‘Tis the Season for Balance
The holiday season is quickly approaching; the time of year that is celebrated for being joyful but is frequently stressful. As we approach the darkness of the winter solstice we often feel a natural inclination to rest and take time out from our busy lives. However, this season tends to be socially packed and emotionally demanding. It can be hard to maintain a sense of inner peace when we feel over-extended or resentful.
Our yoga practice encourages us to live in the moment but this is easier said than done. Especially when we “shop ‘til we drop”, face frequent temptations to overeat or drink, and push ourselves to keep up with social demands. Maybe you face the stress of holiday travels or the stress of family demands. It can be easy to feel like we are “not enough.”
“Yoga for holiday stress helps you find balance this season. These practices, both on and off of the yoga mat, help us to stay realistic about our commitments and prevent overextending beyond our limits. It is impossible to feel thankful and overwhelmed at the same time. So, set an intention to slow down, move, and breathe. Becoming quiet and reflective, you create the space for authentic feelings and gratitude to arise naturally. Then, you can truly connect to your loved ones and give the gifts of your heart.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Om for the Holidays
When it comes to family you might wish you could travel home to be closer to family but feel stuck far away. Or, if you are travelling to be with family other challenges can arise. You might face critical parents or distant children. Maybe you take the role of caregiver for family members leaving little time for yourself. Or you might feel pressure to create perfect memories for your children to maintain the “magic” of the season.
Our yoga practice can become essential this time of year to help us maintain balance and stay realistic about what we can actually accomplish. Yes, it can be hard not to lose our cool amidst holiday stress. Having compassion can be challenging. Yoga for holiday stress helps you to find balance. Try these practices aimed to help you stay connected to yourself:
- Set an Intention: Use the practice of setting an intention to help focus your mind and align your heart to identify new goals during the holiday season. For example you might want to remember to take time for yourself each day or you might want to feel your strength. A powerful way to strengthen your intention is to create a mantra tailored to support your needs. Choose a word or short phrase that you can link to your breath. My favorite mantra for this time of year is “I am enough.” Inhale as you say to yourself “I am” and exhale as you say “enough.” Repeat your mantra throughout the day to reinforce your intention.
- Find Equanimity: Equanimity is often defined as a capacity to “stand in the middle of all this;” a reminder to find stable ground in the midst of chaos. Whether on long lines when holiday shopping or interacting with your in-laws you may feel the urge to react, defend, or snap back with sharp remarks. You have been learning to cultivate self-restraint in the midst of intensity on the mat. For example, during long holds in Utkatasana (translated as intense pose) or Warrior poses, your body is uncomfortable, your mind wants out. Now apply your practice off the mat. Instead of saying words or behaving in ways that you would later regret focus on feeling your feet on the floor, sense your breath, and remember “this too will pass.”
- Support your Tension: It is easy to feel stuck in stress. This often shows up as physical tension or a tendency to breathe in a shallow manner. Often we want to push discomfort and pain away. However, overriding body sensations can lead us ignore important boundaries for ourselves. Yoga encourages us to listen to the body, mind, and emotions. Take some time on your mat to move and unwind. Breathe into any tight spots in your body acknowledging that which feels stuck. Ask your body what it needs from you. Trust your sensations and allow them to guide your movement.
- Just Say No: We can all get caught up in people pleasing; sometimes because we want to avoid disappointing others or because we fear being judged. Within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the very first ethical principle (Yama) is called Ahimsa, translated as nonviolence towards physical, mental, and emotional aspects of oneself and others. Overstepping our boundaries we build resentment which creates harm in the guise of “doing good.” In sum, Paulo Coelho offers a simple rule to live by, “When you say ‘yes’ to others make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”
- Get off your Feet: You’ve been running around all day, standing on lines or standing in the kitchen. You feel the build-up of fatigue, your legs are tired, and your low back begins to ache. Too tired for warrior pose? Try Legs-up-the-wall post (Viparita Karani) as a quick and easy reset for your mind and body. When standing for long periods of time, lymph and other fluids contribute to swollen ankles and knees. By reversing your relationship to gravity you allow lymph to drain out of the legs towards your heart. This posture is known for stress reduction and it is a practice you can bring with you anywhere.
To find Legs-Up-the-Wall pose choose a wall in a quiet space where you can rest. Place your hips on a folded blanket up against the wall, and extend your legs upward. Allow your body to let go and be receptive. Stay here for at least 5 minutes and up to 20 minutes for maximum relaxation benefits.
- Focus on the Good: During this season we give gifts, we share from the heart, and we give thanks. It is impossible to feel thankful and overwhelmed at the same time because stress hormones interfere with the quiet, reflective space required to feel grateful. Sure, we can’t rid our lives of challenging experiences or difficult emotions. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, suggests that the goal is to generate more uplifting experiences and emotions. Recent studies have looked at the neurobiology of gratitude and reveal that an expression of gratitude can have profound effects on our physical and mental health by boosting neurotransmitters that combat depression and enhancing immune system functioning. Try this 3-part gratitude practice:
Find a quiet place where you can sit and reflect. If you like bring your hands over your heart and take a deep breath. Allow your mind to settle down and appreciate the experience of coming to rest. Bring to mind an intention to spend the next several minutes focused on gratitude for the people, experiences, and things in your life.
Part I is for you. Start by taking a few breaths to appreciate you. Thank yourself for making time and space for this practice. Extend this positive feeling even further by appreciating one aspect of you; maybe your legs for carrying you through the world, your smile, or an act of compassion you offered to another.
Part II is for someone else in your life. Turn your mind to a person or people who have been kind to you taking a deep breath into your heart. Maybe you think about a relative who helped care for you, or a neighbor who is always willing to lend a helping hand, or even a random act of kindness from a stranger. Take a deep breath as you give thanks for someone else who has made a difference in your life.
Part III is for your surroundings. Turn your mind to one appreciation of the world in which you live. Perhaps you focus on feeling grateful for the home that you live in. Maybe you focus your attention on one thing in the natural world that you are thankful for such as the beauty of a sunset, or trees that bring us shade, or the earth that holds us all.
Take as long as you like repeating all three steps as often as suits you. When you are complete, take a final few moments to notice how you feel before stepping back out into the world. Perhaps you notice feelings of warmth or positivity but if you are not feeling grateful it is important to know that you are not failing at this practice. Make space for whatever your feel. Listening to your authentic experience, being true to you, is the most important part of the practice.
Yoga for holiday stress provides valuable reminders to find balance this season. Set an intention to slow down, move, and breathe. Becoming quiet and reflective, you create the space for gratitude to arise. Then we can truly connect to our loved ones and give the gifts of the heart.
Looking for more?
- Therapeutic yoga and how you can unwind and connect
- 5 Best Holiday Gifts for Children to infuse the season with meaning and purpose
- My Top 40 Resilience Practices for every time of the year!
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About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Althea press, 2016) and co-author of EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology: Interventions to Enhance Embodiment in Trauma Treatment (Norton, 2018). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.
Photo credits: Thanksgiving dinner by Tom Purves, Happy Holidays by Marcus Quigmire