The festive season can cause havoc on the emotions. For some, it's a time filled with love and joy, for others it's a reminder of not so happy times. I sit somewhere in the middle, I love the festive season, but I've lost the joy for Christmas Day. I'm not sure if it's because of my age, but it doesn't feel the same as it used to. I always hope that one day I'll learn to love it again as much as I did when I was younger. In the lead up to all the festivities, emotions can often fly high, there's the stress of workloads to get things wrapped up for the year, there's the stress of all of the Christmas shopping and with that comes some financial strain. There's the increased traffic in the car parks at the shopping centres, fights over car spaces. There's the stress of having to see family or not being able to see family - wherever you may sit.
It's easy to lose sight of what's important and get caught up in the manic energy. And usually I would be one of those, with increased road rage, getting cranky with family or the boss for putting another job on my desk. This year is different. There's been a bucket load of changes in my life, but what I've noticed on my yoga journey is that I'm calmer and more at peace. I realised that it's now Dec 19, I've only bought one Christmas present, I haven't placed my ham order (I am a meat eating yoga instructor, however I choose to eat organic meat which I believe is ahimsa - see below about the meaning of ahimsa), nor have I put up the Christmas tree. Old Jo would go pretty loopy over that. The Jo I am this year isn't even batting an eye-lid. I'll get around to it! Even if it Christmas is less than a week away.
What has really helped cultivate my sense of calm and peace is my meditation and yoga practice. Learning to become the observer of my thoughts, allowing to use the space between the stimulus and response to my advantage by making a choice. I have the choice to react and how I react. I have the choice to respond with love and kindness, or in other ways. I have the choice to listen. I have the choice. Whatever that choice is, I have the power to be compassionate towards myself and others, to hold space for others, to listen and to be kind - which is the practice of ahimsa. Ahimsa means nonviolence towards others, the environment and yourself. Ahmisa is about not causing pain physically, vocally (saying hurtful things), or mentally (thinking negatively against yourself or others). Don't get me wrong, I can fall off this bandwagon quite quickly if I allow my thoughts and emotions to consume me, however a gentle reminder to not get caught up brings me straight back to the present moment.
It's really simple to create a sense of calm in your mind, that helps you move forward and be in control of your actions and thoughts. Here are some ways that I've found work for me:
1. Meditate Find 5 or 10 minutes a day. You can download a meditation app, or you can buy my guided metta meditation and listen each day or whenever you may be feeling the need. Metta meditation is a meditation focused on generating kindness, compassion and unconditional love for yourself and others (perfect for this time of year!!).
2. Yoga asana A yoga class linking movement with breath allows you to find stillness in the mind, which helps cultivate a sense of calm, clarity, removes emotional and physical tension. Ah don't get me started on the benefits of a yoga practice!! We'll be here all day!
3. Exercise Go for a walk, jog, hike or bike ride. Go do something that's going to get you moving to release endorphins.
Close your eyes and follow the inhale and the exhale. Giving your mind something to do. Breathing deeply into the belly and slowly helps to lower our parasympathetic nervous system, it's the opposite to the fight or flight response, allowing us to calm down.
5. Get some fresh air Sit outside and breathe deeply while you're doing it - see point 4! Try taking your shoes off and actually stand on the grass barefoot. Visualise that you're exchanging the energy with the earth, all the thoughts in your head are exiting through your feet and into the ground, allowing you to be grounded. I know it may sound a bit cuckoo, but give it a go without judgement and see how you feel.
Write down your thoughts and emotions - get them out of your head and onto paper so you to get clear about what's really going on in order to let it all go. And if it's really bothering you once you've written it all out and you need assistance to move past it, tear the pages up and throw them out - another visualisation exercise to allow the thoughts to be removed from your life.
7. Practice mindfulness
Being present in the moment - tune into all of your senses and identify what you see, feel, hear, touch and taste. Do this for a few minutes. As thoughts arise in the mind, allow the thoughts to pass through but not attach yourself to them and take your awareness back to your surroundings.
7. Practice gratitude
Think about something you're really grateful for, it may be one thing or multiple things. Focus your attention on that for a few minutes and you'll see how quickly your mood is uplifted. This is something I like to do each morning when I wake up too to help kick off my day feeling grateful for the big and little things in my life.
As you move your mind to think from a place of compassion, love and kindness, you begin to feel better about yourself and others. There's been so many studies that show thinking positive thoughts increases the 'feel good' chemicals in your brain, elevating your moods and energy, while reducing stress, which then in turn heals the body. After trying and testing each of these methods while being in a frantic state, I can agree that I do feel better after doing something from the above.
I hope you find calm, peace and happiness during this festive season. May you be well, may you be happy, may you be loved and extend that love to others and may you be free from suffering.