Four Ways to Survive the Holidays (Rerun)

by Nina
Hegel's Holiday by Rene Magritte*

We’re quickly moving into the full-blown, end of the year holiday season that is Thanksgiving followed by Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa and topped off by New Year’s Eve. For many of us, this time of year is very challenging. We have too much to do. We’re traveling through snow and rain to get some place and then a few days after that slogging home again. And when we’re together for days at a time with family members, old behavior patterns and conflicts can raise their ugly heads. Or maybe we can’t be with family—or don’t have one—so the whole season looks nothing like at all like a Hollywood movie. And yet there are always those expectations for having a “wonderful” time. So it’s no wonder this time of year many of us experience disappointment and sadness, not to mention stress and anxiety.

But this year we have our whole yoga toolbox at our fingertips, so I’m sure we can all do a better job of surviving these challenges with a measure of equanimity and grace.

After some thought, I’ve decided to suggest a two-part strategy. The first is to use the wisdom of yoga to change your attitude toward the holidays. It seems that in great part it is our plans going awry or hopes being crushed that cause so much emotional difficulty during this time. By changing your attitude, you can do your best not to get stressed out in the first place. Then because, well, some amount of stress is inevitable—even when we trying our best not to let things get to us, we tend to crack once in a while—you can use your favorite yoga stress reduction techniques to calm yourself  down and quiet your mind.

YOGA TIPS FOR SURVIVING THE HOLIDAYS


 1. Consider your attachment to your plans and hopes for the holidays.

The Yoga Sutras tells us in sutra 3.3 that attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain are two of the “afflictions” that cause human suffering.

And it seems to me that one of the pleasures we become attached to is our fantasies about how our lives will turn out (see Attachment (Raga) to Our Ideas About Ourselves). So start by recognizing your attachment to your plans and hopes for the holiday season. And admit to yourself that your attachment to those plans IS an affliction. (As I wrote in Attachment (Raga) to Our Ideas About Ourselves, I sometimes think we cling to our attachments in a form of magical thinking, because we feel as if holding on to our plans and hopes will make some kind of magic that will allow us to obtain what we desire.) Then see if you can work your way to letting go of some of those attachments. 

And maybe the discomfort we feel while traveling and while witnessing—or even participating in—family conflicts is pain to which we feel aversion. Can you try to shift your thinking a bit about whether the suffering these situations causes you is inevitable? 

As the Bhagavad Gita says, “When a man has mastered himself, he is perfectly at ease in cold, in heat, in pleasure or pain, in honor or disgrace.” And speaking of family members, the Gita says this, too:

He looks impartially on all:
those who love him or hate him,
his kinsmen, his enemies, his friends

the good, and also the wicked.


2. Go ahead with your plans, but do your work with “detachment” or “skill in actions,” as the Gita recommends. 

The wise man lets go of all

results, whether good or bad,

and is focused on the action alone.

Yoga is skill in actions.


So take your trip, help with all that cooking, give your gifts, spend time with your family members, and open your home to others, all without worrying about success or failure. This is the combination of active engagement and acceptance that we’ve been writing about since the early days of the blog (see What We Need to Practice and Acceptance, Active Engagement, and the Bhagavad Gita), which is the way to achieve equanimity in your everyday life. And equanimity is definitely something we can all use a bit more during the holidays.

3. Practice yoga for stress management to quiet your nervous system and your mind.


Reducing your stress levels will support your ability to put the wisdom of yoga in to practice. After all, yoga’s relaxing practices, including meditation and pranayama, were developed specifically to help quiet the mind so a yogic approach toward life would be possible. See The Relaxation Response and Yoga. For those who are pressed for time, here are a few suggestions: 
4. Let contentment lead to joy.  

Both Ram and I have written about cultivating santosha as an important part of yoga practice (see Santosha: Happiness and Longevity and Yoga and the Pursuit of Happiness). Santosha means "contentment" and TKV Desikachar defines contentment as "the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have."

To help you cultivate contentment, the Yoga Sutras recommends meditation, pranayama (breath practices) and detachment. And then there’s this:

1.33 Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.

Well, that certainly seems like a good approach for the holiday season. So I wish you joy—no matter what your plans are this year.


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