Anybody stressed by the holidays? If so, you are not alone. With all of the extra demands on our time, and all of the expectations, it's easy to let stress take over this time of year.

It doesn't have to be that way. We can all take some simple steps to reduce the stress in our lives, now and throughout the year. It's important to find a strategy that works because stress is more than just an annoyance. It can have a real negative impact on our health.

Stress causes a fight-or-flight response in our bodies, which means extra hormones and adrenaline are released into our systems. If we don't find a way to release these extra chemicals, over time, this can cause disease. The very word suggests this: dis-ease. When we are not relaxed, we are taxing our bodies in an unhealthy way. No one can be relaxed all of the time, of course, but finding ways to take a break from the stressful aspects of our lives is very important.

Two activities that help me the most are cycling and yoga. Right now, I want to focus on yoga. Yoga is a therapeutic modality, a moving meditation that provides great benefit to all who practice. Beginners to seasoned yogis achieve multiple health benefits both "on" and "off" the mat.

Yoga relieves stress as it combines intentional breathing with gentle stretching. People who are stressed tend to take shallow breaths, which taxes the body, whereas deeper, more intentional breathing is nourishing. Taking in more oxygen both relaxes and energizes you. Oxygen also nourishes and heals because it helps to remove toxins from the blood.


The physical benefits of yoga are obvious; we've all seen the beautiful Yoga Journal models who are fit and flexible! Yoga builds strength, balance, flexibility and determination for all who practice.

I find the most beneficial gift of practice is intention, creating a space and time where only the connection with your own body, breath, and spirit are important. Deep breathing and slow movements bring us into the present moment, helping us to reconnect with our bodies and identify which parts are in need of extra attention and awareness. The asanas, or poses, provide a way for all of us to come into a present moment, to breathe, and to learn to stay. This sense of "being here now" allows for intention, relaxation, and focused awareness to occur.

Yoga may not be for everyone, but it is appropriate for the vast majority of us. It doesn't really matter where you are when you begin because anyone can make progress with a regular practice of yoga. The results are a sweet reward. At this holiday time, it's especially important to give yourself the gift of some sweet, gentle, loving self-care.

I currently teach two classes each week at the Grace Cottage Community Wellness Center in Townshend. I invite you to drop in on a class, or join a series, and see if yoga is an appropriate activity for you. Call 365-3649 for class times or to sign up!

Crystal Mansfield, OTR/L, CYI, is the Grace Cottage Hospital Director of Rehabilitation and Wellness.