Preparing for the 4th: Yoga Poses to Honor Your Independence
Holidays can be a paradox. It’s way too easy to get stressed out about having time to relax and reflect. Perhaps the days leading up to July 4th consist of scrambling around town for your kids’ favorite snacks and those pretzel buns your in-laws love. You’ve manicured the lawn and have gone into dirt lockdown mode to make sure the house stays clean. Then, in the wake of celebrating Independence Day, you’ll be picking up windblown napkins and firework shells from the yard, muttering to yourself that if you hear the kids throw those little white noisemakers one more time you might lose it. And if the neighbors once again shoot off leftover fireworks after you’ve put the kids to bed...
Take a moment to catch your breath, and remember that holidays are a time of celebration. On Independence Day, we celebrate the claim of independence which led to the establishment of the United States as an independent nation. As such, it’s also a good time to center yourself and reflect upon your own independence and strength.
When holiday preparation or cleanup leaves you feeling more frazzled than joyful, try setting aside a little time in your daily schedule for this simple yoga routine so that you can honor and celebrate your own independence.
Starting Position: Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose, or tadasana, is a pose of stability and strength. At first, it may feel too simple to be beneficial, but the simplicity of tadasana is where its power lies. Mountain pose helps you to feel strong, stable, and powerful–– all effortlessly. It’s a great starting point for many other poses, and by itself it can be a useful tool for improving your patience, focusing on your breathing, and correcting your posture.
To achieve tadasana, stand with your feet close together. With your big toes touching and your heels slightly apart so that your second toes are parallel, let yourself feel rooted in your feet. Try to put the same amount of weight into both of your feet. Engage your legs so that you can feel a line of energy going all the way from your heels to the crown of your head. Stand with a straight spine; your gaze will be forward. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and draw your shoulder blades down your back. Let your palms face forward.
Once there, feeling sturdy and rooted, allow yourself a moment to breathe deeply and feel your connection with the ground. Take slow, controlled breaths, keeping your poise rigid. Stay in tadasana until you feel calm and rooted– perhaps thirty seconds to one minute.
Second Position: Tree Pose
Once you feel stable in Mountain Pose, try transitioning into Tree Pose, or Vrksasana, to help yourself regain a sense of balance.
From Mountain pose, shift your weight into your left foot and rest your hands on your hips. As the other foot starts to feel light, lift it and place it against your left leg. At first, you may need to press your right heel against your left calf and let your toes rest on the ground. Perhaps you can bring your right foot all the way up to the inner thigh of your left leg, with your heel just below your groin and your toes just above the knee. Start where you are and listen to your body about what is best for you. The only rule about where to place your foot along the opposite inner leg is this: do not let your foot rest on your knee. You want it above or below the knee, but not on the knee, as that can lead to injury.
Check in with your hips and see if they are level. You want the top of your hips to be flat, and square with your torso. If you’re tilting your pelvis or leaning too far to one side, gently correct it so that your hips are in line with one another and your pelvic bowl is level.
Once your foot is lifted and your hips are aligned, lift your hands, placing your palms together at the center of your chest. Or, if you want to challenge yourself a little more, keep your palms together and lift them overhead; your arms should be straight and framing your ears.
Stand in tree pose as long as you can. When finished with your left foot, return to tadasana for a moment, then shift your weight into your right foot and repeat the process on that side.
It can be a challenge, especially at first, but it is a great pose to help you improve your sense of balance and learn to trust in your body. Even if you start to topple over and have to come out of the pose, it’s easy to come back into it and reclaim your balance. Doing so in your yoga practice will help you learn to do the same when you start to teeter off balance in your life off the mat.
Third Position: Warrior I
With Mountain and Tree poses, you’re able to feel fully rooted and balanced. From there, shifting into Warrior I, Virabhadrasana I, will help you feel powerful and ready to take on the day.
Start by returning to Mountain pose near the top of your mat. Keep your left foot facing forward and step your right foot back, turning your toes out about forty five degrees. Your left leg should be bent and your right leg should be straight. Both heels need to be on the ground, and the knee of your bent leg shouldn’t extend past your toes. If it does go past your toes, take a wider stance.
Press your palms together at heart’s center and then extend your arms overhead. If you’re able, take a slight backbend, lifting your gaze to look at the space between your thumbs. Keep breathing and check to make sure that your hips are square with your torso, toward the front of your mat.
Hold the pose as long as it is comfortable, and then return to standing at the front of the mat. Take a moment to shake out your legs, then switch sides and repeat.
Enjoy Your Holidays
Taking time to honor your body and celebrate yourself amidst holiday stress won’t make all the cooking, cleaning, hosting, or decorating go away, but it will definitely help you cope with it and put more joy back into your holidays. For hands-on help with the poses discussed, or to learn more, be sure to stop by the studio!
If you have a favorite posture for getting yourself relaxed and centered during stressful times, let us know in the comment section below.