The holidays are here! This may be your favorite time of the year, celebrating with loved ones and taking a pause form your busy and hectic life. However, the holidays can be stressful as well, giving rise to emotions as varied as loneliness and grief, and to feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Family gatherings can be downright stressful and emotionally draining!
Here are three proven strategies to rise above the chaos that the holidays can bring and to reconnect with your real, true self—a place of infinite calm, peace, joy, and bliss.
1. Conscious Breathing
Breath is called prana or life force energy. It keeps you alive, animates you, and gives you your enthusiasm and zest for life. The ancient yogis discovered that when you control your breath, you control your life. Research continues to validate this.
When you are anxious, worried, irritable or stressed, your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response) gets activated. Among other things, this results in changes to your heart rate, blood pressure, and bronchial passages as well as muscle contractions. Your body tenses up and becomes more alert. Functions not critical to survival shut down.
The parasympathetic system (rest-and-relaxation or rest-and-digest response), on the other hand, generally works to promote maintenance of the body at rest. Its function is to control homeostasis and the body's rest-and-digest response. It counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of calm.
Studies have shown that by paying attention to your breath, and by breathing consciously, slowly, and deeply, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system and experience feelings of calm. So the age-old advice—take a deep breath—actually works!
Normal breathing is anywhere between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. When you are stressed, this increases depending on the level of your reaction to the stressor. Studies have shown that averaging 5–6 breaths per minute has a calming effect on your nervous system.
Abdominal Breathing Exercise
- Sit in a comfortable position (or better yet you can lie down on the floor, on a yoga mat, or a blanket—place your feet on the floor and bend your knees for greater comfort). Breathe normally for a few breaths.
- Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest, and tune deeper into your breath.
- Feel your abdomen rise on the inhale and your abdomen fall towards the spine (deflate) as you exhale.
- Now ensure that your inhalations and your exhalations are of equal length. For example, if you inhale for a count of four, ensure that you exhale for a count of four.
- Slow down your breathing to where you are ideally breathing five breaths to six breaths per minute. Don’t worry if you are not able to do this right away; you can work your way to this. Initially just focus on getting the technique down. Your first goal is to slow your breathing down to a comfortable rate, however many breaths per minute that means for you.
- Continue for at least two minutes to three minutes in the beginning, working your way up to five minutes.
- Make this a daily practice. You can also drop into this breathing practice at any given point during your busy day, as needed.
2. Mantra Meditation
The simple yet powerful practice of meditation can reduce stress and promote joy. The best part is that it can be done by anyone! Mantra meditation is a powerful meditation technique where one focuses on a word (or set of words). Mantra (one translation is that which saves the mind from thoughts) can be a sacred Vedic word like Om or a sacred phrase like Om Namah Shivaya.
Mantras also come from all of the great spiritual traditions of the world—they can be in Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Native American languages, and English. Mantras can also be simple yet profound words like Peace, Love, and Joy and phrases like I am Peace, I am love, and I am Joy.
- Sit in a comfortable position (on the floor or on a chair). Sit up tall with a straight spine.
- Bring your awareness to your breath for a minute or so.
- Now pair your breath (inhale and exhale) with the mantra of your choice. For example, on the inhale you can silently repeat, “I am at Peace,” and on the exhale you can silently repeat, “I release all stress.”
- Continue for at least two minutes to three minutes in the beginning, working your way up to 10 minutes.
- Make this a daily practice. You can also drop into meditation at any given point during your busy day, as needed.
During the busy holidays, take time to practice the ultimate expression of self-care and self-love—lovingly anointing yourselves from head to toe with warm oil—this practice is called abhyanga in Ayurveda. The Sanskrit word sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love.” It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when you are saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability, calmness, and warmth.
Massage your body with love and patience for 15-20 minutes. Here are the recommendations for frequency and oil type, based on the doshas:
- Vata: Four to five times a week using sesame, almond, or a Vata-balancing oil such as Relaxing Abhy Oil.
- Pitta: Three to four times a week using a coconut, sunflower, or a Pitta-balancing oil such as Soothing Abhy Oil.
- Kapha: One to two times a week using safflower or a Kapha-balancing oil such as Invigorating Abhy Oil.
- Good for all three doshas: Jojoba oil
Steps to Perform Abhyanga Massage
Warm the oil (pour approximately 1/4 cup into a mug and warm using a coffee-cup warmer). Test the temperature by putting a drop on your inner wrist, oil should be comfortably warm and not hot.
- Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room.
- Face: Dip your fingertips in oil and massage in circular motion on your forehead, temples, cheeks, and jaws (always moving in a upward movement). Be sure to massage your ears, especially your earlobes—home to essential marma points (points of concentrated vital energy) and nerve endings.
- Apply oil to the crown of your head (adhipati marma) and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Spend a couple of minutes massaging your entire scalp (home to many other important marma points)
- Use long strokes on the limbs (arms and legs) and circular strokes on the joints (elbows and knees). Always massage toward the direction of your heart.
- Massage your abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine—moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side.
- Do your best massaging the sides of your body (your trunk) and your back.
- Finish the massage by spending at least a couple of minutes massaging your feet. Feet are a very important part of the body with the nerve endings of essential organs and vital marma points.
- Sit with the oil for 5–15 minutes, if possible, so that the oil can absorb and penetrate into the deeper layers of the body.
- Enjoy a warm bath or shower. You can use a mild soap on the “strategic” areas—avoid vigorously soaping and rubbing the body.
- When you get out of the bath, towel dry gently. Blot the towel on your body instead of rubbing vigorously.
Enjoy the feeling of having nourished your body, mind, and spirit and carry that with you throughout your day.
Make these practices a part of your daily life to help you stay calm and centered through the stress-inducing time of the holidays and beyond. These are rituals that can help you live a more balanced, peaceful, and joyful life. Happy holidays!
Ready to start flowing with the Universe, instead of against it? Learn a natural, effortless style of meditation that helps make every day feel easy, fresh, and fulfilling with Basics of Meditation, a self-paced online course guided by Deepak Chopra. Learn More.