Why You Need Yoga During the Holidays

Do you ever have those moments where you look around and think, “How is it already December?” If you maintain a busy schedule, managing a career, a family, relationships, etc. you might not notice the holiday season sneak up on you until it’s too late.

In fact, if you haven’t noticed, you are here, December, full blown holiday season. The holidays are meant for taking time off, relaxing and connecting with family and friends, but if you are still swamped with work deadlines, last minute holiday shopping, or even coordinating holiday parties, it can be challenging to allow yourself the time to relax. Or maybe you even have some family members who you struggle to connect with and you have to try a little harder to find ease during your holiday festivities.

This is why you need yoga during the holidays.

When the holiday hustle picks up, it can be easy to taper off in your yoga practice. Prioritizing tying up loose ends at work before you take time off, cleaning, decorating, hosting friends and family, planning and preparing meals can leave very little time for your usual 8:30 AM Vinyasa practice or your Friday night Restorative class. It is the season of giving, right? So maybe you need to give a little less to yourself in order to give those around you an ugly Christmas sweater party they’ll remember for years.

This is even more reason why you need yoga during the holidays.

First, yoga teaches you to connect with the present moment. If you’ve been steady with your practice before the holiday season, you may have seen them coming back in October and allowed yourself the time to prepare. However, if you are just now waking up to the fact that it is the first week of December and you have done little, if anything, to prepare for the holidays, it is not too late. Learning to connect to the present moment through a yoga practice can keep you grounded while you make your last-minute preparations, preventing you from spinning off into a panic-driven holiday whirlwind.

Second, yoga, specifically pranayama, or breathing exercises, train you to find grounding presence through your breath and soothe your nervous system. There are certain breathing exercises meant for stimulating the parasympathetic division of your nervous system, the part of your nervous system that helps you to relax. If you are feeling frazzled, caught up in the fight or flight response of the sympathetic division of your nervous system, because you nearly burnt your holiday meal and that one family member that knows how to push your buttons wants to make sure you know you almost burnt the holiday meal, it may be challenging to regain your composure before dinner is served so you can truly be present with your friends and family. With a regular yoga practice and familiarity with different pranayamas, you can take a few moments to breathe, perhaps using the Samavritti Pranayama (Samavritti meaning “Equal Movement” – Inhale to the count of four, hold the inhale to the count of four, exhale to the count of four, hold the exhale to the count of four, and repeat) and mellow out before taking your place at the table.

Third, yes this is the season for giving, giving time, giving presence, giving love, but that doesn’t mean you should stop giving to yourself. In order give more, we have to receive more. You are more deserving of your own love and presence than anyone else. This may sound selfish, but when we focus so much on giving to those around us, neglecting ourselves, we drain our well of loving energy dry before our family even gathers around the table. When prioritizing your holiday to-do list, or even doing your last minute gift shopping, don’t leave yourself out of the mix. Give yourself the gift of your own loving presence, take time out to move and breathe on your mat, and fill your own cup with your love before serving others.

So if you find yourself getting more and more tense as the holidays draw nearer, whether it is because of your endless shopping and to-do lists or even the influx of travelers and consumers giving rise to traffic, remember to be generous with yourself this season and truly take the time to relax. Gift yourself with the gift of yoga, whether it is inside or outside of the studio, and give yourself some space to breathe.

 

Presented by Marcy Hullander

Yoga Challenge Complete: We are blown AWAY!

All of us at Bristol Yoga are proud of the dedicated Yogis making their way to class during the month of January. Some of you we see every day, some almost everyday and others at least every week.  Those of you that entered our challenge our headbands are off to you. We are BLOWN AWAY by your dedication! You set a goal, you made time for yourself and you allowed us to be apart of it. Whatever your goal was, whether you completed 10 classes, 20 classes or 30 classes, it is not the amount but the journey you took each day. Making your way to class, unrolling your mat and committing to the practice takes dedication. We THANK YOU, for sharing your time and your YOGA with us. Our January Challenge has come to a close but we are still seeing all of you come to class, taking a place on your mat and sharing in the Yoga. Whatever your yoga needs to be for you, whether we are in a quiet, restorative practice or a funky, up tempo flow, it is all Yoga with a purpose. It is where we find refuge, quietude, healing and community. 

Yoga at its origin means to "yoke", bring together or unite. This practice of yoking as it applies to the ancient science of yoga brings the emotional and physical bodies together to achieve a clarity or bliss. In our Bristol Yoga space we have found this yoking to include a growing community. We feel honored and grateful you have chosen us as your community. Thank you for allowing us to share in your journey.

The light in us thinks the light in each and every one of you is AWESOME!

~Namaste~

Shelly & The Bristol Yoga Tribe

Check out the insights from Bristol Yogi: Daniel Wallen, he completed 31 classes in January. This included a Monday through Friday 6 am Sunrise Class. He committed himself to the routine and the practice, making his goal a reality. We think his insights ring pretty true for most new Yogi's beginning a consistent practice. Including all the ups and the downs he gives us a honest view. Maybe something rings true for you? Feel free to read back through his journey in previous posts. On a side note: The Sunrise Class is growing and we are having so much fun at 6 am it is criminal, Come see for yourself! 

"01/26 Sunrise w/ Marcy

Cues are a key ingredient of any yoga practice. Put simply, cues are the words teachers use to guide students into a yoga pose.

You might have noticed most teachers only use a small number of cues at a time. That's because using too many in a row would overwhelm most people.

Don't get upset if a particular cue doesn't make sense. Some of them still make me scratch my head if I'm being honest. It's nothing to worry about, though. There are a lot of ways to describe every movement.

As you practice, you will start to realize some cues resonate with you more than others. Be mindful of the ones that click most. You might even want to modify a cue by putting in your own words. That will make it easier to remember. Remind yourself of that cue every time you encounter a pose to improve your form.

01/27 Sunrise w/ Victoria

 It's interesting how some people struggle to be still during corpse pose at the end of class. I used to be one of them, but have learned to appreciate the silence, because it rejuvenates me. 

Victoria did something at the end of class that I'm definitely going to remember. She read a section out of a book called “Buddha's Brain.” This seemed to help the people who get distracted  in corpse pose. 

That section discussed a concept called Equanimity. The goal is to reduce stress by minimizing your emotional reactions. If someone cuts you off or skips you in line at the grocery store, you don't have to react to it. You could just shrug it off like it didn't happen. Reacting to every little thing that happens will steal energy that could be directed to a more productive purpose. If you can't change it, try not to react to it.  

01/28 Sunrise w/ Shelly

I'm starting to understand how a teacher could select a small number of poses and combine them in different ways to create a unique class experience.

For example, the Warrior poses could be held for a long time (more than 30 seconds) to create a strong foundation and improve your posture. Those same Warrior poses could be held for 5-10 seconds and combined with a couple of other poses like down-dog and cobra to create a flow style that trains the cardiovascular system. And you could throw in some core movements to make things more interesting.

I used to be overwhelmed by the idea of having to make a bunch of different classes so people wouldn't get bored. It's funny how things can seem so complicated in your head. Now I know I could just change-up things like the order of the poses, how many seconds you hold each pose, and the cues (what to focus on during a pose) to keep things interesting. I am so glad I wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.

01/29 Sunrise w/ Victoria

This was a difficult class for me. There were a couple of poses that I couldn't do at all, so I caught my mind drifting to a negative place. If nothing else, I am more mindful of this tendency now, so I'm usually able to prevent a full-blown case of self-loathing (a feeling I used to know very well). That might seem blunt, but I think it's good to be vulnerable, because another person could relate with the situation and be comforted in the knowledge that they are not alone.

01/30 Sunrise w/ Marcy  

Whoa, I just made it through 30 classes in a row! The funny thing is everybody else seemed to be way more excited about it than me. That's probably because I just focused on going to one class at a time to make my goal look less intimidating... which totally worked, so I recommend giving it a try – small steps can add up to massive changes over time as long as you can be patient.  

Speaking of small steps, I've noticed that changing one tiny thing can make transitions from one pose to another feel more fluid. Marcy suggested placing our hands on our knees while moving from low lunge to warrior, which made that transition feel less awkward than normal. Don't get in the habit of assuming you need to make a BIG change for things like this. Sometimes a little one will do the trick.

01/31 Yoga for Every Body w/ Marcy 

Have I shared that I'm a very introverted person? I think so, but maybe it wouldn't hurt to remind you. It's nice to meet people, but large crowds freak me out.  

I mention that, because the parking lot was FULL today. I'm kinda proud of myself for not pulling a U-turn and going back home! The yoga studio was so packed that Marcy didn't even have enough space to use her yoga mat, so she just stood up and moved around the room the whole time.  

That was fine by me, because it can be hard to know if you're doing a pose correctly without feedback. Individual adjustments can help you improve your posture and get deeper into a pose. I also feel safe in classes with mobile instructors, because it seems like the teacher is completely aware of his or her surroundings. That's something I definitely want to provide when I start to teach.

 Check this blog in a few days, because I'm working on an introspection post about what yoga means to me. I'll reveal some of the major lessons I learned during my daily challenge. Namaste! "

Week 2 Yoga Challenge at Bristol Yoga: Moral of the story = "throw a tantrum"

If you are following the insights of Bristol Yogi, Daniel Wallen, you will be interested to read his latest journal entries from this past week. He has decided to complete thirty classes in thirty-one days for January. He still considers himself new to yoga and this challenge is a way of taking his practice to the next level. Check out his take home gems from his classes with Bristol Yoga. 

"01/05 Sunrise w/ Marcy

I love how different teachers use different genres of music. I have worked with five different teachers at Bristol Yoga so far and they all use music that fits their personality and class style. I enjoyed Marcy's  music so much that I couldn't help asking her to write down the band's name (it was Cantoma if you're curious).

Thinking about this made me wonder what kind of music I would use in a class when I start teaching. I have been listening to a lot of classical music lately, because it helps me focus on my work as a writer... maybe I could be known as “the male yoga teacher who sets his classes to moving music that was composed by dead guys with funny hair.”

01/06 Sunrise w/ Victoria

Remember how I mentioned the concept of reference points in my first journal entry? Victoria used a transition that will serve as a good one. Hero pose is tough for me, but Victoria had us spend almost a full minute in child's pose right before it, and it made a really big difference.

Victoria told us a story about how she was in a big hurry to get to class. She lost track of time, panicked, rushed up the stairs, tripped, fell down, and ended up with a bump on her foot. She called this a valuable lesson about how it is best to stay calm and focus on the present moment, especially in times of stress.

That was relevant to me, because I sped the whole way to class this morning. I was paranoid about the possibility of getting pulled over the whole time. I usually take my showers before bed, but I was exhausted last night, so I decided to save it for the morning (bad idea). After I dried off, I looked at my clock and said some swear-words, because I only had ten minutes to make it to class.

It's funny how little things can seem like a big deal while you are going through them. I should have just drove the speed limit without worrying, because I was registered for this class, and I know Victoria would have given me a few minutes to arrive before she locked the door. Also, I am a creature of habit, so I shouldn't have changed my routine in the first place since I'm fully aware that I thrive with consistency.

01/07 Sunrise w/ Shelly

Today we practiced a movement that will help with hand-stands later (I can't do those or head-stands yet – going upside down still freaks me out at this point). I'll describe that movement just in case that helps you can picture it.

You begin in down dog, walk your feet forward a few steps, and try to kick one leg up at a time in a hopping motion. I hadn't really tried that before. It's interesting how new and disruptive challenges can make it harder to focus on poses that you already have a decent handle on (let's just say my lunges were a lot more rocky than usual!).

01/08 Sunrise w/ Victoria

I've noticed a couple of ways that yoga teachers can help their students get closer to their edge (the maximum stretch that you can achieve safely without experiencing pain). Victoria used both of them today. She had us perform a total of 14 sun salutations with these poses:

Mountain → Fold → Flat back → Fold → Lunge → Plank → Lunge → Chaturanga → Up dog → Down dog → Volcano → Repeat

This resulted in a cardiovascular benefit since the quick pace got the blood flowing and heart pumping. Conveniently, warming the body up in this way can help you get deeper into difficult poses. My hips are far more flexible than they used to be, but they're still a bit tight generally speaking. Today I got much deeper into a lunge than I ever had before.

 

It's worth mentioning that Victoria had the class get into a one-legged down dog before every lunge, but for some reason that makes it a lot harder for me to space my legs out, so I started to leave that part out of the sequence halfway through the class to save myself some trouble. While most people should follow the instructor as completely as they can, I feel there are times where it is okay to modify things based on what you learn about your body.

01/09 Sunrise w/ Marcy

Marcy started today's class with a highly focused segment on breath control. She accomplished this by introducing us to a technique called ujjayi pranayama, which is commonly referred to as “ocean breath” since that is exactly what it sounds like in practice.

I couldn't breathe through my nose as she instructed, but I didn't let that frustrate me. Maybe my nose was stopped up due to allergies or maybe my practice isn't in a place where that is possible yet. Whhatever the case may be, I just breathed through my mouth as deeply and audibly as I could (you know you're doing it right when your exhales sound like Darth Vader).

I recently read a book called “The Willpower Instinct.” The author, Kelly McGonigal, discusses how a meditation practice can improve your willpower. Meditation is all about redirecting your focus back to your breath when you get distracted. Likewise, success is all about redirecting your focus to your goal when you want to give up. She mentioned a neat tip that helped me in this class. To slow down your exhales, pucker your lips as if you are blowing through a straw while you release your breath.

01/10 Yoga for Every Body w/ Shelly

It seemed like Shelly mentioned a modification for the overwhelming majority of poses in this class. I made a mental note of that, because that's something I will need to be mindful of when I am a teacher. On a similar note, today reminded me of a limiting belief I had when I started going to yoga classes.

I used to see props (i.e. blocks and straps and blankets) as bad things. I was very rigid when I began and it didn't help that I was also incredibly self-conscious of that fact. If I was in a class full of people who could do a pose without assistance, I felt ashamed that I couldn't accomplish the same thing. Now I know that was silly, but I bet a lot of people feel the same way. The rest of this journal is for them.

Please don't feel “inferior” if you can't do a pose without assistance. Every person is starting their practice from a different place. The other people in that class could have been practicing for years. If you just started this month, then you're obviously not going to be as skilled as they are. Comparing yourself to other people won't do you any good. Be thankful for the body you have and be patient with the process of making it stronger. Props will help you achieve that safely, so use them if you need to!

01/11 Warm Yin-Yasa w/ Shelly

Today Shelly had us do something fun and unexpected called tantrumasana. We were laying on our backs and she asked us to start beating the ground with our hands and feet as hard as we could.

I can't speak for everybody, but I felt relieved afterward. A lot of us walk around carrying a lot of bagging in the form of stress, anxiety, and upset feelings. If we don't have an emotional outlet (i.e. meditation, vigorous exercise, or a trusted friend to talk to, then feelings can end up festering inside.

This is why I kept a private stream-of-conscious journal several months ago. My life got turned upside-down for reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog, but suffice to say I was feeling very stressed. Writing down my feelings without filter – no matter how nasty they were! – helped me get the junk out of my system every morning.

Moral of the story = if you're feeling down, try throwing a tantrum or keeping a journal (maybe even yell in a pillow while you're at it – I bet you'll feel better after the fact)." - Daniel Wallen

January Yoga Challenge with Practitioner: Daniel Wallen Week 1

Bristol Yogi, Daniel Wallen has committed to 30 classes in 31 days for the month of January. He is diving into the practice of Yoga in preparation for his Yoga Teacher Training at Bristol Yoga this Spring. As a health coach and wellness advocate he understands the importance of daily movement and stress management. Yoga is fairly new to Daniel and he is curious about all hype. Why is Yoga a predicted top ten fitness trend in 2015? As Daniel reveals in excerpts from his daily yoga journal, it is evident that Yoga is not just some fitness trend. It is an ancient tradition of bringing balance to the mind, body and spirit.

Daniel's New Year started off a little rocky with a serious family medical issue. He could have let this stop him from continuing with his commitment to a daily practice. Instead he found that Yoga and breathing exercises (pranayama) kept him steady through the stressful situation.

Read about Daniel's experience, maybe something rings true for you too!

"01/01/15: 2pm Hot Yoga Detox

I didn't write down much today, because my mom has been very sick and that is all that has been on my mind. However, I can say this class was a very welcome escape from all of that. I have an addictive personality, which has produced some pretty nasty habits in the past.

It's been a while since I've been addicted to anything (except coffee)... but it had also been a while since I've faced something so upsetting as my mother being so sick, that it could make me regress (stress and upset feelings were my biggest triggers). I'm pleasantly surprised that I didn't even feel the urge to smoke a cigarette or anything like that. I just wanted to lift weights, go to yoga class, and walk my dog. Exercise is a really good emotional outlet. I look at it like something that refuels me, not something that drains me.

01/02/15: 6am Sunrise Class

Victoria said something that made me chuckle today. She told me to “space out my long gorgeous legs” while I was in Warrior II. I was able to add some distance between them without much of a problem. It felt weird at first, as I'm not used to such a wide stance, but then it felt normal after a few seconds. Maybe my body has adapted to that pose (remember: there was a time that I didn't have anything resembling balance) and now I need to make it a bit harder to get the full benefit?

Also, the fear of looking dumb is a limiting factor for me. This comes out in full force on day #1 of any new class. I gradually get over it past that point, though – patience is a virtue as they say. We practiced crow pose and head-stands, which are not exercises that I'm good at, and it was crazy how noisy my thoughts got when I started to worry about that. I have gotten pretty good at being able to laugh at myself, which is helpful, but sometimes I lose that skill in situations that are stressful or unusual. 

01/03/15:  10am Yoga for Every Body

I can never go straight into down-dog correctly and it used to really frustrate me. One day Shelley told me I should be able to transition straight from plank to down-dog and that made all the difference. My brain might automatically remember flawlessly one day, but until then I am using plank (or the push-up position) as a “reference point” which I always go to before transitioning to down-dog.

Maybe it would be possible to use a similar approach with other poses that are difficult? I'll be looking for more ways to use a reference point to transition into tricky poses." -Daniel Wallen

REMEMBER: The most important thing in our own lives, is our OWN LIFE! Without our life, nothing else exists. We must take care of ourselves: our mind, body & spirit in order to care for those around us. Finding time for your Yoga practice, whether at the studio or at home is a way of bringing balance to this crazy ride called life. 

Stay tuned for more insights from Daniel on his January Yoga Journey