Guest Post by Meditation Expert, Judy Craven
December brings a flurry of joy, doesn’t it? Perhaps. But it also brings deadlines, meetings, parties, weather, kids, family… a whirl of activity, or a slow in activity… both can be stressful. It’s important to pause and practice self care.
Here are 4 mindful practices for the Holiday Season
1. Arrive right here right now.
We spend so much time spiraling in thoughts of the past or future, we miss what is right here. Maybe a snowflake, or a pretty song… whatever is happening in this one moment.
Sit upright in a chair or lay down. Feel your body rest supported, connected to the surface it is on. Let go. Beginning with the top of your head, feel and let go of any tension in each area of your body. Then allow your whole body to release any remaining tension. Let go and allow yourself to drop into this now moment, without having to change a thing.
When we are stressed, our nervous system kicks into high gear making it hard to calm, focus and just be. Take a moment and breathe four deep breaths into your belly, allowing it to expand as you inhale and gently contract as you exhale. This allows for the body’s relaxation response to activate. The heart rate slows, there is more oxygen delivered to the brain and all of the organs. This signals the body to let go and relax.
Allowing your breath to return to normal, begin to follow the breath with your attention. Notice that the breath is breathing! Follow each new breath as it continues in its own, natural rhythm. If your mind wanders off to the past or future, that’s ok!! Just notice, and gently direct your attention back to the physical sensation of the breath, in and out. The breath is always here and now, and the here and now is the only thing happening. Allow the breath to be the reliable anchor for your attention. Find relief that in this moment there is nothing to do… just observing the miracle of the breath.
A gratitude practice can pull our attention from what is not here or what is wrong to what IS here and what is right with the world! December can be lovely. But it can also trigger stress or feeling of wanting things to be different. Focusing our attention on what there is to be grateful for creates new neural habits in our brains, changing our experience of life. Instead of changing everything on the outside (weather, that annoying driver, relative or colleague!) we create a new habit on the inside. Take a few minutes a day to bring to mind, or journal about three things that you are thankful for. This can be anything big or small: a color, a song, a friend, coffee…. savor these things! Studies show that savoring for 11 seconds (or 3 breaths) cultivates the habit of gratitude into our brains. As we practice savoring with gratitude we become able to CHOOSE where we focus our attention in any given moment.
4. Loving kindness
Despite the happy holiday scenes that we see on TV, or in stores, the holidays can be a difficult time for some. What can ease our experience? Loving kindness.
Begin by extending unconditional loving kindness and compassion to yourself. Like the oxygen mask on an airplane, we want to take care of ourselves first, so that we can then reach out and help others.Give yourself permission to extend to loving kindness and compassion to yourself, even for a few minutes. This can be talking a walk, a rest, or sending yourself kind words of support. For example, “I am doing my best”, or, “I am perfect just as I am”. As we cultivate kindness to ourselves, we can then practice extending loving kindness and compassion to others.
Practice sending a nice thought to those you pass in the street, office or see in traffic. Perhaps, “May you be happy; May you be healthy”.
As a meditation, you can repeat the phrases of loving kindness:
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be safe
May I be peaceful and at ease
First, offer the phrases unconditionally to yourself. Then practice extending it out to others.
First, extend it to those closest to you, then those you don’t know well, perhaps followed by (if it feels safe) those that you do not like, and finally to all beings.
By doing this, we practice changing not what’s happening on the outside, but what is happening within us.
Practice these tools to create a warm, supportive holiday and New Year!