With Christmas upon us, how many of us are slowing down to take in what should be a restful time of the year? How many of us are rushing about trying to fit in extra social events into an already over scheduled diary? Or making endless lists to try and keep on top of it all? Well, even mindfulness teachers are guilty of doing just that!
Having suffered a recent back pain from carrying too much Christmas shopping and running around last week, I have been physically forced to slow down in the midst of the busy festive season, and actually, it’s been very nourishing to come back to my day to day practice.
When we practice mindfulness we can learn to ‘let go’ of the ‘doing mode’ that frazzles our overactive minds and learn to come into ‘being mode’. Simply by just being present to the ebbs and flows of daily life with a sense of awareness and kindness to ourselves, we can become more resilient to life’s stressors that can exhaust us at this time of year.
By changing our reactions to our thoughts and engaging our senses, we can nourish ourselves during the most emotionally and physically challenging times, to find inner peace and calm – which is after all, what Christmas in its traditional sense is all about.
Here are a few tips to help you switch to ‘being mode’
Christmas does not have to be perfect! In fact, the more imperfect and impromptu moments are often the best to soak up and enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you forgot to buy that one present, or ice the Christmas cake you put on your list. Start to let go of those ‘doing’ thoughts of perfection and set some boundaries as to what you can and cannot do and stick to it.
Slow down – make sure you have quiet time to ‘just be’. It’s wonderful to try and see all your friends, but it’s not quality time if you are trying to squeeze in a couple of hours in an already over scheduled day. Saying no can be very nourishing for your mind and body.
Enjoy the beauty of nature – silent walks outside in the fresh air cultivates mindfulness naturally.
Find a cosy chair and read that book you have been promising yourself, and if there is an opportunity to snooze, take it! It will help replenish your energy levels.
Engage your senses, slow down, take a breath and just be
Each day of the holidays use your five senses to notice some everyday mindful moments, such as the feeling of warmth against your skin when you step away from the cold.
Or try practicing some mindful eating to allow your brain and gut to slow down and naturally connect. Take time to taste, smell, see and experience the food that you prepare or is being prepared for you. Mindful eating helps with overeating too!
Be mindful in your conversations with friends or loved ones. Notice their faces and smiles and tune into their voices as you practice some mindful listening. If conversations are challenging or difficult remember to:
Take a breath
Observe and then
Proceed before speaking
By understanding that thoughts are not facts we can change our relationship to our thoughts, allowing us to observe them without reacting to them in haste. This supports stress resistance.
Use your breath as an anchor to ground and guide you in moments of stress. Closing your eyes if you wish, hold your hand over your belly and notice your breath going in and out. This simple action of breath awareness naturally brings the stress hormone in the body (cortisol) right down.
It can also be helpful to self soothe with a simple mantra to calm the mind. I love using *Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple practices such as:
Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.
Christmas can be a difficult time of the year for many who are less fortunate. Be grateful for every day of the holidays. Gratitude is a natural result of practicing mindfulness – we can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice.
Gratitude can lead to feelings of love, appreciation, and compassion and can help reduce low moods. By opening our hearts to those around us we can rewire our brains to fire in more positive ways.
Make a gratitude jar and ask family and friends to fill it up with notes of grateful thoughts over the holidays. Read and share the notes together at Christmas family gatherings – like reading jokes from Christmas crackers, the jar will engage everyone with heartfelt responses
Remember to notice the small things, it could be gratitude for that card from an old friend, or a hug from grandma and it’s not just about the gifts we receive.
Notice how you feel when giving presents or offering Christmas wishes – engaging our senses in this way can uplift us and those around you.
*Thich Nhat Hanh is a spiritual leader, peace activist and best-selling author of mindfulness books. He Lives in Plum Village, France
Mindful living Xmas tips with love from SamMantra, our resident mindfulness teacher
The best Christmas gift we can give to ourselves and our loved ones this year, is self-kindness. At the heart of mindfulness is the practice of self-compassion. Being supportive to ourselves when we are having a hard time is especially important, as we are all drawn to self-criticism.
Responding with kindness when we are under stress or suffering is the foundation for all emotional healing. Don’t be so hard on yourself if things don’t go to plan this Christmas, and focus on the experiences you do and enjoy, and not the things you did not get done!
You do not have to practice formal meditations to experience the benefits of mindfulness – simple everyday living practices can nourish and support your wellbeing
Mindfulness gives us a sense of time and wonder and time gives us choices, which when skilfully made allows us to enjoy life more and understand ourselves better.
Breathing in. Breathing out…Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.