The December holiday season can be a wonderful time of the year. Families gather and exchange gifts. Parties with friends and co-workers serve up plenty of food and good cheer. Many of us stoke our fireplaces to warm the winter chill, wrap our homes with festive lights, and turn up the holiday music to remind us of the fun we've had in the past.
But the season can also stimulate stress. We tend to push toward end-of-year deadlines and slam on the brakes in retail traffic jams. For some, loneliness and grief can make the season feel isolating, painful, or overwhelming.
Instead of checking off one more thing from your to-do list, consider stopping for what Yoga Teacher Shannon Fitzgerald calls Purposeful Pause Mindfulness. Click on this link to listen to a series of meditations that Shannon has thoughtfully cultivated for easy listening.
Shannon, who leads the popular Restorative Yoga classes at Holly's Pilates Village, uses guided imagery to help us quiet our monkey minds and concentrate on slow, nourishing breath. A quiet meadow, a towering mountain, or soft candlelight can set the stage for stillness and deeper awareness of the present moment. In these periods of stillness, we can reflect on gratitude, practice self-compassion, or find it in our hearts to forgive.
Meditation teaches us to truly let go. In Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, Judith Hanson Lasater writes of how restorative yoga and mindfulness practice helped her heal from a broken heart. When a family member died, Lasater says she no longer felt motivated to engage in her active yoga routine and decided to try a gentler approach.
"In response to my grief, I decided to practice only restorative poses and did so almost every day for a year," she writes. "In was practicing these poses, I believe, that helped me through this painful period. They allowed me to accept my grief and recover from the emotional drain and fatigue."
Lasater uses what she calls Centering Breath—a slow, gentle inhalation followed by a slow, gentle exhalation, followed by several rounds of normal breathing, and then repeating the pattern—to stoke mindfulness.
How can you find time for meditative work when you're already pressed for space? Lasater suggests writing down what you do during the day in 30-minute increments. This exercise will help you understand how you spend your time, and then you can search through the list for five minutes, 15 minutes, or more where you can cultivate stillness and presence through greater mindfulness.
Meditation specialist and author Tara Brach suggests four steps than can lead us toward that path. In True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, she uses an acronym R.A.I.N. to explain how to:
R—Recognize what is happening. Notice the physical sensations that your thoughts and emotions may produce.
A—Allow life to be just what it is. Instead of wishing away unpleasantness or pain, whisper "let be," "yes," or "I consent."
I—Investigate inner experience with kindness. Ask with genuine curiosity what might need to be addressed, or simply offer gentle and receptive attention.
N—Non-identification. Rest in natural awareness and suspend judgment of whatever feelings, emotions, or sensations arise.
Try it today, perhaps now. Take a Purposeful Pause.