Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stress and the Holidays

It seems like this time of year when the days are so short and it's really cold (at least up here in Ottawa) is already pretty stressful and then we add the biggest holiday that our culture celebrates together - it pushes a lot of people to their edge. Full disclosure: me, too.

I think it's great to plop a big distraction right as the longest night happens. By the time the holidays are over, we're safely on the other side, where the days are already getting longer, even though we have to deal with the fact that winter is just getting started.

These are really just conditions though and yoga teaches us that it's not the external conditions that really make a difference - it's how we deal with it. I do think that this time of year offers us a bigger load to deal with though!

Yoga practice throughout the year, and I'm not just talking about the physical postures here, will help us balance when year end comes. In a way, this time of year offers us opportunities to evaluate how we're doing. We get to look at so many areas of our life at one time: we are more aware of our bodies and what we're eating as the opportunities to indulge are likely greater; we can be more aware of our finances as multiple and/or major purchases are timed here; we get to look at our relationships as invitations and opportunities to spend time with family pop up; we get to review our overall happiness as the cultural pressure to make New Year's resolutions rolls out; spiritually, hmm, what are we offered here? Unless you're plugged in to a community that honours this aspect you may find this time a bit hollow and it's here where I see people scratching their heads and wondering what this is all about. This holiday time, this season, this life...

The idea of healthy yoga practice is to have ourselves in balance. That would include all of the areas of our life, not just our stretchy bodies. Yoga - and I don't mean coming to a class and sitting on a mat, but really looking at our lives, which may include that - helps us digest our lives. When we look at what's there, it helps us to deal with what we've got going on and even process some of it. Without action, a lot of stuff won't get processed - like clearing up clutter in our lives - but sometimes all of the action that's required is to acknowledge what's going on.

So when the bulls-eye of Christmastime gets closer in our sights, we have a lot of choices. We can close our eyes and wait for it to be over or we can pay attention and adjust our course so that we go through what's there and reap the benefits that come with addressing ourselves and our lives. There are also many other ways to play at holiday time!

This may all occur as stress and the suggestion I'm making is to welcome it and see it as an opportunity. Let the external circumstances mirror some inner areas so we can see more clearly. And continue to breathe through it. Deep breathing, time with eyes closed in meditation, time serving our families and others in need, time being in our bodies doing something good for it like exercise, time counting our blessings and being grateful will all help us hit the mark and digest what's there to be digested, and hopefully enjoy the crisp, clear, star-filled nights, finding peace in our own lives.

(By the way, that's KC, the source of the white hair on my black pants.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brahmacharya and Food (and Holidays)

I recently completed a Vegan Baking Class here in Ottawa - just in time to make goodies for Christmas! Here's the good news - I ate lots of baked goods and I am still wearing the same clothes. But it required awareness more than ever because I was around so much good stuff more than I usually was - it made me pay closer attention to what I was putting into my body.

The other good news is that my baking class coincided with a deal at a gym nearby and I've been really good about being more active this past month as well - so that worked out.

But Christmas hasn't even happened yet! There are still a few parties to go and at my age, without being aware of what I'm doing, will end up with added body mass, which is totally fine, it's just that for me I can't afford new clothes at this time of year, and really it would be unwanted.

This is a great time of year to practise brahmacharya, moderation in this case, one of the yogic yamas, or restraints. Moderation doesn't mean abstinence. Moderation means be aware. Have a bit, but not too much. Enjoy but don't over-indulge. When we over-indulge we are left with a hangover or more than our bodies can process at one time, so we save it all for later and stay "toxic" until we can properly digest whatever we've taken in. That can be food, alcohol, violent movies, or anything that leaves a residue.

It's at this time of year that it is helpful to remember the Sattva guna, or the light, healthy, pure power in the universe. It's moderated with Rajas and Tamas, firey, heavy elements that keep us grounded and on the Earth. But adding some sattvic activities like writing Christmas cards and appreciating our families, or simply meditating; adding sattvic foods like fresh vegetables and clean water; sattvic sounds like undisturbing music (maybe not the same Christmas carols played over and over); will all help to balance out the overload that can happen at this time of year.

Here's some pictures from my baking class. I had so much fun and was grateful I had people in my life to share it all with.