By Joan Moran
It's the holiday season. We are probably thinking about buying gifts for family and friends right now. But have you thought about giving yourself a gift? How many times do you give yourself a really important gift in your life? I don't mean a cashmere sweater gift. I don't mean a facial or massage gift. I'm talking about a gift that makes you feel blissful inside yourself, a gift that uplifts your spirit, that makes you more enlightened, more positive and more conscious than you have ever felt before. What kind of gift would that be, you ask? "I don't know any gift that I can find in my life that comes near that kind of gift," you say. "Where could I find such a wonderful and bountiful gift?"
If you practice yoga, you are one step ahead of me. Yoga has many benefits that impact our emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual states. These benefits are unparalleled gifts that we give ourselves through the practice of yoga. These gifts keep giving, keep enriching our life and keep stretching us to be more conscious and mindful. Yoga makes us less reactive, less resistant and a whole lot more peaceful. Now, that's what I call a real gift! And you know what? We can give ourselves that gift any time we want, any day of the year throughout the rest of our life.
During the holiday season, we get very busy, very consumed with ritual activities, family logistics -- the kids are home for the holidays and we've got to be prepared and get ready for the December stress party. Or the grandchildren are coming and you've got to figure out where everyone is going to sleep; don't forget to stock up the fridge at Costco. There are school pageants and office parties, and festivities of all kinds with churches and temples. You've got to get ready for the holiday shopping? Well, that takes more time than you even have.
More than probably any other emotional impact on our sense of well-being is the well-worn feeling of depression. I asked one of my yoga classes today, the most vocal class, of course, what causes stress at holiday times. Some of my yoginis already looked stressed out. Big silence in the room. No one wanted to answer, so I called on my most vocal student, a woman who I adore. I think her sense of humor and ironic take on life are truly amazing.
"Julie, what do you think about the holiday stress factor?" I asked her. She looked up at me with a stone face. "I think about all the people I loved who have died in December during the holiday season and it sucks."
I've surrendered and accepted that my mother died three years ago on December 15. I don't associate the holidays with the death of my mother, or high school graduations with the death of my 18-year-old nephew, nor the death of my father with summer. My loved ones just happened to reach the end of their lives during certain months or seasons or events. When I think about those I've lost, I truly smile with gratitude and remember how I loved them so much and how important they were in my life.
Julie then said: "That's why I think we should practice more yoga in December. It makes me feel so much better to come to class and open my heart and mind." Everyone agreed.
My suggestion to everyone during the holidays is the same: Practice yoga more. If you just can't get out of the house, spend time in meditation for about 10 minutes twice a day. It can clear your mind and make you feel like you actually did get a spa treatment. It will open you up it to new and different experiences during the holidays. Now that's a great gift you can give yourself. And it doesn't cost a thing.
I am not immune to all the activities that ensue during the holidays. However, during the whirlwind month of December, I plan on retiring my stress and anxiety and focusing on yoga and meditation because this is the gift I cannot live without. This is the gift that clears my mind and brings joy to my soul. I can't wait to take my yin yoga class on Sunday; I can't wait to take a meditation workshop or maybe do an ecstatic chanting. I can't wait to go to yoga with my daughter-in-law over the Christmas holiday.
My wish for everyone during the holidays is to think more about yoga and meditation and less about buying; think more joy and bliss and less sorrow and depression. And if you are not a yogi yet, treat yourself to an introductory class and see what yoga is all about. And if you have fallen off the yoga wagon the last few months, return to where peace and hope reside.
Joan Moran is the author is "Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer." She is a yoga and meditation instructor at UCLA and a public speaker. Read her blog on Red Room.