause*. You can breathe in and out through the nose, or in through the nose and out through the mouth. Or, really, you can do whatever variation of breathing works best for you, as long as you’re paying attention and being mindful of the breath.
*Counting to 5 or 7 may feel like too much, so please adjust so your breathing feels comfortable. A 3-count works just as well as 5.
Before we dive in, I have to, have to, have to mention that everyone is different. What works for me or someone else, may not work for you. Please be mindful of your responses and your body, and if anything hurts or even just doesn’t feel right, come out of the pose or make an adjustment based on what you feel. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a trainer, teacher, or someone else for help in addressing your specific needs!
Now to the Yoga Poses!
For a short, anxiety-relieving sequence you can do almost anywhere (especially on those bathroom breaks!), try these poses:
Standing or seated side stretches
Stand in Mountain pose with your feet about hips width distance apart. Press down into your feet and engage your legs by lifting your knee caps. On an inhale, draw your shoulders up towards the ears, then release them down your back on your exhale, gently pulling your shoulder blades together and opening your chest. Your head is inline over your spine, arms are at your sides. Close your eyes and take a few breaths here. You might close your eyes and sway a little bit from side to side or back and forth to find your balance
If seated, plant your feet about hip width distance apart and ground into your sit bones, you might feel the bones against the chair (or maybe toilet). Hands can rest on your thighs. Engage your legs as much as you can, and on an inhale, draw the shoulders towards the ears.
- On an inhale, sweep your arms above your head, palms facing each other. Take your right hand and grab your left wrist. On your next exhale, begin to reach over the body with the left hand. You might feel a stretch from your hip all the way up your arm along your left side – this need not be intense, only go as far as it comfortable. Take a few breaths here, and on an inhale come back up to center. You might exhale your arms to your sides and give them a little shake before repeating on the other side (same instructions, but you’ll grab your right wrist with your left hand this time and stretch the right side.)
Variation: you might bring your right hand to your hip or thigh or the side of a chair as your reach over and to the side with your left (repeat on other side)
Again take a few moments in mountain as described above.
Next, you’ll bring your hands to the front of your thighs, bend your knees, and on an inhale, fill the belly with air and arch the back. Your gaze might come slightly up (but only so much as your neck is comfortable)
On an exhale, you can begin to round through the back and shoulders, drawing the navel in towards your spine.
Ragdoll / Forward fold opt to wide
Beginning from mountain, inhale your arms overhead, and on an exhale, hinge forward at the hips to come into a forward fold. Feel free to keep your knees deeply bent.
From here, you might walk your feet slightly wider than hip’s width distance apart, bending your knees as deeply as comfortable, relax your torso over your legs. From here, you may grab opposite elbows and even sway a bit if you’d like
Stay here for as long as you’d like
To come out, come back to stillness and release your arms and hands to the ground. On an inhale, slowly raise your torso up, straightening your legs as you come up, arms overhead. You may take a breath here and on your next exhale release the arms to your sides
You might try this pose seated as well
Restorative Yoga Poses
If you have the time and space to slip away (or try them before bed!), I’ve outlined a few restorative yoga poses you might like to try:
Child’s pose with a pillow (~5 mins)
On your hands and knees, bring your toes to touch and spread your knees wide
Bring a pillow (or three) so the short end sits between your knees and extends out long in front of you
Take a big breath in, letting it lengthen your spine
On your exhale, slowly begin to walk your hands forward on either side of the pillow, bringing your torso to rest on the pillow(s)
You may reach your arms out in front of out, or you may keep them bent at the sides of the pillow
Your forehead can be resting on the pillow, or you can turn your head to either side. If you turn your head to the side, try to turn it to the other side during your rest so both sides are about even
To come out, on an inhale, press into the hands and begin to walk them back towards your knees as you bring your torso upright. You can remove your pillow support and extend your legs out in front of you
Supported chest opener (~5 mins)
Stack 2-3 pillows on top of each other
Bring your lower back to the short edge of the pillows
Legs can be in any comfortable configuration: in butterfly (maybe you put some pillows under your knees too), extended out straight (maybe with a pillow under your knees), or bent with the feet planted
Inhale to lengthen your torso
Exhale to walk your hands back, lowering your torso onto the pillow stack
To come out, press into your hands and begin to walk them back towards your hips
Restore twist (~2 mins per side)
Stack 2-3 pillows on top of each other
Begin sitting on the ground, then rotate to your right side so that your thigh is along the ground, bring your right hip to the short edge of the pillow stack
Inhale to lengthen your torso and square your chest to the pillows
Exhale to walk your hands forward, resting your torso on the pillows. This will be much like laying on your side with a pillow underneath you, supporting your torso
Your head can be in the same direction as the knees for a gentler twist or facing away from the knees for a more intense twist
Feel free to adjust during if you’re uncomfortable, changing the direction of your head or grabbing an extra pillow for support
To come out of the pose, press into your hands and begin to walk them back towards your hips
Repeat on the other side
Legs up the wall (~5 mins)
Bring one hip to a wall, then swing your legs gently up the wall, while coming to lay on your back. You may choose to scooch your hips closer to or farther away from the wall, depending on what’s comfortable for you
To come out, bring your knees into your chest and roll off onto one side, then make your way up to seated
If legs up the wall is too intense, grab and stack 2-3 pillows and lift your calves onto them as a modification (this is also known as Stonehenge!)
If you ever feel any tingling, numbness or other discomfort, come out of the pose. You can try again with additional props to support you or move on to another pose
You can access downloadable sequence documents for the above check here! The docs I’ve created contain extra variations, images and cues. These documents are created through tummee.com, and all the images used in this article are from Tummee as well – you can even check out the Sanskrit for most poses!
I hope these ideas add to your Holiday Survival Toolkit! Let me know below how they work for you!
Sullivan is an autistic yoga teacher striving to share more coping tools (such as yoga & meditation) with the neurodivergent community and beyond. Blending her background in psychology and mental health with yoga, Sullivan strives to share the peace, self-acceptance, and physical awareness yoga and mindfulness has brought her. Sullivan has a BS in Psychology from the University of Washington, and completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2019.
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