SIMPLY YOGA - Try rooting Tree Pose to counter push and pull of holiday season

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I feel a need to brace myself at the beginning of October. Yes, the start of the school year and getting back into a daily routine requires discipline and stamina, but it is nothing compared to approaching holiday season.

There, I said it and I'm not sorry because facts are facts. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and New Year's Eve are back to back and there's no stopping this festive flurry.

I find the best thing to do is position your feet and brace yourself.

We could hunker down into Child's Pose, the safe pose we talked about last month and let the ordeal roll right over us. Or we could stand tall, swaying with the rhythm of the season and enjoy the dance. We could approach the season in Tree Pose.

The concept of Tree Pose is simple but its practice requires focus as well as a sense of humor. Start out in Mountain Pose, standing on both feet with your knees over your ankles, your hips over your knees, your shoulders over your hips and your ears balanced over your shoulders. OK, you are steady here, but to further enhance and build stabilizing muscles that support your your ankles, knees and hips - we are going to create some instability.

First, imagine one leg emptying all it's energy and weight while the other leg becomes heavy and roots down firmly through the sole of the foot. While one leg practically floats, the other leg firmly grounds. Now, gently rest your floating leg's heel on the inside of the rooting leg right above the ankle and rest your toes on the floor. If it is a struggle to maintain balance, stay with your toes on the floor and practice balancing.

If beginning Tree seems easy, maintain contact between your leg and your foot and move your foot up your leg. But to avoid unnecessary strain and possible injury, be careful not to rest your foot on the inside of your opposite knee joint. Instead, simply rest the sole of your foot on the inside of the standing calf or the thigh.

To keep your leg in contact with the thigh, create dynamic tension by pressing the foot into the thigh and pressing the thigh into to the foot. This tension should keep your foot in place and strengthen your hips, legs, abdominals and back muscles.

Now that your foot is in place and you are balancing on one leg, find a spot on the floor that isn't moving and gaze softly at this spot to help maintain your focus and balance. Bring your hands to your heart center or sternum in prayer pose. Or, you can extend your arms overhead, relaxing your shoulders down. Imagine you are growing your branches skyward.

Don't worry if you lose your balance and have to start again. That's just part of Tree Pose and part of life. It's hard to stand on one foot and balance, just like it's hard to keep life balanced during the holidays. You are going to bend and sway with the push and pull.

This is where your sense of humor comes in. Instead of getting frustrated just smile, take a deep breath and start again. Don't forget to switch legs and, if need be, hold onto someone else!

Rebecca Thorpe is a group fitness and Yoga Alliance-certified instructor. She teaches at Whitman College and the Walla Walla YMCA.

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