The Twelve Poses of Christmas – asanas to get you through the holidays
Christmas is almost upon us and whilst we might feel mostly full of festive frivolity and seasonal joy, we will also find our bodies under tremendous stress, with all the travelling, family situations and gift-buying pressures that come with it all, not to mention the tremendous eating and drinking.
Here at Sampoorna – Yoga Teacher Training School in India, we’d like to offer you the gift of twelve yoga asanas that are going to help you get through it all, and come out the other side feeling energised, relaxed and full of goodwill to all men (and women). Don’t forget to breathe throughout and listen to your body…
1. Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound-angle pose – up to ten minutes)
Synonymous with relaxation, this is many a yogi’s go-to restorative pose. From a seated position with your feet on the floor and knees together in front of your chest, slowly lower yourself to the floor, and let your arms fall to your sides, palms up. Bring the feet together and slowly let your knees fall towards the floor, creating a diamond shape between your legs. Do not push the knees down – let gravity do its work to open up your hips, and remember to keep your lower back on the floor. Support your head with a blanket or bolster and feel the stress leave your body.
2. Balasana (child’s pose –up to three minutes)
Again, this is where yogis go in class when they feel the need to calm their bodies and minds in a more challenging, dynamic class. From an all-fours position (table-top), slowly lower your hips back, reaching your tailbone towards your heels, laying your belly over your thighs. You can also choose wide-legged child’s pose, with the toes touching and knees turning out to the width of the mat for an even more restorative position. Your arms can stretch out in front of you, or remain by your sides in classic Balasana to relax your shoulders, forehead on the floor.
3. Bhujangasana (cobra pose – up to 30 seconds)
A surprisingly effective backbend pose that stretches the spine, opens the heart and relieves tiredness and stress. Lie down prone on the floor with your hands placed next to your ribcage, stretching your legs and pointing your toes. Slowly straighten your arms as you press your toes and thighs into the floor, coming as far as you can into a backbend, keeping your elbows tucked in.
4. Halasana (plough pose – up to five minutes)
This is a great inversion pose to practice after cobra to counteract the backbend and calm your mind, but you should only come as far into it as your body is telling you to go. You can come into this pose either from shoulder stand, or, from a supine position, bring your knees to your chest, and support your middle back as you straighten the legs upwards and allow them to come over your head with the aim of the feet touching the floor behind you. If you cannot touch the floor, then keep the arms supporting the back. If you can, you can stretch out the arms along the floor and clasp the hands together. You have the option of keeping the knees bent if your hamstrings are tight. Do not turn your head in this pose.
5. Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend – up to 3 minutes)
You can also use this classic pose to counteract your cobra backbend. It’s great for helping with headaches, tiredness, anxiety and sleep problems. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, feet flexed. Lengthen your spine and and lean forward from the hip, keeping the spine as straight as possible. Depending on how flexible you are, you can place the hands on the knees, shins, or ankles, or hold your big toes/sides of your feet. Inhale to lengthen and exhale to deepen this pose.
6. Sukhasana with forward bend (easy cross – fifteen minutes)
You’ll probably be familiar with this one already as it’s how most of us start a yoga class, but combined with a forward bend, it can be the perfect mind-calming pose coupled with a gorgeous stretch of the lower back and spine. Seated on the floor, cross your shins and bring each foot under the opposite knee. Allow the knees and feet to relax, inner foot resting against the shin, and keeping the spine straight, gently fold forward from the hips. You can walk your arms forward as far as you want to go, and/or use a blanket to raise the pelvis and create more space for you to move.
7. Uttanasana (standing forward bend – up to one minute)
If you’ve been sitting around for long periods of time, this pose can give you a wonderful stretch of the hamstrings as well as relieve tiredness and anxiety. From a standing position with the feet together and the spine straight, fold forward from the hips and if you can, bring the fingers or palms to the floor, keeping the legs straight and engaged. You can also hold your shins or bend your knees in this pose, if you have tight hamstrings (like me!).
8. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose – up to one minute)
Bridge pose is a great Christmas all-rounder, not only improving digestion but reducing tiredness, headaches, anxiety and mild depression. Lying on your back, bend your legs, and bring your feet in as close to your hips as possible. Pressing arms and feet into the floor and keeping thighs parallel, slowly raise your hips and chest off the floor as far as you can, squeezing the shoulder blades in behind your back. You have the option to clasp your hands underneath your torso to deepen the stretch.
9. Garudasana (eagle pose – up to 30 seconds)
This pose will help relieve any stress you’ve built up in your hips and shoulders and provide you with a moment to focus and find balance amidst all the chaos. From a standing position, cross your left leg over your right and if you can, hook it behind the right calf. At the same time, cross your arms in front of you and place the right elbow into the crook of the left and press the back of your hands together. Raise your elbows and feel the release across the back of your shoulders and in your hips as you bend your right knee. Practice this pose on both sides.
10. Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose – up to fifteen minutes)
The perfect inversion pose to do before you go to bed to reduce anxiety and encourage a deep, restful sleep. Using a folded blanket as a support, place it about five inches away from a solid wall. If you are flexible, the support will be higher than if you are not. Sitting sideways on your support on whichever side you prefer, swing your legs up on to the wall, and your head and shoulders onto the floor, releasing your arms out to the sides. Allow the weight of your legs to drop into the hips and relax your belly and chest into the floor. Adjust the support if needed.
11. Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby pose – up to ten minutes)
Another great all-rounder pose that banishes anxiety, tiredness and calms the brain.
Lie on your back and bend your knees into your belly, then grip the outsides of your feet with your hands. Open your knees and bring them up toward your armpits, with the ankles directly over the knees, feet flexed. Push your feet upwards and pull your hands down to increase the effect.
12. Savasana (corpse pose – until the end of time)
The ultimate stress-reliever – nothing beats lying in stillness, completely relaxed, and imitating a corpse at Christmas. There is a reason it comes at the end of every yoga class! Lie down on your back and allow the legs and arms to fall outwards away from the torso. Conduct a ‘body scan’ to make sure you have relaxed every single part of your body, including your tongue, jaw and forehead and thank yourself for the gift of this pose.
Happy Christmas from all at Sampoorna Yoga School Goa, India !
Lisa Edwards is a freelance writer, editor and certified yoga teacher, who completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training at Sampoorna Yoga school, Goa, India, in 2019. Sampoorna Yoga courses – RYT-200, RYT-300 and RYT-500 – are registered with Yoga Alliance, USA, and Yoga Alliance Professional, UK.