Yoga for the Hectic Holidays


The holidays have always been an uncomfortable time for me. I find the idea of emphasizing family once a year to be contrived.

What's more, the holidays are especially uncomfortable for many people this year.

The political landscape is very divisive and I know many people are apprehensive about having political discussions with family members.

While I sympathize with the uncomfortable feelings, I don’t have advice for that specific issue. However, this guide will include pointers for staying grounded and loving during a grandiose but stressful time of year.

When I use the word "yoga," in this post, I mean it in a comprehensive way. I will go through the eight limbs and suggest ways to deal with the hectic holidays.  

Stay grounded with the ethics of yoga

I think during stressful times, it is important to remember our values and do what we can to hold on to them. So let's review the yamas (moral restraints) and niyamas (moral observances) and imagine their context in a holiday situation.

Yamas: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacharya (Containment), Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness)

Niyamas: Saucha (Cleanliness), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Zeal), Svadyaya (Self-study), Ishvara pranidhana (Surrendering to God)

Out of all the yamas and niyamas, three jump out at me during this time of year and one jumps out at me because it's 2016.

Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness): I think there's a real need to remind ourselves that we have enough and consider what it means. On Thanksgiving, we gather with our families to practice gratitude for what we have. On the next day, we go out and shop on Black Friday. To be honest, I enjoy Black Friday shopping myself, but there's a tension here I think we all need to explore and address on an individual level. I can't give you the answers, but I do encourage you to consider what this yama means to you. For more on this yama, check out my group discussion.

Svadyaya (Self-study): Because the holiday season happens to coincide with the end of the year, I always find myself prone to intense self-reflection. Perhaps it's more of a New Year Eve's activity, but I find myself reflecting on my growth and my goals at the start of fall. It's a good time to celebrate your successes and find deep appreciation for yourself and your soul's life journey.

Ishvara pranidhana (Surrendering to God): Maybe it's because I was raised Catholic, but there is a powerful sense of surrendering to and being with God around the holidays. If you aren't one to engage and revel in religious holiday activities, I'd like to remind you that this niyama also refers to joining a cause greater than ourselves. I find that all the businesses partnering with nonprofit organizations reflect this same principle. Personally, I take time to reflect on my spirituality and sense of community.

Lastly, I want to make a special mention to ahimsa (non-violence). We are living in such a divisive political time, that it's easy to separate ourselves from "the Other" and cause harm.

A Short Yoga Sequence For the Hectic Holidays

This sequence will include asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), and pratyahara (sense withdrawal in the form of restorative yoga).

Cat-Cow Pose // Marjaryasana-Bitilasana

From table top, take one hand up to the sky...

Then take your hand under your other arm, and place your cheek to mat...

Low Lunge Twist // Anjaneyasana

Cobra Pose // Bhujangasana

Use a bolster and block to set up for restorative yoga

Restorative Cobbler's Pose // Baddha Konasana

Bhramari Pranayama // Bumblebee Breath (Click to see how-to article)

Lovingkindness: Concentration and Meditation

Lovingkindness is a useful meditation technique to increase compassion and happiness. It's great year round, but I think it's especially fitting for the holidays.

I'll go into dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditaton) with the lovingkindness meditation technique.

"Sometimes lovingkindness is described as extending friendship to ourselves and others—not in the sense of liking everyone, or dispensing universal approval, but more as an inner knowing that our lives are all inexplicably connected." –Sharon Salzberg

How to do Lovingkindness Meditation 101

  1. Find a comfortable position, whether lying down or sitting down.
  2. Concentration: Offer lovingkindness by silently repeating these phrases, May I Be Safe, May I Be Happy, May I Be Healthy, May I Live with Ease.
  3. Meditation: Allow your thoughts come and go, always returning to the phrases if you need to.
  4. Next, you can try to think of different people to wish the phrases upon. May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease. You could try someone who has helped you, someone who has been hurt, someone who you see around but aren't close to, and even someone you find difficult. 
  5. Take a moment to notice how you it makes you feel.

The beauty of this meditation technique is that it fosters a compassionate mindset and reminds us that we all want the same things: to be safe, to be happy, to be healthy, and to live with ease.

I remember one of the first times I tried this technique, I was shocked to be thinking of the same thing for somebody I didn't really like as for myself! It humbled me really fast.

Finally, Samadhi

Throughout the blog post, I hit the first seven limbs of yoga.

Let's recap: we reviewed the ethics (yamas and niyamas) and particular ones I felt were more relevant during the holidays; we looked at a yoga sequence with asana (posture); pranayama (breathing techniques); and pratyahara (sense withdrawal); and we looked at the basics of lovingkindness meditation (dharana and dhyana).

I don't have a magic bullet to experience the last limb, samadhi, or spiritual bliss. But I do believe if you pay close enough attention, you can catch moments of samadhi this holiday season. The potential is all around you.

"We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea, and you don't believe in miracles?"

Keep aspiring toward samadhi and have a fabulous holiday season!

With love,