Adapted from Charlene Tops, Life Coach
Here are 5 tips to help you to begin your self-care during this most wonderful time of year.
1. Give yourself permissionIt is natural when you begin to switch your thoughts to self-care to feel guilty, irresponsible or even selfish. You need to give yourself permission. Allow yourself to do “whatever” it is that you want. If you want to say “no” to a certain event, or “no” to overspending on gifts, or “no” to hosting an event, give yourself the right to do what is best for you. This is the beginning of self-care. Learn to value the importance of setting boundaries. Slow down from the hustle and bustle and ask yourself, what do I want to gain during the holiday season this year? How can I make that happen? What do I value most? What type of traditions are important to me, that I wish to maintain?
2. Involve all of your senses
We don’t spend much time thinking of our senses. Our senses are important avenues for self care. For example, think of the smell of an apple pie baking in the oven, this smell alone can bring back specific memories . Perhaps it will remind you of a time when you were younger and your mother made home made pie. When we invoke our senses, we experience things on different levels. Think of ways to include sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing into your self care. In a cooking class I was in, the chef had us smell the different spices and smell the food as it was simmering on the stove-top. The enjoyment that was experienced during the preparation time continued as we ate, tasting the different flavors in the finished meal. Have a candlelight bubble bath scented with aromatic products. Sit and watch your favorite holiday movie while wrapped up in a soft blanket. Play music that is relaxing. Experiment with ways to incorporate all of your senses during times of refreshing for your body and soul.
3. Don’t get caught in the hustle and bustle of the seasonPlan ahead and designate specific time frames for the tasks that you need to complete or the functions that you will attend. This will give you time for mental preparation, allowing you to not be overwhelmed. The malls and stores are extremely active at certain times of the day and week. If possible, plan your shopping time during quieter hours, such as weekday mornings. Shop online in the privacy of your home to avoid crowds all together. When you do plan to be out in the crowds, calm your mind and body before going. Realize that you don’t have to rush. Take your time and enjoy the shopping process. Often times, by changing our perspective of the situation, we can approach things with calmness. We do not need to become part of the holiday frenzy. Create a sense of peace and joy, true holiday feelings, inside your mind and spirit.
4. Do things in moderation
This is the time of the year where it is easy to over-indulge. We find it easy to neglect healthy eating. Sleeping patterns may be altered as we have more activity in our days. We can over spend on gifts for those on our lists. The list of things that seem to trap us in extravagance may differ from person to person, however, it is common to be swept up into excessive behavior. Aristotle wisely stated, “all things in moderation.” This is an excellent gauge for us to recall.
5. Give up expectations
The holidays, particularly Christmas, can set us up for unrealistic expectations. It almost seems a “magical” time of year and we dream of the perfect holiday. Many people struggle with depression and high anxiety over the holidays. The crisis hotlines have an increase in calls. Domestic violence rises. Not everyone you meet is having a “Merry Christmas.” Perhaps, you are one of the ones that struggle the most. Past experiences, the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job or financial difficulty all seems to heighten during this time of year. One of the best ways to take care of yourself during this emotionally trying time, is to give up your expectations of the perfect family with the perfect tree while hosting the perfect parties with the perfect gifts. This type of thinking is extremely damaging to you. As you relinquish these ideas, you are able to open yourself up to experiencing greater joy in the reality of the moment. Let go of false illusions and celebrate the moment. Whereever you are in your life this year, take care of yourself first. Practice self-love abundantly This truly is the only way to experience the true meaning of Christmas.
Staying rooted in our yoga and meditation practices will allow us to flow through the holidays with an appreciation for the beauty and love that abounds rather than getting caught up in the demands and expectations. Perhaps we can even share the gift of yoga with someone new to the practice! It may be cliche, but nonetheless true-- always put your oxygen mask on first, then you can help others without grasping for breath yourself. Namaste and happy holidays, friends!
It is difficult to pick up a lifestyle magazine or scroll through your favorite yoga-related social media pages without seeing mention of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. The words "mindfulness" and "meditation" often seem interchangeable, and both practices appear to have the same advantages. So why the different terminology?
Because these terms are often used in a similar context, confusion about the differences between mindfulness and meditation is understandable. My aim here is to offer a simple explanation of how mindfulness and meditation are similar and overlapping, yet separate practices.
We can start by debunking two common myths: Mindfulness is NOT thinking really hard about something, which sounds stressful. And meditation is NOT about shutting down the mind like an off switch, which sounds boring.
Both practices are life skills that give you the tools to access inner peace, which is already inside of you. Both rely on the ability to be focused entirely on the present moment. (We can’t experience peace when we regret the past or worry about the future.) Both practices offer a way to increase happiness and decrease suffering.
Mindfulness: Awareness of Our Outer Life
By definition, “mindfulness” refers to the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. It’s a way of being actively aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Try focusing completely on the full experience of a usually “mindless” chore such as washing dishes. Be aware of the temperature of the water and how it makes your skin feel, along with the texture and smell of the soap. Engage all five senses and see if you are actually more relaxed and less stressed when it is all finished.
Society’s obsession with multitasking often leads us to do too much
at once, without focusing fully on each stage of the experience.
In his book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn says that “When unawareness dominates the mind, all our decisions and actions are affected.” How often have you walked or driven somewhere, only to wonder how you got there because your mind went on autopilot, checking into the past or the future (both of which you have no control over)? In fact, most of the things we do throughout the day are done without full awareness: eating meals without fully tasting the food, showering without noticing the feeling of the water. How many sunsets and smiles have you missed because you felt compelled to check your phone? Society’s obsession with multitasking often leads us to do too much at once, without focusing fully on each stage of the experience.
Lack of awareness also prevents us from listening to our bodies when they need nutrition, rest, exercise, or hydration.
Being fully aware and engaged in an activity can make a situation less stressful because it initiates a perspective free of judgment. When practicing mindfulness, the mind isn’t guessing at the future or creating a mountain out of what is actually a small hill. If we can let go of our controlling ways—consciously observing what is without labeling it or placing an opinion on it—we can be free of the stress of expectations, regrets, and fears in order to fully accept each moment and all that it offers.
Living mindfully means that we experience life with a “beginner's mind.” This means listening to someone with full attention to their words, voice, and feelings—listening as though it were the first time you ever met this person or heard them speak, without second guessing, judging, or waiting for it to be your turn to talk. In his book True Love, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that “Listening is an art we must cultivate.” He teaches deep, compassionate listening as a mindfulness practice, both for enlightenment and to ease pain and suffering.
Mindful listening improves our relationships because listening with patience, trust, acceptance, and an open mind strengthens our ability to communicate. Compassionate communication coupled with more conscious control over our emotions can be monumental to personal growth and relationships. Mindfully responding to stress, instead of reacting habitually, is what Kabot-Zinn calls the “mindfulness-mediated stress response.” Everyday arguments don’t trigger us in the same knee-jerk way when we’re practicing mindfulness. When our buttons are pushed, our reaction time is slower, thanks to a thoughtful presence in the present. We don’t take things as personally when we are aware of someone else’s suffering and deeper needs. Life becomes less superficial and more compassionate.
Meditation: Awareness of Our Inner life
Meditation is the formal practice of finding peace within. Awareness of peace is achieved when mental chatter is decreased. There are many different types of meditation to choose from, including guided meditation and focused meditation on an object (for example, a mantra/sound, image, candle flame, or the breath). They can all lead to the same place of inner peace.
While meditating, we are mindful of our thoughts from the viewpoint of observer, without clinging to the thoughts themselves. Our thoughts float by like clouds, while we learn something about our inner selves. We can see how negative our thinking can be, or how much time we waste dwelling on the past. This is crucial information for those interested in personal growth and transformation. Self-knowledge is the first step to self-improvement. Making changes in your outer circumstances begins first with seeing which thoughts created that which you are trying to change.
Witnessing the types of thoughts that flow by while meditating, without attaching to them, will quiet the mental chatter that Buddhists call “the monkey mind.” They say our thoughts can be like wild monkeys that jump from branch to branch. Those monkeys lead us on a tangent through an uncontrollable past and future as we follow them through the jungle of chaotic activity that can be our waking state of mind. When we give the mind something to focus on—like a guided meditation, the breath, or a mantra—we become aware of an inner world of stillness, love, and peace.
Even our immune system is strengthened from daily moments
of the deep, restful wakefulness that meditation offers.
In addition to being the perfect way to let go of accumulated stress, meditation has many health benefits, including strengthened brain function, increased physical vitality, and better sleep. Insomniacs have found that sometimes all they needed was a way to slow down the constant activity of the brain. Even our immune system is strengthened from daily moments of the deep restful wakefulness that meditation offers.
Merging the Two Practices
Combining the informal, wakeful awareness of daily mindfulness with a formal meditation practice is a potent stress management tool. Each practice enhances the effectiveness of the other.
With meditation, you close your eyes to eliminate visual distractions and become more aware of the inner world of your thoughts, bodily sensations, sounds, and energy, while at the same time being mindful of a silent mantra such as soham (pronounced so-hum). We also use mindfulness during a formal meditation practice—for example, when body scanning (which is focusing on and being present in each area of the body in order to relax and prepare for meditation). One becomes part of the other.
Meditating first thing in the morning for a minimum of five to ten minutes is a great way to start the day on the right foot. Repeat at the end of the day to release any accumulated stress. It won’t take long before you will be able to extend those ten minutes, carrying that bliss more and more into your life.
People around you may notice the benefits even before you do. Practicing mindfulness and meditation goes hand in hand with creating a happy life—no matter what terminology you use!
A space that nurtures connection, spiritual growth and physical well-being.