Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.

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The Opportunity Pose: A Less Stressed Holiday Season

Sometimes an opportunity is obvious, sometimes it can be cloaked by perception. Often opportunities can pass right by because they look like a problem. When fear comes into the picture it seems opportunities dry up all together.opportunity1

During my first few attempts at yoga I was afraid of looking foolish. The fear I harbored inhibited my confidence. I was thinking about all the things I hadn’t learned to do yet. I was looking at it backwards. I considered my newbie status to be a detriment, when I should have focused on the limitless opportunity of learning that stretched out before me.87577938

Luckily, I loosened up and figured it out. I relaxed into a practice were I can be realistic about my abilities, push my boundaries, try new things and understand that mistakes are not failures. As always, this lesson in my yoga practice allowed me to reflect on how I approach similar circumstances in everyday life.

I think the approaching holiday season is a great opportunity to take this yoga lesson out into the world.


There is a lot of anxiety that accompanies the approach of the holidays. People become stressed on so many levels. There are the logistics of gathering with family and friends, the extra expenses that come with gifts and travel, the extra responsibilities of cooking and entertaining and the less talked about family tensions that often come to a head at this time of year. It can be challenging.

But isn’t every challenge an opportunity?

Here are 6 practical tips to using yoga philosophies to create a less stressed holiday season.*

1. Acknowledge how you are feeling. The holiday season is built up to be an extra happy and festive time. For many people it is and that is terrific. However, if you find yourself feeling blue or down you should not force yourself to be happy just because it is the holidays. Do not bottle it up. Being human, it is normal to have a whole range of emotions. It is not normal to suppress emotions and pretend to be cheerful when you are not. Do not judge yourself and find a safe place to express yourself.

2. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

3. Practice acceptance. Work to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress, too.

4. Take a breather. Find some time for yourself, even if it is just 15 minutes. A little bit of time alone can recharge you enough to take on the next “to do list.” Here are some relaxing activities you can do on your own:

Take a seated position. Ideally, your knees should be slightly lower than your hips and your eyes should be closed. Sit up straight and inhale for a count of eight. Pause when your lungs are full and then exhale for a count of eight, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat at least 3 times.

  • Take a walk
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Read
  • Nap

5. Practice gratitude. Yes, this time of year brings added stress but it is also a time to count our blessings. Often our stress is created by expectations we hold that are not necessarily based in reality. Let go of that stuff, enjoy the people you want to enjoy, take in the beauty of the season and let it all unfold.

6. Give back. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to practice altruism. That doesn’t necessarily mean writing a check. This is an opportunity to start a family tradition of donating time around the holidays.

I hope you love your holiday season. But if you don’t, I hope you take the opportunity to make changes so that you can create something that you do love.


*For a more in-depth list visit The Mayo Clinic.

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Office Yoga: The Workplace Pose

Here at Off Your Mat, I focus on finding moments when the philosophy of yoga can support everyday thoughts and tasks.

There are many places on the internet where you can find a more literal interpretation of taking yoga off your mat. It has recently been explored by social media darlings like Hilaria Baldwin (pictured below). It is a wonderful thing, but not everyone is comfortable calling attention to themselves in the name of health.

Hilaria Baldwin executing a first class airplane pose to the delight of her fellow passengers.

This week I’m focusing on taking asanas into the workplace in a practical manner that is applicable to an everyday business.

I’m not suggesting lotus pose on your desk or back bends down the wall. That would be cool, but it might not reflect your workplace culture.

office yoga

This beneficial pose could be interpreted as attention seeking behavior in a typical office.

I’m addressing the moment you realize your shoulders are hunched, your brow is furrowed and you can’t remember the last time you took a deep breath. It is the moment when your mind is out of touch with your body and you need to make a connection.

Here are three simple asanas you can do to alleviate stress and support your body without creating curious inquiries from neighboring co-workers.

1) Breathe


Closing your eyes protects your brain from visual stimulation and allows relaxation.

Attention to breath is essential to yoga practice. There are many forms of Pranayama. My favorite breathing exercise is Sama Vritti Pranayama (Equal Breath). This means inhaling and exhaling for an equal count.

Take a seated position. Ideally, your knees should be slightly lower than your hips and your eyes should be closed. Sit up straight and inhale for a count of eight. Pause when your lungs are full and then exhale for a count of eight, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat at least 3 times. You can shorten or extend the count to your comfort level.


Best time to do it: Anytime.

Suggested times: Before public speaking, after handling a customer complaint or between classes.

Benefits: Releases endorphins, relieves stress, lowers heart rate and increases focus.

Tip: Feel silly closing your eyes? Pick a singular non-moving point of focus, maybe on the wall or where the wall meets the ceiling. Let your eyes rest on that spot as you breathe.

2) Stand

Are you making phone calls? Stand up. Do you have hours at the keyboard ahead of you? Take a 2 minute break and stand up.


Its called Tadasana (Mountain Pose). If you are wearing high heels, slip them off. Stand with your feet together and your hands at your sides. The crown of your head and your feet should be aligned. Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head pulling your spine straight. Roll your shoulders back and allow your shoulder blades to slide down your back away from your ears. Look straight ahead. Make sure your hips are slightly tucked under. Activate your quadriceps. Breathe deeply.

Best time to do it: Anytime.

Suggested times: While on the phone, at the copier, or standing in a lunch line.

Benefits: Strengthens abdomen and legs. Helps to relieve sciatica and supports the plantar fascia.

Tip: Often we sit out of habit. Set a reminder on your calendar or cell phone to remind you to take Tadasana pose once every hour.

3) Twist

Bharadvājāsana is a seated spinal twist.  Sit with your feet flat on the floor, keeping your spine straight, slowly rotate your torso to the right, placing your left hand on your right knee and planting your right hand behind your right hip. Keeping your hips facing forward, look over your right shoulder. Remember to keep your arms and spine straight, staying in the twist for at least three slow breaths. Repeat on the left side.

Best time to do it: Before lunch or an hour or so after eating.

Suggested times: Mid-morning or late afternoon. Instead of a second cup of coffee, take a twist.

Benefits: Detoxifies by massaging internal organs, improves digestion, stretches spine, shoulders, and obliques.

Tip: Recovering from a big weekend? Use spinal twists to wring out leftover toxins in your system and drink plenty of water afterwards.

Let me know your favorite workplace pose. Share in the comments or send me a tweet at @gray_sara.