While the holidays are a great time to gather with loved ones, practice the art of giving and gratitude, and reflect on the year’s accomplishments or struggles, they can also be exceedingly stressful. From hosting to budgeting to wrapping and socializing, it’s no wonder that not everyone feels joyous this time of year. As always, you can turn to your yoga practice to help you find your center during the chaos of the season. Here are three ways that our contributors de-stress during the holidays.
Soften your gaze
Trataka, which translates from Sanskrit as “to gaze,” is a meditation that involves staring gently at a flickering flame. Focusing your gaze—and, in turn, your mind—can help you cultivate calm and mental clarity, refresh your consciousness, strengthen your willpower, and improve your quality of life. Here’s how to do it.
- Light a candle. Place it at eye level and sit 4–6 inches away.
- Keep your spine straight and your mouth in a soft smile.
- Gaze at the flame with your eyes softly open. Try not to blink. Tearing is great, as it washes out impurities from the eyes. Breathe deeply through your nose.
- Imagine the flame entering into and illuminating your body. When you are ready, allow your eyes to close. Visualize the flame in your mind’s eye.
- Feel appreciation and gratitude. If thoughts arise, observe them and watch them pass. This is a process of allowing the mind to filter, file, and integrate.
- When you’re ready, allow your eyes to open slowly.
Walk it off
Whenever I need to escape from holiday family time—such as an uncomfortable political discussion—I offer to take my brother’s dog for a walk. Everyone is happy: My brother and sister-in-law are grateful for the help, the excited pup is craving fresh air as much as I am, and I get to clear my head for a bit under a calming canopy of trees. As I watch that furry ball of unconditional love romp in the snow, my tension lifts, and I remember why I originally got on the plane to visit—love.
—Lauren Piscopo, Yoga Journal contributing managing editor
Take a breather
When a loved one angers or frustrates you, the amygdala (the primitive part of your brain responsible for the “fight, flight or freeze” response) bypasses your prefrontal cortex (your brain’s thinking region). The result: You can feel like you’ve reverted from 40 to 14 in a flash.
It takes a full minute and a half for your body to register, label, and dissipate an emotion. So if your mother-in-law “forgets” to order the vegan side options, excuse yourself, breathe deeply for 90 seconds and notice what you’re feeling—this helps your prefrontal cortex regain control so you can respond calmly.
—Sarah Ezrin; mama, motivator, writer, and yoga teacher trainer
See also: Our Ultimate Holiday Survival Guide