Caught up between the stressors of city life, work, and the approaching holiday season, I visited the Body & Brain Center, which teaches Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation across the country. DC head instructor Donna “Dahari” Lovong uses simple stretches and meditation to relax muscles and calm the mind, but her sense of humor and positive energy are just as helpful. Faced with end-of-the-year deadlines and holiday planning, I immediately reached out to her for tips on staying stress-free and focused. Try any of her six tips for a minute (or more) to survive your year-end jumbles.
1. Stretch your shoulders.
Release shoulder tension with this sequence: With palms up and elbows straightened, clasp your hands above your head, relax your shoulders down, and wiggle your upper body side-to-side. Then, pump your arms back-and-forth behind your head.
Next, switch to a triceps stretch: lock your hands above you, and—while looking straight forward—pull your elbow down by your head. Switch sides. Finally, return your clasped hands above your head, and rotate them, as if making a halo above you. Switch directions. When you’re done, unclasp and slowly let your hands return to your sides. Appreciate the sensations you feel after each activity, says Lovong. “Feel your shoulders, arms, and fingers here.”
2. Twirl some plates—real or imaginary.
“It strengthens the upper body joints and opens up your energy channels,” says Lovong, referring to the Eastern concept of how energy flows through the body. To start, keep your feet flat on the ground and swing your arms in figure-eight patterns by first looping under the armpit.
Feel free to practice one arm at a time until you get the hang of it. Right leg forward, knee bent; right arm twirling, palm facing up. Your head should follow the direction of the hand. Then switch sides. Mastered each arm individually and together? Try it backwards.
3. Mindfully drink tea.
Drinking tea is a great way to unwind during the winter, but Lovong adds a twist. “Smell the tea, look at the tea color, slowly sip and enjoy the tea. Hold it in your mouth for three seconds before you swallow, and feel the warmth go down your abdomen,” she says, sipping Mago’s Healing Energy Tea. Practicing mindfulness helps keep you in the present moment, she explains.
4. Balance on one leg.
“Stress is an emotional response to external stimulus,” says Lovong. “Balancing is a good way to stop focusing outside and to bring focus inside on you.” By standing on one leg, energy redirects from your thoughts to your feet—you can feel it in your calves and toes—and forces you to focus on your own body. Too easy for you? Try balancing with your eyes closed.
5. Practice body scanning.
Body scanning is the act of focusing on each body part during meditation. Lie down or sit with your hands on your knees, and close your eyes. Be sure to smile slightly, relax the shoulders, and keep good posture, then try listening to this meditation.
6. Tap your toes together.
Try this exercise either laying down—which opens up your hips, says Lovong— or sitting. Roll your legs side-to-side, tapping your big toes together. Don’t flex your feet straight into the air. Relax and breathe deeply. “It really helps with insomnia, migraines, and headaches,” says Lovong.