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Yin Yang: Morning and Evening Exercises

The holidays seem to invite imbalance. One minute you're dashing from party to party; the next you're hiding out in bed, paralyzed by the very thought of fighting crowds at the mall. The best way to weather the ups and downs, experts say, is to cultivate both sides of the energy coin -- the active, fiery energy known in the Taoist tradition as yang, and the passive, cooler energy called yin. The following fitness plan provides a simple, straightforward way to do just that. These two 15-minute sessions feature exercises designed by Cameron Shayne, the creator of Budokon, a mind-body discipline that draws from yoga and Asian martial arts, and Sarah Powers, the creator of Insight Yoga, a combination of yoga and Buddhist meditation. Shayne's energizing morning routine strengthens your yang, or inner fire, and builds endurance, while Powers's evening release helps you foster yin calm and sleep more deeply each night. Do these mini-workouts regularly -- ideally as bookends to your busy day -- and you'll find you have the strength to maintain your momentum and the peace of mind to weather the whirlwind.

Yang: Morning
Rolling Vinyasa
What It Does

Strengthens the shoulders, triceps, back, and core, building stamina and stoking your inner fire, which also helps boost confidence and endurance. "Any time you roll through the spine, you make it easier for energy to travel throughout your body, as the spine is the main conduit of the nervous system," Shayne explains. When you facilitate this flow, you draw energy to the spine, while creating heat in the body, improving flexibility and mobility.

How to Do It
Start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips, then tuck your toes under and straighten your legs to come into Downward Facing Dog. From here, start to round the spine beginning at the tailbone. Tuck the chin and roll forward until your shoulders are over your hands (imagine a wave starting at the base of your spine and rippling toward your head). Bend your elbows (keeping them tucked close to the body) and then lower your shoulders and arch your back into Upward Facing Dog. Now reverse the body roll. Starting with the base of your neck, round the back, as if you're pressing the spine against the ceiling. Roll back with a rounded spine, easing slowly into Downward Facing Dog. Do this exercise 3 to 5 times.

    

 

Floating Frog, Fighting Frog
What It Does
Strengthens core and shoulder muscles. This combined exercise heightens yang energy, so that you can confront fear, take risks, and move forward. Plus, it improves balance and agility, confidence, assertiveness, and teaches you to get up off the ground and go.

How to Do It
Start in Downward Facing Dog. Bend your knees deeply, look between your hands, engage your abs, and jump your feet to the outside of your hands into Frog pose. From there, pop up into a fighting stance -- arms and fists up, feet spread wide, knees bent, left foot in front of the right, as if you're hopping up onto a surfboard. Repeat this exercise 5 times.

     

 

Fighting Buddha
What it Does
Moves you through three states of being -- at peace, defending, and attacking -- without losing your center.

How to Do It
Start in a wide, squatting straddle stance, with your toes pointed out and knees bent, hands in prayer. Shift your weight to the left, straightening the right leg and bending the right arm, drawing the left arm over your head. Then reverse, shifting your weight over your right knee, chambering the left arm and punching the right fist forward. Return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times.

     

Stoke Your Fire: 3 Tips to Stay Energized
Laugh more.
A study conducted at Loma Linda University School of Medicine found that people who watched funny movies experienced a decrease in certain stress-related hormones.

Take a thank-you walk.
We all know that a 10-minute walk is a great way to revive yourself. Jon Gordon, author of "The Energy Bus," suggests ramping up the impact by silently listing what you're thankful for as you step. "It combines physical and emotional energizing for a double boost," he says

Refresh with peppermint.
Researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University found that those who inhaled the aroma of peppermint performed basic tasks more quickly and efficiently. Keep a bottle of essential peppermint oil in your purse for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Yin: Evening
Sphinx Pose
What It Does
Helps maintain the natural curvature of the lower spine, which is often flattened by long periods of sitting; stretches the front of the spine and softens any tightness around the heart, which can feed imbalance; creates more space in the lungs, increasing your ability to receive breath, which also helps alleviate depression. "The pose helps you support and calm yourself," says Powers, "since the curves in our spine are there to distribute stress."

How to Do It
Lie on your belly with elbows under shoulders. Look straight ahead. Hold for 3 minutes.

 

Reclined Twist
What it Does
Settles the emotional body, creating a sense of calm, while toning and massaging the abdominal organs; opens the outer hips and lower back; aids digestion, elimination, and detoxification, helping restore your body's natural balance.

How to Do It
Lie on your back with feet on the floor and knees bent. Cross left knee over the right and drop knees to the right, twisting the torso, keeping as much of your upper back as possible on the ground. If your knees don't come to the floor, place a blanket under them. Left arm stretches out straight along the floor; right hand rests over the torso. Look to the left. Stay 2 to 3 minutes twisted to each side.

 

Wide Child's Pose
What It Does
Relieves tension in the hips and lower back; draws attention inward; brings you in touch with your contemplative side; quiets the mind and calms the emotional body.

How to Do It
Sit on your shins with your knees bent. Open your knees as wide as they will go (place a blanket underneath your shins if you need more cushioning). Fold forward and rest your head on your stacked palms -- with your arms bent and elbows out to the side. If you have a tight lower back and need more height, rest your forehead on a folded blanket. Stay 3 minutes.

 

Savasana
What It Does

Allows the body to rest and absorb the effects of the session; promotes relaxation, clarity, and calm. "Spending time consciously resting in savasana discharges the events of the day so you can have a more replenishing sleep and wake up ready to go," Powers says.

How to Do It
Lie on your back with a rolled-up blanket under your knees. Keep your legs separated. Let your arms rest about 6 inches from your body with your palms facing up. Close your eyes and feel your breath gently rise and fall on its own. Let your body sink slowly into the floor as your thoughts grow quiet. Stay in this position for at least 5 minutes, or longer if you like.

 

Cool Your Jets: 3 Simple Ways to Unwind
Take 10.
Spending a few minutes alone each day allows you to assess how tired and stressed you are -- information you can then use to plan the rest of the day. "We need little bits of privacy to be able to connect to our inner selves," says Powers.

Find nature.
Bundle up for a walk in the park, or even tend to your houseplants. As Powers explains, "Spending time with the natural world nourishes your entire body."

Be kind.
When you do experience emotional upsets, be gentle with yourself. Show compassion by giving yourself room to breathe, perhaps repeating a calming affirmation.

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