The fire’s crackling, the delicious scents of pine and mulled wine fill the house, the living room is warm and glows with the twinkle of lights from the tree, and we have loved ones all around us – the festive season is here. I love this time of the year; for me it’s a time to take stock of the past twelve months and enjoy the cosiness of jumpers and hot chocolate while retreating from the cold weather with family and friends.
However, there is also another side to the season – it can be a lot to organise with to-do lists, co-ordinating visitors, hosting the Christmas meal… and this can make it quite stressful, especially if it means we have less time for ourselves and our home comforts or routines. And if you travel to be with family at this time of year this can also break you out of your daily routine – it’s a lot more unsettling than we realise.
We’re creatures of habit, and so it’s good to remind ourselves that it’s normal to feel out of sorts when we’re pulled out of our regular habitat. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching yoga retreats and notice that it takes everyone a day or two to get used to a new environment, sleep in a new bed, and slow down. And slowing down is easier said than done. Our daily routines are filled to the brim with activities, work, school runs, cooking, cleaning, organising… Most days are planned in advance and are busy. So when the pace changes, we have a natural hesitance to shift down a gear.
Taking a step back just for a moment helps me enjoy every minute of the holiday. I like to find a quiet space in the house where I can reset whenever I start to feel overwhelmed. Here, I remind myself of the things that are true for me, both on and of the yoga mat. First, I breathe in and breathe out. Then I remind myself it doesn’t matter if things aren’t done perfectly – it’s enough to simply spend time with those I love.
Finally, I remind myself to be in the moment rather than stress about what’s next. This is a time of year to relax and reconnect, not to move at the regular busy pace. At first, you may find you have to practise and remind yourself to step back. But you can prepare to learn to love unexpected change and find calm in a busy environment. For example, a rainy day can leave us feeling caged up indoors, especially if we have kids or visitors. But instead of letting it stress you out, change your approach – let go of your ‘getting your day done’ expectations, and instead think creatively about how you can change your schedule.
Enjoy making a slow lunch, spend quality time playing a game, or leave others to their fun for a short while while taking time out to have a relaxing bath. This approach can be applied throughout the festive season. A troubling day? Let’s practise again. A falling out with a family member? Things didn’t go to plan? Let’s practise again.
When it comes to cultivating new habits, even ones such as being calm and present, time and practice can change our instinctive reactions and soothe that fight-or-flight stress. And if we can remember to take a step back then in time we’ll be able to slow down more easily, enjoy the pace of gathering with friends and family, and be right there, in the moment, together.
6 yoga poses for Christmas
Keep your body moving and your mind calm with a gentle Christmas flow…
Yoga poses to get the body moving are always beneficial. Have a go at these six simple poses, whenever you feel the need to stretch or move.
This is perfect for getting the spine moving, especially if you’ve been enjoying lots of time snuggling on the sofa!
This pose will wake up your leg muscles and stimulate your abdominal organs.
Seated forward folds are a lovely way to calm the mind and stretch the back of the body at the same time.
Twists are so good for stimulating the digestive organs and waking up the lower back. This standing version will also help wake up your brain and stabilise muscles as you balance.
Poses that open the chest are ideal if you’ve been sitting down a lot. They will also give you more space to breathe fully into your lungs.
Forward-folds are said to promote relaxation, especially if you practise a more restorative version, such as this wide-legged fold. And don’t forget that a simple savasana with your eyes closed or legs up against the wall can be enough to provide balance.
Easy meditation practices to help you unwind
Use these simple exercises when you need a quiet moment .
Counting breaths exercise
Inhale for the count of three, then exhale for the count of three, gradually increasing the count after a few rounds. Slowing down your breath and counting disengages your fight-or-flight mode and promotes the calming of your nervous system. This is a good exercise for when you feel overwhelmed.
Awareness meditation exercise
Find a calm place to sit or lie down before bringing your attention to the sounds around you, starting with the furthest sound you can hear. Bring this awareness of sound closer and closer until it is simply you and the sound of your breath. Then relax and stay for a few easy breaths. Slowly, bring your attention back to your surroundings for a calming and centring effect. This meditation can have the power to make you stop for a moment and take in the present.
Looking for more mindful Christmas inspiration? Find out how to make your own mindful advent calendar, get creative and learn how to make DIY natural Christmas decorations or check out our tips to help you stay mindful this Christmas and New Year.
This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 19. Photography by Charlene Lim.