Dear Beautiful Yogi,
If you are a regular reader of my posts then you know I am a huge fan of Ayurveda and apply it to my life in every way possible. Once I began integrating this beautiful and wise approach to living, I noticed major changes in my health, energy levels, and mental outlook. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga and it is called the “science of life”. Ayurveda is an ancient healing system dating back to the Vedic civilization, which aims to bring about balance and optimal health. Yoga and Ayurveda categorize fall and the early portion of winter as vata season. During this time of year, the qualities of air and space are dominant in nature. This means wind, activity, dryness, movement, change and colder weather. This also happens to be a holiday packed time of year, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Day. For many of us, this season brings lots of travel, extra activities and events as well as added traffic and “running around”. We accumulate too much air and space. Anxiety, sleeplessness, worry and a scattered mind are all symptoms of too much “air and space” and leave us feeling out of balance and just plain stressed out. Here are 5 simple and practical techniques from the ancient healing systems of yoga and Ayurveda for reducing stress and creating a more harmonious and meaningful holiday season:
1) Get still and meditate! This may be the very best thing you could do for yourself this time of year. Becoming still and quietly directing your attention, almost immediately counters the effects of stress and too much over-scheduling. Commit to just 5 minutes every morning before the demands of the day begin. Here is a simple practice you can do every day: Find a comfortable place to sit. You can sit in a chair, or on the floor. The key is sitting with a tall spine (no sinking or slouching) and placing the legs in a position that is completely comfortable. If you choose to sit on the floor, sit on some lift like stacked pillows or blankets and support the knees if they do not touch the floor. Once you are sitting comfortably, pay attention to your spine, feel yourself sitting tall and balanced. Then, notice your breathing. Let your mind observe the flow of your breath. At first, this may feel awkward, as if you don’t know how to not interfere with your own breathing. Stick with it until your breathing feels effortless. Once you are in the effortless flow of your natural breath, begin the simple mantra So Ham. Silently, inside your own mind, say “so” as you breathe in and say “ham” as you breathe out. Do this for 5 minutes. You will catch yourself mentally wandering off and when this happens, simply come back to your breath and the mantra So Ham. It means “I am That”…..
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2) Stay warm and eat warm! As the weather gets colder, our bodies feel the effects. It is important to bundle up and wear layers, especially for all outside activities like hiking, running and skiing. Getting chilled, increases the negative effects of too much air and space. Eating cold foods also increases the cold within our bodies. This is the perfect time to pull out the crock pot for soups, stews and hearty dishes. Try roasted vegetables and warm salads versus only cold or raw. Opt for hot tea versed iced drinks. Allow yourself to indulge in some sweets as they are soothing when eaten moderately this time of year. Go for warm, moist and lightly sweetened treats.
3) Just say no. I realize this can be so challenging but as a chronic “over-scheduler”, I can vouch for this one. As hard as this is, do not accept every invitation you receive. Be selective about your commitments and do less to experience and enjoy more. You can attend every event you are invited to and suffer through them, likely by the end of the year feel depleted and over run. Or, you could reduce your commitments, and truly enjoy the events you do attend. Yes, less is more.
4) Take time every day to refill your cup. Be sure to do at least one thing nourishing for yourself every day. Is it a warm bath? A quiet coffee break, reading your favorite novel? Maybe an invigorating hike with a dear friend. Take time for YOU every single day.
5) Practice slow 1 to 2 breathing. This is a simple and calming breath that reduces stress and calms the nervous system. This can be done sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. To start, begin to breathe slowly and deeply. Inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 4 counts. Once this rhythm is comfortable, begin to lengthen your exhalations. Inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 6 counts. Stay with this count for a few rounds, and if this breathing feels easy, try lengthening exhalation some more. Move to breathing in for 4 and breathing out for 8. Just a few minutes of this kind of breath can quickly reduce stress, calm the nervous system and counter anxiety. It also helps when having trouble sleeping.
Use each of these tips as much as you can this holiday season and give yourself the gift of a calm, happy, healthy and present YOU! You deserve it, and so do the ones you love. May we all enjoy the celebrations of the season.