’Tis the season! Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s. We celebrate over mouth-watering feasts and resurrect fond memories of times past. Regardless of the joy we may feel at this time of year, however, it can still be overwhelming and stressful.
With a bit of preparation, a short daily practice can help you manage the wide range of seasonal emotions, both positive and negative, you experience—particularly when traveling.
Here are seven quick practice tips to help sustain you during the holiday season.
1. Set an intention. Setting an intention before the start of your travel or time off helps prepare you for the coming disruptions to your routine. Consider where you will be and who will be there, along with your anticipated personal challenges. What do you need your practice to do for you during this time? Your intention may be as simple as to be patient, express gratitude, or be positive.
Remind yourself of your intention at the start of your practice each day, and take it with you to each and every interaction and conversation throughout the day.
2. Determine the most essential components of your practice. Once you have set your intention, select the most crucial aspects of your practice to help cultivate that intention. Have realistic expectations, as you may not have as much time as you anticipate. Think “maximum benefit” and “low time commitment,” understanding that in 10 to 20 minutes you can complete a well-rounded practice. Depending on what helps you most in your regular personal practice, you may select a few asanas, pranayama practices, and/or a meditation that align with your intention. To help you relax, you might, for example, focus on one or two restorative poses, or do a few sun salutations followed by nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and a short meditation. Or you may choose some strong standing poses, a brief agni sara practice, and bhastrika (bellows breath) to boost your energy.
3. If you are traveling, set up your practice space as soon as you arrive. Scout your surroundings to find the most suitable space for your practice (which may be just a small nook away from foot traffic). Set up your meditation seat or lay out your yoga mat (or at the very least, just place the rolled up mat). This way, you will have a subtle but continual reminder each day to facilitate your personal practice.
4. Plan ahead, but be flexible. Decide on a practice schedule, but have a backup plan for those times when your preference cannot be implemented. While a morning practice is a great way to get your day started on a positive note, you may realize as the holidays draw near that your plan was not as realistic as you expected. Or you may find that the practice you designed is not what you truly need. Don't be rigid! This is an opportunity to practice non-attachment, so go with the flow and improvise.
5. If possible, recruit an accountability partner. Who will you be in close proximity with while traveling? Consider sharing with them your desire to practice, and why it is important to you—making it easier for them to encourage you. Or better yet, ask them to join you! This is especially important if you will be sharing a room with someone.
6. Set a precedent by jumping in on the first day. Avoid the temptation to procrastinate by getting started on some aspect of your practice on the very first day. Even if that means sitting on your meditation seat for two minutes, or doing just one sun salutation, meeting your intention on the first day leads to a powerful shift in the dynamics of the rest of your visit.
7. Expand your definition of yoga. Think beyond asana, pranayama, and meditation to broader yogic practices. Here are a few possibilities to add to your travel toolbox.
• Prayer: If you have a faith, offer a short prayer before you get out of bed in the morning.
• Seva: Selfless service reminds us of the universal nature of human emotion, such as loneliness, fear, and joy. Offering to help with cooking or cleaning up, with an open and compassionate heart, builds bridges and heals relationships.
• Svadhyaya: Self-study, or reflecting on our common thought patterns, can help us in getting through a difficult situation or savoring a positive one. Consider spending a few minutes journaling in the morning or evening about the day's events.
Finally, while doing all that you can to maintain your practice in changed surroundings and circumstances, practice also not being too hard on yourself (or on others, for that matter). The holiday season is an intense time of year, and the pressures it brings can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Remind yourself that others are likely going through similar experiences. So give yourself permission to simply enjoy the special moments that occur. Everything else can wait for the new year!