In fifth grade, I made a portrait of the three kings of Bethlehem out of dried macaroni, gold spray paint, Elmer's glue, and green felt. It was a labor of love—meaningful because I made it with my own two hands and because it was an object d'art my Catholic mother adored.
Giving the "perfect" gift is like exchanging a heartfelt Namaste or saying, "All that is best and highest in me honors all that is best and highest in you." Both the giver and the receiver have the opportunity to deeply see and celebrate the other person. Giving in this way is a chance to bring yoga into a relationship.
Whether it's a homemade craft, a store-bought trinket, or an adventure, the best gifts come straight from the heart. And the three kings? They ended up being one of the best gifts I ever gave, and they still hang on my mom's wall every Christmas—minus a few pieces of macaroni.
Cyndi Lee loves to knit her presents. "You think about the person you're making the gift for, for the whole time you knit," says the founder of OM Yoga in New York City and author of Yoga Body, Buddha Mind. The best gift she ever gave was one of the first things she ever knitted—a lap blanket she made for her father, who was dying of cancer.
Lee says that a gift doesn't have to be beautiful to be appreciated. She selected "garish red, green, and yellow chunky yarn" that her beginner hands could manipulate. The colorful blanket stole the show on Christmas morning. Her father loved it, whispering in amazement as he held up the blanket, lumpy with dropped stitches and uneven edges, "You're so talented. You're so good at this!" Even though the blanket had, as Lee says, "hardly anything going for it and barely covered his lap," it warmed more than just his body every day until he died.
Wrap a Feeling
Jivamukti Yoga teacher and musician Alanna Kaivalya was 10 years old when her parents divorced. Kaivalya and her father were having a hard time being separated, especially in the evening, because they couldn't exchange their usual bedtime kisses.
For Christmas, Kaivalya bought a red velvet box for her father at Target. Opening the gift, he was perplexed by the empty box—until he read the accompanying homemade card, explaining that the box held an unlimited supply of bedtime kisses. Her father cried. Says Kaivalya, "It was the first time I really understood the depth of what it meant for him to be a father. It made a huge impression on me."
Find Your Inner Elf
One Christmas Day, Nischala Joy Devi, who has long taught yoga teachers how to work with people who have life-threatening illnesses, got together with some of her students; they all dressed as elves and visited a nursing home. Caroling down the halls, the all-ages band of merrymakers arrived just before lunch to help feed the patients.
Being short staffed over the holidays, the nurses were happy for the assistance—and the patients were happy to have such joyful visitors. Sitting at the bedside of the elderly patients, Devi and her elves told holiday stories, asked about the residents' favorite Christmas memories, and listened to stories of when they were young. "It was a gift for everyone—the nurses, the elves, the families of the patients, and the patients themselves," says Devi, author of The Secret Power of Yoga and The Healing Path of Yoga. "They lit up! They were transported to a place of happiness instead of being in a hospital on Christmas Day."
Make a Love Offering
To mark one of their first holidays together, Maya Breuer wanted to give her significant other something special. This yoga teacher, a member of the Kripalu board of trustees and the director of the first national yoga retreat for women of color, had just come back from her yoga studies in India and felt spiritually motivated to love authentically.
She felt inspired by a course about prayer and ritual she'd taken in India, and decided to make a "spirit bowl" for her partner, Steve. "I took one of my prized brass bowls and filled it with slips of paper that spelled out all the reasons I felt love and commitment to him," Breuer says. "Now, 15 years later, this is still something I do each year. I love to see the look on his face as he picks up my notes from the bowl and reads of my love for him."
When her grandmother's sister died, Anusara teacher Amy Ippoliti suddenly felt what it might be like for her 80-year-old Grandma Ernestine to be nearing the end of life. She wanted to offer her love and appreciation before her grandmother got any older, so Ippoliti sent out letters to her grandmother's family and friends, asking them what they loved about Ernestine and what qualities of hers had made a difference in their lives. Flooded with responses, Ippoliti decorated a scrapbook and filled it with the heartfelt anecdotes, poetry, and artwork she received—each entry accompanied by a photograph of the person who had sent it. Says Ippoliti, "My grandmother treasured that scrapbook until she died, and in the end, she never questioned whether she was loved or whether she had made a contribution to the world."
Shake Things Up
Football stars seem like tough guys, but Sean Conley—a former pro player who teaches yoga to the Pittsburgh Steelers—is all heart when it comes to his wife, Karen. Co-owners of Amazing Yoga in Pittsburgh and the parents of four kids, the couple was set to open their second studio when Conley saw that his exhausted wife needed a break. So he sent her packing to Paris. "Karen was stuck in a pattern of giving to others first," Conley says. "She hadn't done anything for herself in a long time." Once overseas, Karen continued to manage the business and the kids via email. But a few days into the experience, she let go and ended up having the trip of her life. Four years later, it's an experience she still raves about. "It refreshed her spirit," says Conley. "Now she's better at giving to herself first."
Make House Music
For their family holiday tradition, kirtan musician Jai Uttal and his wife, Nubia Teixeira, record homemade CDs for each other, building a musical library of love. For them, the opportunity to renew vows, create intentions, and express love is best done through devotional song. Laughing, Teixeira says, "It's so much fun giving a love letter this way!" Using shakers, synthesizers, drums, and guitars, they create music filled with joyous praise and adoration of each other, with special references to moments both profound and silly. On one CD that Teixeira made, their three-year-old son, Ezra, was a guest vocalist. "It was the best present I've ever gotten in my whole life!" Uttal says.
Create a Miracle
After one of their fans in Germany suffered a stroke and began to use a wheelchair, devotional musicians Deva Premal and Miten gave the gift of a service dog. Believing that we are all one family who should help each other, the duo placed boxes in the foyers of their concert venues in order to gather contributions; they also spoke onstage about their fan's need, inviting the audience to make donations. The community responded enthusiastically. Within two shows, they had raised the money needed to help the woman acquire a four-legged companion. "Despite her physical situation, she is happier than ever before!" says Premal, who visited the woman and her dog in Cologne. "Isn't that a miracle?"
Try a Surprise
San Francisco vinyasa yoga teacher Janet Stone, creator of the DVDs Radiant Flow and Mellow Flow, remembers the time she arranged a bungee-jumping expedition for her older sister. Knowing that Pamela, the "practical one," was going through turmoil over the end of her marriage, Stone secretly bought tickets for the two of them to bungee jump while they were traveling in New Zealand. Pamela had no idea what was in store for her as they drove down a winding dirt road to one of the tallest bridges in the Southern Hemisphere. Once she found out, she turned green but gamely sat in the rickety chair to prepare for her jump—even smiling for the camera. It took her three tries before she finally jumped, screaming with terror and delight. "She was thrilled, ecstatic, and horrified—and surprised at herself that she did it," Stone says. "It was one of those moments where you push beyond the smallness of the circumstances of your life and get a little bigger."
Give What You Love
In an antique shop in London in 1978, yoga teacher Angela Farmer bought a small Indian medallion depicting a yogini sitting in Padmasana (Lotus Pose). "She was beautiful and became my most precious possession," she says. Four years later, Farmer decided to give her beloved silver yogini to Victor van Kooten to show her love for him. Van Kooten, touched by the offering, created an ornate travel altar for the medallion. Now they take it on their teaching tours together. "I gave away my beautiful yogini, but she returned, adorned and honored! She has traveled with us around the world and all these years on our extensive teaching tours. Now she rests here in our Yoga Hall, where we teach on the island of Lesvos, Greece," Farmer says. "She represents our approach to yoga and the gift of our love."
Be a Generosity Generator
Viewing the holidays as an ideal time to encourage benevolence in his sons, ages 9, 12, and 15, Baron Baptiste gives each of the three boys an envelope with $100. They get to keep $50, and they get to choose between buying something for themselves or giving away the remaining $50. "It creates lively conversation and awareness around giving," Baptiste says. The boys always choose to give the money away, usually to a charitable organization that helps children, like the Africa Yoga Project. "It's a gift that has perpetuity—a gift that has life."
Lisa Maria writes and teaches yoga in Marin County, California. You can check her out at lisa-maria.com.