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De-Stress in a Breath This Holiday

Feeling as prickly as your Christmas tree? Berkeley Yoga teacher John Rettger offers five stress management tips for the holiday season.

By John Rettger, a restorative yoga teacher at .

With the holidays quickly approaching, things may start to get stressful and challenging. In this article, I offer 5 simple mindfulness and Yoga-based tips to help keep you centered.

1. Practice Beginner’s Mind

Take a few moments to center yourself before entering challenging situations. Considering practicing Mountain Pose after you ring your family’s doorbell and are waiting to enter. In short, let go of the history, open the heart, and maintain proper interpersonal boundaries.

As best as you can, try to approach each experience as if it was your first day on planet earth. Unless you are a certified psychic, you cannot predict how a certain situation is going to unfold. There is this idea of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” — if you hold strong beliefs about a particular situation and it’s outcome, you may unconsciously change your behavior in such a way that will confirm your prediction. For example, if you believe that your holiday family gathering is going to be stressful, you may approach the situation with negative energy. Others will likely pick up on this and respond in a more defensive or be emotionally closed.

2. Practice Awareness of the Breath

It only takes one second to redirect your attention onto your own breathing. By coming back to the breath in moments of stress, you can liberate your mind and body from tightening. Even while stopped at a traffic light, you can take a full breath in and move your attention into the belly and feel the belly expand, stay with the breath, and watch the belly fall. The challenge is remembering to take this step in the midst of the fight/flight response.

Find encouragement by remembering this piece of wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita: “Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the Self”.

3. Realize that stress is most often about our perception, rather than what is happening around us

Yes, stressful events do happen to us, and we do not have control over everything happening in our lives. In the moment, we may have to take certain actions, such as shut down emotionally, or maybe isolate socially. It is important that once things settle down we take the time to acknowledge what our feelings are and to talk about them with someone we trust. We can even take this further by taking some quiet time to reflect on recent events and inquire as to whether or not, our thoughts and reactions to certain events accurately portray the actual events themselves, or was our reaction more about our emotional reactivity, or our ego not getting what it wants.

Keeping a journal is a great way to examine perception. If something or someone has triggered you, take a moment to write down your thoughts, emotions, and note the sensations in your body. If there are particular negative thoughts, try to find objective evidence to support the thoughts, and try to balance the negative by rewriting the thoughts in a more positive way. Take to time to read your new, positive script and observe the calming effects.

4. Cultivate and maintain a non-judging mind

As best as you can, realize that things as they are, are OK. Try to let go of, or minimize the gap between how you wish the world would be, and how you believe the world actually is. If you find this challenging, take a few moments and fill your mind’s eye with the image of something, or someone, that represents total unconditional love and happiness. Rest in stillness and silence with this image, and allow these feelings to spread throughout your entire being like a wildfire.

Take note of the physical sensations associated with these emotions, notice the peaceful stream of thoughts flowing through the mind, and take a mental snapshot of these qualities. Next time you feel stress coming on, head it off at the pass by dropping awareness back into these thoughts, images, and sensations.

5. Maintain a daily practice

Remember the wisdom of the Bhavagad Gita above, in particular the recommendation of patience and repeated effort. While your holiday plans may involve travel and a disruption of your normal routine, remember that even taking one, five, or 10 minutes out of the day is a daily and regular practice if done consistently.

Realize that no matter where you are, you always have the breath and the body, and these two gifts are always accessible in the present moment.

Hopefully these few tips will help to keep the bliss flowing for you during the upcoming holiday season. I wish you all the best and many blessings this upcoming month.

John is a Restorative yoga teacher at . His classes are every Sunday at 10:45 am; Monday at 12:15 p.m.; and Thursday at 8 p.m.


2807 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705
Tel: (510) 486-1989

MaryJo Kurtz December 08, 2011 at 03:53 PM
What a great article. This is one to keep handy and re-read as a reminder before any holiday or stressful situation. Thanks, John!
Emily Henry December 08, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Some really useful tips here... I'm particularly enjoying "Beginner's Mind" — it helps to look at the world with a fresh eye. Thanks John! Berkeley Patch is looking forward to your future contributions as a blogger.

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