In the Northern Hemisphere, fall is coming to an end and we move into the winter season. During this time of year, people all around the globe are also preparing for a season of holidays. Many cultures organized rituals and celebrations around seasonal transitions that honor the cycling of nature, and the end of the year brings us opportunities to connect and celebrate.
As with all transitional times, this has the potential to be a time of some turbulence and overactivity, however, if we stay balanced in mind and body, this can be a season of beauty, joy, and self-reflection as well. Ayurveda gives us many tools and practices to stay healthy and balanced during the winter and holiday season.
Mindful Eating for a Balanced Body
During the holiday season, we have the potential to fall out of the healthy eating habits that we have cultivated the rest of the year. At times, we are thrown off our usual eating habits and it can take some time after the holidays to get back on track.
Instead of deprivation and completely avoiding your favorite foods, which doesn’t work very well, or suppressing the desire to eat the meals that family and friends create, you can enjoy the delicious flavors of the holidays while maintaining balance using mindful eating techniques. Mindful eating means you are paying attention and are present with your food when you eat. You aren’t thinking about what happened in the past or planning for something in the future, but you are present with your meal, in the moment. When you do this, you slow down, enjoy your food, and listen to the signals of your body to tell you when you are full. You can make conscious choices about what, and how much, you eat because you are paying attention.
Here are some tips to eat mindfully during the holidays:
- Pay attention to all your senses when you eat.
- Eat slowly, chew your food, and savor the tastes.
- Put your fork or spoon down between bites.
- Eat until you are satisfied, but not overly full. When you eat slowly, you have a chance to feel full before overeating.
- Feel gratitude with every bite.
In addition to mindful eating, this is a good time to keep your digestion balanced and your digestive fire burning brightly by sipping on warm ginger tea in the morning to get the digestive fire started for the day. You can also sip CCF tea between meals to keep digestion balanced throughout the day. Be sure to include warming spices in your foods and drinks such as cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and cloves.
Using these techniques over the holidays will allow you to savor delicious meals and enjoy the holidays while keeping your body in balance.
Although we often associate the holidays with fun and laughter, this can actually be one of the most stressful times of the year. We may see family or friends that we haven’t seen for some time, or find ourselves spending time with people with differing beliefs and ideas. We also may find ourselves spending time with people with whom we have had challenges in the past. Or perhaps we are not able to see the people we love due to physical distance or other circumstances.
From a spiritual perspective, we often create our own suffering by not accepting what is, by resisting the present moment. The holidays can bring up memories from the past, good and bad, that impact how we experience the present. If we have had challenging experiences or trauma in our family relationships, this time of year can cause a resurfacing of emotions we have buried. Also, if we perceived our holidays as perfect childhood memories, we may put undue stress on ourselves to make the holidays ‘perfect’ for our current families.
From an Ayurvedic lens, we all experience things differently, depending on our primary dosha, and whether we are in balance or not. Sensitive Vatas love connecting with others but may find themselves taking in the emotions and stress of others around them. Pittas are the ideal planners, but may strive for perfection as hosts, or feel the need to outcompete. And laidback Kaphas may enjoy from afar or find themselves wanting to retreat and avoid social interactions altogether.
For everyone, keeping your emotions balanced over the holidays can be as simple as focusing on an open heart and accepting every moment as it is. Notice any emotions that may be coming up as you move through the holidays, allow them to arise, and without attaching to any particular emotions, allow it to subside. It may be useful to do a little journaling at the end of the day to release any emotions that are coming up. Here is a simple journaling practice you can use:
- Find a quiet space at the end of the day to reflect on the day.
- Feel emotions as they arise in your body.
- Try to identify the emotion and the story that is attached to it.
- Write down what you are feeling with the intention of letting the story and emotions go.
- Once the feeling subsides, bring your awareness to your heart, and close your eyes.
- Bring in a feeling of gratitude. Just say silently “I am grateful.” Repeat this a few times.
- Then, write down some affirmations in your journal, such as “I accept everything as it is,” or “I surrender,” or “I love myself and others exactly as they are.” Use an affirmation that allows you to accept how you are feeling while also tapping into a more expanded perspective of your experience.
- Do a few minutes of slow, rhythmic breathing to close the practice.
You can practice these techniques whenever you become aware of emotions arising during the holiday season. Allowing yourself to accept, be grateful, feel love and compassion for yourself and others, and fully surrender to the present moment will keep you balanced and peaceful now and all year.
Positive Reflections for Lightness of Being
One of the best ways to enjoy the holidays is to take the opportunity to reflect on the previous year. Although our minds have a tendency to remember the negative experiences, we can cultivate gratitude for all the positive experiences as well as create a new perspective on those things that we perceived as negative. After all, every experience gives us some opportunity to grow and evolve, especially the hard ones.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, our language creates our reality. What we tell ourselves about our experience shapes our experience. As Buddha said, "what we think, we become." It is important to take some time periodically to pay attention to the good things that happen to us, the times we feel joy and peace, and the times we are feeling connected to others and our inner self.
Take some time this holiday season to reflect on some experiences that brought you joy in the last year. It could be something in nature that you observed, a fun experience with family or friends, a delicious meal, or anything else that brought you joy. As you make this a regular practice in your life, notice how you begin to create a more positive perspective on your life experiences and the expansion of joy and peace in your day-to-day life.
By having tools for body, mind, and spirit, you can stay healthy and balanced throughout the holiday season and all year long.
Anchor yourself this season with balancing Ayurvedic practices that support a healthy mind, body, and spirit with Winter Holiday, a four-part program with Dr. Sheila Patel, available now in the Chopra App.