WORDS BY LIZ KING, IMAGES BY ABBEY GARLICK
Step one: breathe. No, for real. Literally close your eyes right now and take a deep breath. This, my friends, will be the simplest and most helpful tool to get you through the stress (I mean joy?) of the holiday season. Whether your holidays consists of less than amicable family gatherings (that may or may not include food fights and yelling) or you’re just super busy with work and school – the holiday season can just be hard. Really hard. Like pass the eggnog and a 5th slice of pie hard. But it’s okay! I have some helpful tips on how to use yoga as a way to destress this holiday season.
First and foremost, that whole thing about breath wasn’t a joke. Go ahead and buy matching bracelets because your breath will be your BFF if you’re going to make it through your finals, holiday shopping, traveling, and family gatherings. Pausing for a moment to step back and take a long, deep breath can work wonders on your emotions and physical body. It will calm down your central nervous system which will in turn lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and ease feelings of panic and anxiety.
In fact, the simple act of breathing is in and of itself an entire yoga practice called pranayama. My personal favorite style of breathing (especially in moments of panic and anxiety) is ujjayi breath, sometimes called oceanic breath because it makes a sound similar to ocean waves. It’s pretty simple in that you take a deep, long inhale through your nose. Pause. Then exhale long and slow through your nose. There’s a constriction at the back of your throat that creates the oceanic sound. Ujjayi breath (and most forms of intentional breathing) will bring you back to this moment, the present, which makes it easier to embrace gratitude and mindfulness in those stressful moments of wanting to pull your hair out and run away.
The best part is that you can literally use it whenever and wherever you need to! If you’re in an upsetting conversation with someone at the dinner table, taking a deep ujjayi breath before responding will not only give you a moment to digest what just happened (and give you extra time to figure out what you’re going to say) but it will help calm your body down so it remains grounded while you find a way to deescalate the situation.
This next little bit of advice somewhat goes hand in hand with breath but may even be more important. The catch is that it is much harder to do. What I’m talking about here is self-care. A popular yogi, Baron Baptiste, says that the time to relax the most is when you don’t have time for it. Sounds crazy, right? The time to stop running around and chill is when we have no time to spare? But it’s true! When you are stretching yourself thin – physically and especially emotionally – that’s the time to stop, breathe, and do something for yourself. Self-care can look different for everyone. It can be taking that deep breath mid-conversation or it can be knowing when you need to step out of the room to give yourself a moment of peace.
If you need to take an hour (or three) to go get your nails done or go to a yoga class – do it! If you need to say no to social plans because your stress level is too high and all you want to do is lock yourself in your bedroom and binge on Netflix – do it! Before things get any crazier this season, figure out what will help you refuel and relax and do that when you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. You can never be too kind to yourself!
Last but not least, incorporating a meditation practice can help you stay grounded and calmer when dealing with stressful situations and people. No, I’m not talking about a strict, regimented meditation practice where you sit in silence for thirty minutes at 5 in the morning (although for some people, that’s exactly what they need and if you’re one of those people, more power to ya!). When I say meditation practice, I simply mean presence. Mindfulness. Awareness. That’s really what meditation means at its core – to become totally present of yourself and your surroundings. Being 100% in the now. It’s much harder than it sounds but it’s totally worth it. To be perfectly honest, I meditate the most when I am driving or doing physical activity like walking or yoga. When I’m in a car, being super aware of my surroundings isn’t just a safety precaution. It’s like I’m creating this little bubble of mindfulness and presence that is fully absorbed with what’s going on around me. While you’re walking around town or party hopping, notice the way your shoes glide across the ground. The wind brushing your face. The smell of the leaves and air. When you bring awareness to the little things – and find gratitude for them – it makes the overall stress a little easier to swallow.
So to recap: breathe, practice self-care, and meditate. It’s not a perfect science and there is no right or wrong way to do any of this. Do whatever works for you and don’t give up when it gets too hard. Reach out to friends and loved ones when you need help. Another way to lighten the mood is through volunteer service and acts of altruism. Keep your eyes peeled for more information on how to be of service to your Denton community and create a positive impact for others. Until then, Namaste and happy holidays.