Happy Holidays or Seasonal Stress? Learn to bring more joy and less stress to your holidays.
The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and festivity: a season of family bliss, goodwill, exuberance and wonder. For children, let us hope this is true. But for many adults the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years, feel more like a test in endurance and a competition in survivor skills than an opportunity to "deck the halls" and "join the chorus."
So, is there a natural way to experience the spirit of the season without the stress? The answer is yes and it starts with allowing just 20 minutes a day to be all about you. With awareness, commitment, and practice you can learn to manage your stress by relaxing your body and quieting your mind.
Really? Can you really relax your body and affect the tension in your muscles simply by bringing your awareness there?
ABSOLUTELY! Relaxing the muscles is actually quite simple. Being mindfully aware of the need to relax the muscles is actually quite challenging.
Where to start? Like all skills, consistent practice when the mind and body are relatively tranquil will facilitate the ability to implement muscle relaxing techniques when stressed and in pain.
When teaching yoga or meditation, I methodically guide students through the process of mindfully relaxing the muscles in their face, neck and shoulders. As we journey through the class, I periodically remind everyone to take notice of the physical sensation in these muscles and to consciously release and relax any tightness that has crept back into these sensitive areas. I have found that whatever we feel in and around our face and neck is usually a pretty good reflection of what is going on in our minds and bodies. Releasing and relaxing these muscles can initiate a chain reaction easing some of the physical soreness that so frequently plagues us.
The first time you try to mentally scan your face, neck and shoulders, it is important to be in a completely comfortable and relaxed position and not constrained by time. If you are not opposed to possibly surrendering to a mini nap, I suggest lying down. However, if you prefer, sitting comfortably in a supportive chair is also a good choice so opt for the one that works best for you.
If you choose to lie down, it is helpful to place a lightly weighted eye pillow over your eyes. In addition to blocking out light, soft pressure can help relax the muscles in and around the eyes and cheeks. The pressure should be gentle so as not to be distracting. Aromatherapy scents can also enhance the ability to reduce stress. Not all eye pillows are created equal. The right combination for you will enrich your experience throughout this practice as well as during savasana, the final yoga resting pose. You will also find eye pillows useful as a natural aid to help combat insomnia and support a drug free sleep.
Once you are comfortable, with or without your eye pillow, start to bring your awareness to the eyes. If you find it hard to evaluate if these muscles are tight or not, try to squeeze your eyes tightly shut, silently count to three and then release. Feel the upper lids resting softly on the lower lids and notice the muscles behind and around the eyes encouraging them to relax. Now, allow the tongue to rest softly between the teeth and then mindfully turn all of your senses inward, feeling, seeing and experiencing the releasing of any straining around the cheeks, chin and especially the jaw. Once again, if you're not sure if you are releasing these muscles, clench your jaw and count to three, noticing the effect on the eyes, temples, cheeks, teeth, jaw, neck, shoulders, and surrounding tissues. What does it feel like? Do words like rigid, stiff, taut, or strained jump to mind?
Continue to shift your awareness from one part of the face and neck to another, pausing for several or more breaths as your mind tells your muscles to relax. Let your breath remain calm and even as you scan and observe the gradual releasing of any tensing that returns. Notice if the softening in your face, especially around the eyes and jaw, prompts the noise in your mind to quiet.
The next challenge is to discipline yourself to employ these skills periodically throughout your day especially when you recognize you are feeling stressed, worried or anxious.
Remember, our bodies and minds are inextricably connected. When left on their own, each will insist on taking the other on a mindless, chaotic excursion to all sorts of dark, scary places, inflicting a diabolical array of physical and emotional torment on the other.
Consider beginning this holiday season with a gift to yourself. Start your practice now and find some welcome relief from the deep pain that uncontrolled tension inflicts on our bodies and minds.
I hope this simple practice will help you reduce stress and reclaim the spirit of this holiday season.
Consider continuing these techniques and adding yoga and/or meditation to your New Year's Resolutions. Your body and mind will thank you.