"I am filled with self-loathing," I said yanking my tank top down over my bloated belly. "Me, too," said Jonathan, the other yoga teacher at last year's annual OM yoga New Year's Eve class. Well, at least I wasn't the only one who had overeaten and under-exercised for the last month, ending up with extra-tight yoga tights and a full-blown case of personal disgust.
Every year I vow not to do that again and every year I fail. Some years are worse than others but I never really manage to stay as fit as I am the rest of the year. Perhaps you are thinking, "Well, so what? It's a once a year thing -- isn't it the right time for a little partying?" My answer to that is "Yes!" But this year I've decided that discipline and celebrating don't have to be mutually exclusive. I really don't want to start another New Year with a sugar-dairy-wheat hangover and those hard-to-lose extra pounds.
So, (finally!) I've done what any smart yoga teacher would do. I've applied what I know from my asana, meditation and breathing practices to my life. If you follow these seven tips you gain the sense of control and confidence you need to Not Get Fat This Christmas:
1. Breathe: This is the first one because it is the easiest. Of course, you are already doing it without even thinking about it because breathing is the one body function that is both conscious and unconscious. How does conscious breathing keep you from getting fat? It calms the nervous system, which prevents the release of unnecessary cortisol, the hormone that creates belly fat.
Balancing breath technique: Breathe in and out for six slow counts. That's all you have to do. The in-breath is energizing and the out-breath is relaxing and when the two are in balance, so are you. You can do this anytime, anywhere -- at a boring office party, or a scary first date -- nobody will know you are doing it and you will feel alert, yet calm.
Bonus benefit: Cravings only last about 10 minutes and then they fade away -- until the next time you come face-to-face with another holiday buffet. When that happens, kick into the balancing breath for at least 10 rounds. By the end of that, the craving will have decreased, if not completely dissolved.
2. Walk. These days I can't get a taxi anyway and waiting for the subway is a drag because I get all sweaty inside my puffy coat. If you have to take a bus or subway, consider getting out one stop early and walking the rest of the way. You can do your breathing exercises at the same time. You might be thinking that you are just too tired to do extra walking, but trust me on this -- energy begets energy.
3. Rest. I know you don't have time to do this. But, really, think about how much time you waste playing with your iphone apps...
Lie down on your bed, put a pillow under your lower back and put your legs up the wall. Stay here for at least five minutes and do nothing. Relax.
Stress creates a fight-or-flight response in us that overworks our adrenals while temporarily shutting down the digestive and reproductive systems. This position reverses that scenario, relieving anxiety, digestive issues, insomnia, headaches, menopause symptoms and PMS.
4. Eat Real Food: Not only do you save money and calories by eating at home, nourishing yourself is grounding, especially during stressful times. Even if you have kids and it's not totally peaceful, you are still in your own home, and you won't eat white bread waiting for the menu. The most important meal, as we all know, is breakfast.
My Favorite Winter Breakfast: Quinoa flakes -- warm and filling like oatmeal but with less calories and more protein. Add some sunflower seeds and blueberries to the pot and 90 seconds later you've got a delicious, healthy breakfast.
5. Make Applesauce: This is an easy way to cut through processed sugar cravings. Buy a few pounds of apples, cut them up, throw them in a pot with an inch of water and turn on the heat. When they are soft, smash them with a fork, sprinkle some cinnamon and that's it. This can be your afternoon slump snack. You will now be able to resist desserts at parties because you know you have this sweet treat waiting for you at home.
6. Drink more water: You don't have to drink a whole glass at once. But sip by sip, you will detoxify and the water help prevent stagnation, weight gain and dry lips. If you get hungry, pause to check what you are really feeling. Nine times out of 10, you will discover you are actually thirsty, not hungry.
7. Play with the babies at the parties. You won't drink too much if you do this and it's fun. If there are no babies, then make sure to dance. If there is no dancing, then you may as well just go home and eat some applesauce.
I confess that I feel guilty focusing so much attention on the fear of gaining weight, especially in a time when so many are hungry and there are more important causes toward which I could turn my energy and attention. But, when I don't take care of myself, I don't feel good and this negativity leaks out into all my other relationships. It takes a little bit of effort to follow the above suggestions but think of it as a gift to your loved ones. More than any other present, what my husband would most love to have for the holidays is a happy, non-grumpy, energetic and loving wife. I happen to know this because, well, because he told me.