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Yoga Poses to Tame Holiday Stress Instantly

Take a break from in-laws, company and holiday budgeting with this easy mood-soother
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The holidays are a joyous time filled with treats, gifts and togetherness; it's also filled with company that stays too long, nosy in-laws and some stress on the checkbook. The American Psychological Association reports that, during the holidays, 69 percent of people are stressed from lack of time, 69 percent from lack of money and 51 percent over the pressure to give or receive gifts.

Rather than hitting the gym to burn off tension and anxiety (face it, you're not making it there over the holidays), turn to these stress-relieving yoga poses from Nadia Narain, yoga instructor to stars like Reese Witherspoon and Kate Moss. "I like yoga, because you need to be connected to your breath, and it works on the nervous system as well as the physical body," says Narain.

In her new DVD, "Everyday Yoga for Stress Release," Narain focuses on three areas of practice -- one for burning off tension with strengthening, flowing poses; another for when you're burnt out and exhausted, in need of lighter activity; and a third to relieve emotional stress (i.e. the sure-to-happen-at-least-once family fight). Here, the yoga poses for relieving all your stressful holiday woes.

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You Stayed Up All Night Wrapping Gifts
Sleep is in short supply most of the year, but during the holidays it becomes even more limited (especially if you're camped out on an air mattress at your relatives'). Practice poses that focus more on breathing than body during these lower-energy periods.

The Pose:
Reclined Cobbler's Pose

To warm up, begin in child's pose, holding for 20 seconds to slowly breathe in and out. Next, slowly move into downward facing dog. Inhale and lift your right leg into the air for just a beat, then exhale and tuck that leg into the belly, holding for a few breaths. Let that foot fall in front of you -- pulling it with your hand if you need to --into a lunge. Exhale and turn, reaching your right arm to the sky. Inhale, bringing the arm back down. As you exhale, return to downward facing dog.

Hold for a breath or two before lowering yourself into a straight-armed plank position. Hold this position for ten seconds, then return to downward facing dog. Now, repeat this sequence, this time using your left arm and leg. When you've finished, return to child's pose.

Now to begin the reclined cobbler pose, return to a seated position, with bent knees out in front of you. Gently roll yourself to the ground, vertebrae by vertebrae, and extend arms out to the side. Next, bring you arms up above your head, holding onto your elbows. Let the soles of your feet come together. Hold this position, breathing in four counts and out four counts. Repeat your breathing four or five times. Feel free to let your knees bounce slightly, releasing more tension.

Next, take a deep breath in and relax your legs out in front of you. Continue breathing, relaxing your whole body into the mat until you want to end your routine.

Why It Soothes:
"Reclined cobbler's pose is a great and simple exercise for calming the mind," says Narain, "bringing a feeling of ease to the body and aiding in deep, restful sleep." So whether you just can't sleep thinking over your holiday shopping and to-do lists, or you're nights behind on shut-eye, finishing your yoga routine with a breathing-centric pose like this one will help. "Poses like the cobbler help you slow down, unwind and breathe, allowing the body to let go and to settle."

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If a Flight Home Isn't in the Cards
The main cause of emotional stress during the holiday season: loneliness. If you're stuck in a different city than family or mourning the loss of a loved one, release tension with this upbeat, non-traditional pose.

The Pose:
Bouncing Release

Start in a standing position. Stretch your arms up and over your head, and begin shaking out your wrists, relieving tension from the body. Start loosening your fingers, hands and arms as you shake. "Releasing stress, tension, unwinding, undoing," describes Narain.

Start to bounce through the knees, beginning to jump. Move your hips side-to-side and keep jumping for 30 seconds.

Slow down to a standing position, but keep shaking out the arms and wrists. Keep breathing, softening the shoulders, then reaching your arms up and stretching to the sky, inhaling as you do so. Next, exhale, releasing the arms down.

Narain instructs to breathe in and out as you feel the energy running through you, stretching your arms and neck if you'd like.

After the bounce and release pose, step to the front of your mat and bring your hands into prayer position. Inhale, reaching your arms up, then exhale, bending forward and bringing your hands to your shins.

As you inhale, straighten your arms and lift your chest, bringing your head up slightly. Then as you exhale, bring your hands back behind your legs and your head down. Inhale, stretching all the way up and bringing hands to the sky. Then exhale, dropping back to your shins. Repeat the sequence one to two more times.

Why It Soothes:
"I created this sequence with a few different elements that are not strictly yoga poses," says Narain. "Just allow a bit more freestyle, rather than being strict with instructions and alignment." You can also add cobbler's pose to the end of the sequence to release tension further.

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When Your In-Laws Are Driving You Crazy
If you find yourself grinding your jaw or taking to the eggnog a little too heavily, you're probably feeling some pent-up tension and stress. To burn it off, add more movement into your yoga routine.

The Pose:
Strengthening, Flowing Sequences

Start at the front of your mat with your hands in prayer position. Inhale, reaching arms up to the sky. Exhale, folding down at the waist and bringing your fingertips to your toes. (Narain advises to bend slightly at the knees if you feel too much pull.) Inhale, lifting the chest and stepping your right foot back into a lunge. As you exhale, move into downward facing dog. Inhale, going into a straight-armed plank pose. Then as you exhale, press back into downward facing dog again.

Next, inhale, lifting your arms above your head and bringing yourself into crescent pose (a high lunge with arms stretched over your head). Hold this pose for a breath or two, sinking slightly deeper into the pose if you can.

Bring both your hands to the ground and step your feet together at the front of your mat. Inhale, reaching arms up and above your head, then bring them back into prayer position. Repeat the sequence on the opposite side.

Why It Soothes:
Narain created the tension-burning segment of her DVD to have more flow to invigorate your body. "Both a slow practice and a little more fluid practice are beneficial, depending on how we feel. Sometimes we need to conserve energy, but other times we need to build the fire a bit more."

Photos: Republished with permission from "Everyday Yoga for Stress Release with Nadia Narain." To see Narain's full sequences, you can purchase the DVD on Amazon now.

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