It's not hard to tell that Christmas is just around the corner. If the pretty snowflakes and colorful decorations didn't help you clue in, the full parking lots and shopping madness would! It seems that over the last week, St. John's holiday shopping has begun in earnest.
If we look on the bright side, we can remember that this surge of energy and excitement is happening with the best of intentions. People looking for gifts to present to their loved ones during a holiday with love, gratitude and joy at its core.
If, however, we're more inclined to hone in on the throngs of people pushing and rushing, the full parking lots and the garish display of materialism, then this "energy" may represent something totally different.
The difference between these two scenarios is, of course, perspective. Each of us has the power to experience holiday excitement in a positive or a negative way. Chances are we will experience moments of both. One minute we'll happily anticipate the Christmas season and another we'll just wish it could all be over.
The practice of yoga can help us to choose a more positive outlook. At the core of yoga philosophy is the concept of unity - the belief that we are all one. Awareness of this union of yourself with those around you can help cultivate a more forgiving attitude. When we think of ourselves as part of a larger "whole" we find that suddenly, small differences aren't quite so important. So, instead of being angry at the woman who just skipped ahead of you in line at the grocery store, you may find yourself wondering why she's in such a rush today. It's not to say that these injustices won't exist anymore - but your reaction to them can change when we step back from the here and now, and look instead at the larger picture, our part of the larger whole.
Another important concept at this time of year is non-attachment. Non attachment is often misunderstood. It does not mean that we should not care about the people or things in our life. It does not refer to a hazy state of uncaring. Instead, non-attachment is about being liberated from the grasp of material goods and the outcome of life situations so that we can achieve a more even state of being. In the Christmas rush, it's easy to get caught up in the "way things should be". When we set out looking for a specific gift item but can't find it we get upset. When we throw a holiday party and things don't go according to plan we feel disappointed. This attachment to outcomes causes pain; it prevents us from experiencing joy in the moment. By being present and letting go of rigid expectations we can reduce our attachments and more freely enjoy the Christmas season.
Of course, the concepts of unity and non-attachment are more easily discussed than implemented. Yogis spend their whole lives trying to incorporate these concepts into their everyday lives. For most of us, we need a few practical tips to deal with the holiday madness. So here are my suggestions:
1. Breathe! Don't let deep, calming breathing be something only practiced during a yoga class. When you get stuck in a busy shopping mall or a long line, draw your attention onto the breath. Feel your inhalations become a little deeper, and your exhalations a little longer. Let all other external thoughts and sensations slip into the background. It only takes a moment or two for this to slow the heart rate and calm your nervous system.
2. Relax! Literally. Check in with your shoulders. Chances are, in a moment of tension, they've crept up to your ears! Relax them. Draw the shoulders back and down as we do in Tadasana or Adho Mukha Svanasana. This targeted movement tells your body and your sympathetic nervous system that the crisis is over; that you can relax again.
3. Set an intention! Before you go out into a potentially high-stress situation, ask yourself why you are going. If you're going to the grocery store to stockpile for a family dinner, your intention could be "I'm going shopping so that I can bring home delicious food to nourish my family". When you get stuck in a long line, come back to this intention and remind yourself of your ultimate purpose. If you can remember the genuine purpose of any action, the obstacles that suddenly get in the way may not seem quite so daunting.
4. Practice yoga! Whether it's a full class with a teacher or a quick 10 minutes in your own home, don't let your yoga practice slip during this busy season. We have all kinds of excuses to keep us from doing what our bodies and minds really need - but if you know that yoga makes you feel good, do everything possible to find a little time for this nourishment. It will serve you well when you most need it. As one of my teachers, Baba Hari Dass, says "if you work on yoga, yoga will work on you".
These are just a few suggestions. Your own yoga practice will help you develop tools to deal with stressful situations and you'll start to see what works best for you. Take notice and take action so that you can move through this holiday season with joy and gratitude.