December, one of the most festive and joyful time of the year, but also a period full of long to-do lists, waiting lines and holiday travel mishaps. The key to maintaining balance and keeping energy levels up, is to make time for self-care activities that can help you unwind, relax and recharge. The following five tools will revitalize you this holiday season!
One of the fastest ways to down regulate is to take a moment and just breathe. Slow, deep abdominal breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which controls your parasympathetic nervous system. Since the vagus nerve runs through your diaphragm, a dome shaped muscle that’s situated in your ribcage, engaging this muscle during belly breathing will result in a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. It will also aid digestion. All of which result in a sense of calm and relaxation.
Lie down on the floor (or in bed) or find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. As you inhale engage your diaphragm by drawing it down towards your abdomen. As you exhale just observe how it settles back in under your ribcage. (Placing a hand on your belly can help reinforce this movement.)
Use the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to help you relax and recharge. The following sequence can be done anywhere, anytime – no appointment necessary! If you have 10-15 minutes to spare, do them all. If short on time pick one…
- Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your arms by your side. Place a pair of original Yoga Tune Up® balls on your upper trapezius on either side of your neck and just let your body settle into the balls. Stay for a minute or two and just breathe. (If you would like more pressure, place a block under your sacrum.)
- Place the balls in their tote and lie down with a block under your head. Place the balls on top of the block on set the base of your skull on the balls. Massage your sub-occipitals either by remaining still or by gently moving your head from side to side or up and down. Stay for approximately two minutes.
- Lie down on your side and place a Yoga Tune Up® ball on a block. Set your masseter muscle on top of the ball. Move around to strip or cross-fiber the masseter or remain still for a sustained compression of the muscle. After 1-2 minutes move the ball up to your temporalis muscle and repeat the self-massage treatment.
Move and get your heart pumping
Sometimes the best way to get rid of built up tension is to do some vigorous physical activity. Pick an activity that you enjoy (walking, running, dancing, cross country skiing) and get your heart pumping for at least 20 minutes. Recent research shows that regular physical activity can help reduce stress-induced depression by producing an enzyme that remove the harmful substances that accumulates during stress . Moderate to vigorous movement or exercise is therefore an excellent way to boost your energy levels, increase your body’s feel good hormones (endorphins, dopamine and serotonin) and reduce the amount of cortisol (a hormone produced during stressful situations).
Research shows that nature has stress reducing effects. Regardless of the underlying mechanisms, you can reap the healing effects of mother earth just by spending some time outdoors. No matter if you live in the city or in the countryside, inland or by the ocean, in a warm or cold climate there is always a landscape, fauna or wildlife that you can enjoy, observe or explore. The best part is that a little is better than nothing so a few minutes each day can have a significant impact on your mental and physical well-being.
Find a park, beach or forest and try to take it all in by using as many senses as possible. A leisurely stroll or just sitting down and breathing some fresh air will also do the trick, as long as you focus on just being and not doing or performing.
Restorative yoga poses are also a great way to unwind and recharge. All you need is some floor and wall space and a blanket, pillow or yoga bolster.
- Legs up the wall: Lie down on the floor close to a wall. If your hamstrings permit, put your hips as close to the wall as possible so you can rest your entire leg along the wall. If they don’t, place your heels on the wall and let your legs hang at an angle. Close your eyes and stay for 3-5 minutes.
- Spinal twist: Bring your knees into your chest and place your arms out to the side, like a T. As you exhale drop your knees to your left and stay in this gentle twist for around 10 breaths. On an inhalation bring your knees back up and repeat on the other side.
- Savasana on a bolster: Place a rolled up blanket, pillow or a bolster behind you. Lie down in a supine position and place your rib cage and head on the bolster. Your legs can be bent or straight but place your arms alongside your body with your palms facing up. Close your eyes, relax and breathe. Stay for as long as you want or need.
Let this December be the time of the year where you focus on down regulation by dedicating 5-10 minutes each day for one of the self-care activities listed above. Not only will your nervous system, your body and your mind thank you. People around you will notice your peaceful but also happy and energetic frame of mind. If they ask what your secret is, please share and let that gift be a small contribution to a better and more serene holiday season.
 Skeletal Muscle PGC-1a1 Modulates Kynurenine Metabolism and Mediates Resilience to Stress-Induced Depression (http://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(14)01049-6)