We may have every intention of enjoying a mellow Christmas but often life has other plans. Interestingly, yoga philosophy is far from requiring a perfect studio, branded leggings, or a guru; it simply requires a moment of attention.
We chat to teacher and director of Bristol City Yoga, Laura Gilmore, about how to reduce stress and increase mindfulness during the most fun, yet stressful, season of them all: Christmas.
More frazzled than festive: Yoga Advice for Mindfulness
If you enter the Christmas season feeling more frazzled than festive there are simple things you can do. You’re probably thinking, ‘I don’t have time for a downward-facing dog’; but yoga, like Christmas, has suffered from some branding problems - it’s not actually about what you look like, but how you feel.
This is the important bit. If you just tune in and listen to what’s going on inside, what you’re thinking, feeling, sensing, smelling or hearing, then some of the swirling fake snow, jingles and gifts unbought will fade for a moment.
It’s a recalibration, a deep inner exploration, and it doesn’t take long. In the bath, in a queue, at work, on the loo. Just notice a breath, in and out, and feel what you’re feeling. That’s it.
How does it work?
Often, we impose on ourselves whatever we think we should be doing, thinking or feeling. Some true self acknowledgement is a calming balm, helping to reset the nervous system. It can radically alter our vision and behaviour so that if something really isn’t what we need - then we don’t do it!
It’s a well-known yoga oxymoron that the times when you’re too busy for your yoga or meditation practice is the time when you need to stop and practice. Yoga comes in many guises and a nurturing moment of awareness may be enough.
For those moments you feel really frazzled and the mind is jumpy, the best thing to do is drop into the body. It can be as simple as feeling and moving the feet and legs. Lie on your back, stretch each leg up in turn and tune into the breath moving your abdomen.
For moments when you can’t lie on the floor (when you’re in that never-ending queue to get the Christmas shopping), stand tall, bend the knees a little and slide the shoulder blades down the back. Shift a little stiffness from the body, let the mind follow.
If you can, fold forward and reach for your thighs, knees, or toes, keeping a soft bend in the knees to protect the joints. You don’t need to reach your toes to do yoga, but folding your arms and head down can be energising and change your perspective.
For moments of exhaustion, put a bolster or cushion near the wall and swing your legs up the wall. Focus the mind on feeling the breath slowly fill and empty the lungs. This acts as a total pick me up.
Then there’s simple breath practice - match the length and depth of your inhale with the exhale. Gradually as the lungs relax let each breath lengthen, but keep in comfy.
And don’t forget to keep some space for your regular class or practice. It might be a greater gift to yourself and others to take some time for yourself than pushing through every social engagement.
Lastly - consciously practising gratitude is a way to feel happier. Even in dark lonely moments, we can sometimes feel gratitude for our bodies, like the way they still function despite all the crisps and mince pies. In more easeful times allow gratitude to be deeply felt for family, friends, homes, love.
If all this fails, make friends with the person in charge of the mulled wine this year; then enjoy the small moments found between sips (and the breath, of course).
Laura Gilmore has been practicing yoga and meditation for almost 30 years and teaching yoga for over 15.She’s the director of Bristol City Yoga and Bristol School of Yoga. Laura teaches regular classes at the studio that help students find ease and understanding within body and mind.
Bristol City Yoga has been at the heart of Stokes Croft for almost 20 years and has yoga, wellbeing and fitness classes suitable for all levels. All classes at Bristol City Yoga are available through MoveGB.