The holidays are oftentimes equal parts gratitude, excitement, and stress. It can be challenging to stay grounded and look after ourselves this time of year. How can we prepare for the sensory overload?

Today, yoga teacher and health coach, Joanna Cohen, shares her routines and rituals that will keep us present to the joy of the holidays.

Splendid Spoon: Hi Joanna! Tell us about your journey to yoga and health coaching.

Joanna Cohen: It’s been a long road! I started practicing yoga six years ago. I worked at an intense marketing job, and exercise helped me stay sane. I used to run a lot, but soon swapped that for a vigorous yoga practice!

Yoga class was the only time when I wasn’t consumed by work thoughts. Yoga infiltrated my life more and more, until I realized teaching it was the only way I could focus on it as much as I wanted to.

Every day I gain a clearer understanding of how yoga is a lifestyle. Everything I do off the mat — how I eat, handle my relationships, the way I organize my home — is as central to my yoga practice as what I do on the mat.

SS: What routines can we set now so that we feel our best before the holidays hit?

JC: Check in with yourself every day. It’s easy to let the days of the holiday season run away from us, and only realize afterwards that we’ve been making poor choices and feel terrible.

Every day is a chance to reset. I recommend you meditate in the morning to establish continuity and mark the start of a new day. This could be a seated meditation, but it could also be an exercise routine, two minutes of deep breathing, or journaling. These routines and rituals will help us later in the day when we’re faced with holiday temptations.

SS: Do you do anything extra to help you stay grounded during the holidays?

JC: I make extra sure I meditate in the morning, and force myself to get outside everyday, even if it’s just for a walk around the block. I also set myself a baseline of workouts — for example, five yoga classes a week. If I don’t give myself a target number, exercise falls by the wayside.

SS: The holidays are a time for feasting. Before we eat, how can we make sure we’re nourishing ourselves as best we can?

JC: There’s a concept called “crowding out” that I find so helpful during the holidays. Basically, make sure you’re getting all the good stuff you need in your diet first. I resist the temptation to skip breakfast and use this meal as an opportunity to give my body what it’s used to and what it needs. I start my day with fruit and fiber so that my metabolism and digestion are cared for.

Also, every time I fill my plate, I make sure to begin with what my body needs e.g. veggies and fermented foods. After that, I allow myself to eat what I want without guilt, as I know I’ve given myself everything I need.

SS: What can we do to avoid over-indulging during the holidays?

JC: I believe that how we do anything is how we do everything. Starting my day with a meditation enables me to be mindful with my decisions for the rest of the day.

There are a few key practices I do with every meal that help with this:

  1. Get your body into “rest + digest” mode. As soon as you sit down with your meal, take a few deep, conscious breaths. It will change the way your body absorbs the food.
  2. Drink and eat separately. We normally wash our food down with water or wine, but this messes with digestion. Separate food and drink so you can better digest your food.
  3. Chew. This one’s challenging for me. Try to chew your food completely. You’ll find it takes much longer to eat, but that you’re fuller and you eat less.

SS: This time of year is filled with indulgences. How can we indulge without feeling guilty?

JC: Indulgence is inevitable at this time of the year. It doesn’t matter how disciplined we are, part of the joy of the holiday season is embracing our lives as they are. We should practice kindness with ourselves (even if we’re not 100% happy with our choices), express gratitude for time spent with people we love, and recognize our wholeness.

Life isn’t always about making the best decision for one part of us (like skipping the pie); we also need to make choices that nourish our whole being (like choosing the mashed potatoes that remind us of childhood).

SS: Do you detox after the holidays?

JC: I do a “fast” once every two weeks: for one day I only eat fruits and veggies (Ed Note: Sounds familiar!). This fast day will fall soon after the holidays, and it’s enough to get me back on track.

SS: What yoga poses can we do to relax and center ourselves during the holidays?

JC: Headstand is my favorite centering pose. Seated or standing forward folds are also great for stretching and turning inwards. And a few minutes in child’s pose is always restorative.

SS: If we feel rundown post-holidays, what movements will energize us?

JC: Sun salutations are great to get your heartrate up and feel inside your body. [For you non-yogis, here’s a sun salutation guide so you can practice at home! — Ed.] They don’t require any space or props, so there’s never an excuse not to do them! Although I don’t run much anymore, I find that when I’m feeling sluggish a short run energizes me.

SS: What do you do to get grounded on a daily basis?

JC: It changes slightly every day but my go-tos are: morning meditation and journaling, making and drinking coffee, and taking a yoga class.