A Mindfulness Examination for the Holidays: Embrace Simplicity and Release Pressure
The second in a series, this article aims to prepare you for the inevitable stresses that accompany the holiday season.
Column by Kelli Anders, MS, C-IAYT, RYT 500
Inevitably, the holidays evoke a spectrum of emotions, from joy and excitement to sadness and irritation — and everything in-between! The To-Do List swiftly evolves into “runaway train” status; you discover that a persistent moth infestation has damaged 50% of your winter wardrobe; and Uncle Tucker calls to announce that he is bringing his barky dog and new girlfriend, Debbie Downer, to the holiday festivities. There goes the promise you made to yourself last year: that 2019 would be the season to Keep Calm & Holiday On, to embrace simplicity and release the self-induced pressure of preparedness.
There is one powerful yet seriously underrated strategy that can help us to not just survive the holidays but to shift how we interpret our experience of them.
Outwitting Overwhelm: Are You Breathing?
Observing the quality of our breath. Whether it’s the creeping feeling of “too much to do, too little time,” or the imminent provocation by a distant cousin’s partisan views on just about everything, being aware of how we are breathing is essential to thwarting a sense of overwhelm.
Things to notice:
• Am I holding my breath (this often happens unconsciously when we get activated)?
• Am I sipping air, or breathing shallowly, mostly from the upper chest (also known as reverse breathing)?
• Do I feel like I can’t get enough breath or have to take abnormally deep breaths every three to four cycles?
Many of these breathing patterns up-regulate (amplify) the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight-or-flight) response, keeping us in a perpetual state of stress and arousal.
The simple act of noticing these characteristics creates a pivot point from which we can purposefully modify our breath to induce a relaxation response. The respiratory system is unique in that it works on its own when we’re not thinking about it, but through observation followed by intention, we can direct this system to operate in a way that alters our physiological state. Shifting to a breathing pattern that is slow, deep and fluid has a calming effect on the mind. The result is a sense of space – room to breathe, room to think, room to feel.
From this space, we can acknowledge what is arising within us and make a conscious choice to respond in a way that is in alignment with our values. This is the power of the pause… we can shift from reacting to responding, from overwhelmed to hopeful. With awareness and intention, one breath at a time, this holiday season really can be different!
Keep Calm and Breathe On!
Mindful Breathing Technique: Progressive Exhalation
This technique is a simple, accessible way for anyone to experience the relaxation response in just seven rounds of breath (1 inhale + 1 exhale = 1 round). Notice what’s happening in your body and mind as you focus on each breath. Proceed at a pace that feels right for you.
Round 1 — Inhale for a count of 4; Exhale for a count of 2.
Round 2 — Inhale for 4; Exhale for 3.
Round 3 — Inhale for 4; Exhale for 4.
Round 4 — Inhale for 4; Exhale for 5.
Round 5 — Inhale for 4; Exhale for 6.
Round 6 — Inhale for 4; Exhale for 7.
Round 7 — Inhale for 4; Exhale for 8.
Return to your natural breath and register the residue of this practice before jumping back into that To-Do List!
Email me with any questions or feedback.
Editor’s note: Instructor Kelli Anders holds a Master of Science in Yoga Therapy. With over 1,000 hours of training, she is certified with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT), a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) with Yoga Alliance, and a certified Standup Paddleboard (SUP) fitness and yoga instructor. For more, email her at email@example.com.