The holiday season can be joyful, a time to share what we have with family and friends. However, it can be a stressful time if we allow hectic schedules and commercial pressures to drive us. For yogis, the holiday season is a golden opportunity to practice yoga outside of the classroom, actually applying all the skills we have been honing over the year.
By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati
When I was a young medical doctor, I would often roster myself to work in the ER over Christmas, allowing colleagues who celebrated the holiday to be with their families. We were prepared for a very busy time in the emergency room, and one of the most common symptoms we treated was depression, with its underlying sense of alienation and loneliness. People who have lost loved ones or who are financially impoverished suffer tremendously during the holiday season. For me, it was a time when I could test just how stable the light of yoga was in my heart.
The Holiday Season Provides Opportunity
For all of us, the holiday season exerts pressures at some level. It can be one of the least peaceful times of the year. Commercial interests have usurped most holidays, and advertisers spend millions of dollars to hypnotize a whole country into spending and celebrating. The economy depends on us, we hear from all sides. Holiday shopping, visiting with family, the hassles of planning and traveling, managing food and alcohol consumption, getting enough exercise, and maintaining our yoga routines can all be overwhelming.
As yoga teachers, this is an ideal time to encourage our students to apply what they have learned in class. We can tell our students that managing the holiday season is their exam, the real test of how much they have learned and embodied over the year.
What Do the Holidays Mean to You?
There are a number of ways we can teach students to maintain a calm center during the storm of the holidays. The first thing to do is to dedicate some quiet class time for contemplation and meditation. Students sit still, breathing quietly to practice any calming, grounding process. Once they have settled in, ask them to contemplate what a particular holiday means to them. They need to ask themselves what they really want to get out of this period, and what will best support them and others.
As they develop a sense of that meaning, suggest that they focus on disentangling commercial pressures from the essence of the holidays. This will help them plan strategies that will make this period meaningful and fulfilling.
Paradoxically, stress is the biggest issue for most students during the holidays. Stresses come in many forms, and students should contemplate what theirs are likely to be. During meditation, they should playfully visualize what lies ahead. Encourage them to look back at past holiday seasons and consider what they would like to do differently this time. Can they create a situation that supports the emergence of intuition and creativity? They probably can, if they can stay conscious, calm, and focused.
There are many techniques that help us stay grounded and centered. To do this effectively, however, we need to contemplate strategies that we can actually apply outside of the practice space. This meditation, then, is mental rehearsal for the actual event.
Remind students that yoga is more than technique; it is a way of being. Breath is the best tool we have to remain conscious and calm; any time is a good time to practice moving and breathing more slowly and consciously.