The Christmas period is often a time of increased tension, stress or anxiety for many and can result in unpleasant experiences for individuals or families. Spending an extended period of time with friends and family doesn’t happen very often, so it would be beneficial for all if we were able to approach the festive season with a peaceful mind.
What causes stress at Christmas?
Mindfulness shows us that the struggles we go through in life often aren’t external to us (as we believe them to be) but are instead based in our perception and thoughts/beliefs about a situation. Most of us feel the pressure to get the right gifts for the right people, spend enough money but not too much money, make sure everyone has enough food and drink, wear the right outfit, attend the right events or parties, not drink too much,…and inevitably find time to demonstrate the right amount of merriment on social media…
A lot of the pressure we experience during the festive season can be found in our thought patterns or learned responses. Thoughts of how things should be and comparison to ideals or others can be harmful. If we tune into the present moment (no pun intended) and observe our true experience in the moment, we may find that we are able to enjoy the season more than previously. If something does go wrong – the turkey is dry, you couldn’t get that last minute gift because it had sold out – you can use mindfulness techniques to bring yourself back to the moment instead of getting caught in unhelpful negative thought patterns.
Tips to move mindfully through the festive season
A mindful queueing experience: You can’t avoid them, there are queues in shops, in supermarkets and on the roads this time of year. Every year we know it will happen the closer we get the Christmas, but every year we find ourselves frustrated, tense, irritated and sometimes infuriated with the constant waiting. Battling against the flow of life is a great source of stress for us. If we catch ourselves as frustration arises and instead of letting it take hold, we bring ourselves to our immediate experience of the moment. No judgment, no likes or dislikes, just observation. What does impatience feel like? Where is it held in the body? Try to feel it rather than think about it with the usual ‘why is this taking so long?’ ‘I should have joined the other queue’. You will notice almost straight away that tension eases out of your body and impatience gives way to patience naturally.
3 minute breathing space: When things get really testing (either during the build-up to Christmas day or during a family gathering for example) we often say things we regret or experience anger with ourselves or others. When we feel that a situation is getting too difficult, we can take 3 very effective steps to transform the moment mindfully.
- If you feel anger, impatience or frustration arising, catch it as soon as you are able and stop yourself from speaking or acting negatively. If you need to remove yourself from a situation, you can do so.
- Ground yourself in the moment by tuning into your breath. If you are agitated, try taking long slow breaths for a few minutes to give yourself space.
- Pay attention to what you are experiencing. Try to feel it in the body instead of listening to your thoughts about a situation or person. Bring your awareness back to the moment and your direct experience of it. Try to bring awareness to how a situation affects everybody, rather than just you.
Reclaim time: We always run out of time at Christmas. Not enough time to finish the shopping, wrap the gifts, visit friends and family, finish things off at work before the break. The constant rushing and pressure to ‘people please’ often leaves us more tired after the Christmas holiday than before it. This year, make a little time for yourself. The pressure we feel is often self-applied, so take a load off. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but a little mindful self-care can go a long way. Take a walk outside and take in all that nature has to offer this season. Take a long bath with some essential oils. Read a new book. Find opportunities to bring yourself and your experience back into the present moment as often as possible instead of living in an imagined future or re-living a past event.
Christmas is the perfect time to practice gratitude; not just for the gifts given and received, but for all the fortunate things we experience in life that often get swamped by thoughts of how life should be or what we should have achieved ‘by now’. Take a few moments each day to list the things you are grateful for…I bet that list is much longer than your Christmas wish list.
I visited a primary school in Warwickshire recently and was pleased to see a display promoting wellbeing through 5 practical steps that are now promoted as basic steps to wellbeing all over the world. The ‘5 ways to wellbeing’ outline simple steps that we can all take to improve our wellbeing and are now advocated by the NHS in order to help people actively take control of their wellbeing. Starting small and building to a holistic approach to wellbeing can help us lessen or avoid more long-term conditions such as depression or anxiety that can effect physical and mental health for many years.
But what is wellbeing exactly? What are we trying to improve? Undoubtedly our mental health and states of mind, but wellbeing is a whole of life experience. An improvement in our overall quality of life and experience through practical, active steps to increase our levels of enjoyment, self-worth, physical and mental health and interactions with others.
This sounds like a big challenge, right? Definitely. But luckily the 5 ways to wellbeing really do work and are a great start to improving wellbeing.
The 5 Ways to Wellbeing
- Connect – There is strong evidence that being around others (friends, family, social groups) not only increases our all-round wellbeing, but also increases our longevity. Talking is the best therapy. You don’t have to share everything with others; start small. Make a meaningful connection instead of living in the digital world all the time. When you ask someone how they are, actually listen and pay attention to the answer. Speak to a stranger or make conversation while waiting in a queue. Try car sharing with a colleague; they might even become a friend.
- Be active – We have all read the decades of evidence that shows being physically active improves our mental health…so why do we still doubt it? Because it’s not easy to get active and stay active. But it’s not hard either. There are small changes we can make on the way to becoming more active and improving wellbeing. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Take a class after work with colleagues or organise a new sporting activity for all work colleagues to try. Go for a walk at lunchtime. Get off the bus a stop earlier and walk to your destination. If you feel like more of a challenge, take up a regular class that is proven to aid concentration, inner peace and help sleep…yoga is the obvious.
- Take notice – The basics of mindfulness; notice your surroundings. Be present in the moment and just ‘be’ instead of always ‘doing’. The only moment that exists is right now, so try to pay more attention to what is really going on instead of living in your head thinking about what has already happened or what might happen. Being mindful increases our awareness and knowledge of the self. If we know what we spend our time thinking about, we can start to change our thought patterns for the better. Living mindfully is a difficult task for the novice, but we can all try small steps. Choose a mindfulness cue; a sound or sight that whenever you hear/see it reminds you to take 60 seconds to be mindful and notice what’s going on in the environment.
- Keep learning – Not only is the mind kept active, but there is the chance for social interaction, being mindful and being active all rolled into one here. Continued learning can enhance self-esteem, motivation and can help you to prioritise goals and your own happiness. This doesn’t have to be a formal class to count as learning. You can try learning a new word each day, try reading the news in a foreign language, listen to classical music, join a book club.
- Give – By giving to others we develop our compassion which in turn increases our compassion for ourselves. Engaging in acts of kindness helps us to gain perspective on our own internal struggles and gain an understanding of the greater good. Giving your time, expertise or just random acts of kindness to others can greatly increase your wellbeing and decrease your attachment to seeking happiness through material gain.
I challenge you to try the 5 Winning Ways to Wellbeing for one week and track how you feel in body and mind. Leave a comment below about your experiences and check back to see my review of a week of Winning Ways to Wellbeing.
I’m a big fan of the Om Yoga Show; this must be the eighth or ninth time I’ve been to the show over the years and the third time visiting the ‘Northern version’ up in Manchester. I enjoyed the show last year and generally find it a much more enjoyable experience than the London version of the show.
Travelling to Manchester is pretty easy from the Midlands by train or car and helpfully, the organisers had kept the venue the same as last year; Event City, right next door to the Trafford Centre (and with free parking woohoo!). I went up on the first day of the show (Friday) and arrived at about 11.30 am and was surprised to see a giant queue to get in, stretching all the way into the car park. I got chatting to a fellow yogi in the queue and she agreed that it hadn’t seemed this busy last year. luckily the queue moved quickly and we got inside to find the hold-up had been due to staff trying to fill and hand out goody bags right in the doorway. Just as we got to the front of the queue we were told the goody bag area was causing a hold-up (no kidding) and so we would have to come back later to collect ours. No problem, as I didn’t fancy carrying the massive paper bag round the show with me.
As it turned out, I could have done with the massive bag to carry all my purchases – I still forget that nobody gives you a carrier bag anymore! The freebies inside this year included samples from BIO-Extracts of face cream, anti-oxidant boost and anti-wrinkle boost and some NOUGHTY leave in conditioner. I gently turned down the free sample of cider vinegar (even though I heard a lively discussion about how it can be effective if applied to acne – not sure which is worse; spots or smelling like vinegar??)
What was on
There was a good variety of stands on offer again this year – about 100 to choose from. This included food and drink, equipment, books, music, clothing, retreats and teacher training, meditation aids, and my personal favourites singing bowls and gongs. I played lots if different singing bowls and had a good chat to the owner of the Moon Karma stand (who was also an ashtangi running yoga retreats in Nepal…that went straight on the to do list). There were also three open classes and two workshop areas and a meditation area. The ticket price of £7.50 for one day entry was a bargain as usual as this allowed access to the show and free entry to all the classes in the open and meditation areas. It also included free entry to Vegan Life Live and the Mind Body Soul Experience.
What to do
I started with my usual quick circuit of the stands to find out what was where and who/what I’d like to revisit. Despite the big queues to get in, the show was not overcrowded and it was always easy to see and speak to any of the exhibitors. It was great to see the open classes so well attended. It’s never necessary to queue for more than 5 minutes at the Manchester show to take part in a free class, whereas I have been known to spend 30 minutes waiting at the London show only to be told the class is full.
The open classes this year included traditional Hatha yoga, inversions, singing bowl meditation, chair yoga, crystals, alignment, how to flow, yoga for MS, Kundalini, Kriya yoga, and vinyasa flow to name but a few. There was also a children’s yoga open area. I didn’t have chance to try and open class this year as I had two workshop bookings, but I did stop to watch a few. The Kundalini open class run by KYTA was fascinating; they played some fantastic music which really did help to connect mind and body (and I was only observing!). That one is going on my list for next year. The classes were full, but I didn’t see anyone get turned away so even if you don’t have a workshop booking, it’s worth coming to the show to try a new style of yoga for free. The DRU Yoga area had loads of free taster sessions going on all day as well – I’ve participated in these before and they are well worth the experience. I always think DRU would be the perfect yoga class to get you going in the morning.
The workshop areas were easy to find and the cost of these longer, intensive classes ranged from £5 – £10 for between 60 and 90 minutes – another great value way to try new things with national or international teachers.
Vegan Life and Mind Body Soul Experience
I briefly popped into Vegan Life Live because I know the food on offer is far superior to any of my own creations. As usual there was a great variety of food on offer as well as clothing, books and workshops to look at. I didn’t spend long in the show, but it was busy inside. I visited Home Kitchen Vegan again for the finest Asian food I have ever tasted!
The MBS Experience looked noticeably depleted this year. There were some familiar stands and faces from previous years, but none of the more interesting meditation, sound experiences and alternative therapies that have previously featured. I’d only recommend a visit to this show if there is a particular Tarot card reader or MBS practitioner that you want to see; otherwise it doesn’t have much to entertain you past the 30 minute mark.
Would I recommend the Om Yoga Show?
Definitely! This show remains a real bargain to visit and with all the free experience areas you can make a full day of it without spending more. If you do want a longer workshop, you can see world leading teachers for a bargain price. There is enough to entertain you for a morning or afternoon if you’re not doing an additional workshop or easily a full day with the extras. I noticed that the variety of clothing stands wasn’t quite as diverse this year but I loved the new additions of gongs and stands with a charitable or education focus.
The show desperately needs more areas for meditation and mindfulness and this should be a focus for next year as it was noticeably absent. The noisy atmosphere of the show means that people are often drawn to the quiet areas; and whilst there were places to sit, there were few places to enjoy a peaceful experience and try something new.
The Om Yoga Show is back next in London on 19th – 21st October 2018.
We all love to ‘get away from it all’, ‘leave our troubles behind’ and enjoy a holiday (maybe several if we’re lucky) each year. We have a plan of where to go, what to see, what to do and even the places to eat, the number of hours we want to spend on a beach, the sights we want to tick off our ‘to do’ list. For how much of our holidays are we actually present? Really present…paying full attention to what we’re doing in the moment, not thinking about the next thing we’re going to do or how what we did this morning perhaps wasn’t as great as we thought it would be.
We all hope that a trip away will be the ideal escape from work, from stress, from real life. As soon as we recognise that physically moving out of the sphere of our troubles or busyness doesn’t actually rid us of those things, then we can get the most out of our breaks and life generally.
Happiness and peace of mind can occur anywhere at any time, as long as we are in the present moment, paying attention, on purpose.
We can get the most out of our holidays by simply paying full attention to what we’re doing. I enjoy driving in continental Europe, and I think it’s because I pay so much more attention to the task of driving than I normally do. I’m constantly watching, listening, feeling the roads. My focus is fully on the task…and it becomes enjoyable. My mind is not on the destination and what I’m going to do when I get there…it’s just on the very moment of driving.
Pleasure and peacefulness can be found in many places that might usually frustrate us when we’re on holiday. Being stuck in traffic might seem like a waste of time leading to frustration or irritation, but it’s also a great opportunity to people watch, to observe the real life of another country or culture, to take in the sights and sounds of the places we pass through.
How to holiday mindfully
So, you’ve paid a lot of your hard earned money for a break – how do you get the most out of it by using mindfulness? There are a number of top tips for this…
- Walk as often as possible. This could be to get from A to B or to explore an area or just to get to the shops or beach. Leave the car behind. Being on foot gives you endless opportunity to practice mindfulness. Feel the ground under your feet, listen to everything you can hear in the moment; the language, the breeze, music, traffic, life going on right now. Focus on taking in life as it happens in the moment. When you are outdoors under your own steam, there is so much going on to focus your attention on now. If you aren’t able to walk, spend some time sitting outside and let your senses fully take in the environment.
- Use your senses. Don’t just look at things, take a picture and move on. We are very visual by nature and that’s fine, but we have 4 other senses to work with. Listen to what’s going on, what does the city/forest/beach/mountain where you are sound like? Think back to your last holiday – if someone asked you to describe what your destination sounded like, would you be able to do it? Similarly with smells, we only notice the extremes of good or bad. Try to focus in on the smells of the sea air, the leaves and vegetation, the traffic, any animals nearby, food cooking etc. All these things bring you into the present moment so you create stronger memories and find more peace, more genuine ‘escape’ from busyness. The same approach works with taste and touch; use all your senses to bring yourself into the present.
- Use photography differently. In the age of social media, we carefully construct or contrive images to draw the most appreciation from strangers. Try taking photographs of real moments, real life. Take photos that draw your attention to what your senses (other than sight) are experiencing. Create memories of touch sensation, smell, sound etc. In the present moment, it will draw you right into focussing on now, but later, your images will also serve as mindfulness cues that you can rely on in everyday life.
Remember, the core of mindfulness is to be present, whether that’s on holiday or at home. We often feel obliged to pack in as much as possible when we’re on holiday as it only happens a few times a year. Try to move from ‘doing’ to ‘being’. Don’t just pass through life, really live it.