A Yoga Practice for Peaceful Holidays

Holy days. Sacred days. Days spent honoring that which you cherish with gestures of love and acts of devotion. Sound like the “holidays” at your house?

If you are like so many Americans, the house is filled with stuff, presents everywhere, chaotic schedules, too long “to-do” lists and people with very short fuses. The holidays look nothing like the holy days they sprang from and are meant to commemorate. Rather they resemble a race against time, money and pressure to do and buy more, more and more.

As yogis, how can we practice a more authentic expression and observance of what is most sacred and holy to us this holiday season?

We can begin by turning to the Yoga Sutras, where the teachings  referred to as the Yamas and the Niyamas help us adhere to foundational values, and show us the observances needed to live more harmoniously, with greater integrity, more consciousness and simpler joy.

In terms of bringing the truly devotional aspect of the holidays back, we can look to the Sutra on Iswara Pranidhana that says, “Through wholehearted dedication, we become intoxicated with the Divine.”
To what are we wholly dedicated in our hearts? What aspect of the “Divine” do we most want to celebrate this season?

In order to answer, we need first to become still. Just stop. Sit or stand completely still for five minutes and focus on a deep, slow, belly breath. Even better, lie down and put your legs up a wall with a small blanket under your hips, stretch open your arms, and therefore your heart, and TUNE IN. Take this time to reflect upon what is holy to you this holiday season. Start by remembering the most meaningful holiday memory you hold in your heart.

The one that springs to my mind, is the Christmas morning, when my son had just turned two and the living room was piled high with presents from well meaning family and friends all for our little one. He excitedly toddled in to see what Santa had brought and ripped opened the first thing his hand landed on in his stocking…a jar of Play-Doh. He was thrilled. The texture, the smell, the taste! It was all new, and totally captivating. He sat down right there to explore it with all of his senses.

Meanwhile, the two adults sat next to the tree and the mountain of gifts, and tried to entice him to come back and open MORE! After all, the video camera was all set, the perfect music was playing and we had an agenda for the day. Well, three hours later, he was still engrossed with his Play-Doh – one jar, one color, that’s it. Completely content with this simple joy.

Now there is yoga in action. At age two, my son was naturally living two other Niyamas.  The teaching of the need to practice purity or simplicity called Saucha says, “Through simplicity and continual refinement, the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within.”  He was also deeply in Santosha or contentment as in “When at peace and content with oneself and others, supreme joy is celebrated.”

As the cultural influences of consumerism and indulgence become stronger, we are challenged as modern householder yogis to apply the ancient teachings. It takes more effort to choose simplicity than it does to get swept away in the tide of mass celebration through material goods. Clearly, if we could take as much joy from one simple gift and bring the fullness of our attention to it in the way a two year old can, we would need a whole lot less under the Christmas tree.

And we know the benefits when we do practice! To be truly content and grateful, fully absorbed in one thing at a time, brings our hearts ease, our minds release, and our bodies rest. On the other hand, if we are overscheduled, have more to do than is ever humanly possible, or fall into trying to keep up with the holiday merchandising madness, we feel overwhelmed, exhausted, scattered and often resentful.

So it is up to us, to follow the teachings of the Yamas and Niyamas in order to reap the benefits.  We can embrace the teachings of Saucha and Santosha by choosing to do less, buy less, expect less, participate less. By doing so, we step off the treadmill of consumerism and back to the foundation of celebrating the holiness within the holidays.

Now of course, there may arise a rebellious voice that says, “I know, I’ll just do NOTHING! Boycott the whole darn thing.” So then we have to take one step further into the teachings and balance the movement toward simplicity with another Yama – that of Astheya or generosity which states, “Abiding in generosity and honesty, material and spiritual prosperity is bestowed.”

How contradictory you might think? Well only if you need to express your generosity monetarily. The truest generosity we need to cultivate is the generous gifting of our love. And when the mind gets still, and the heart is open, the practice of generosity flows effortlessly and we are able to balance it with simplicity as well as moderation (the Yama of Brahmacharya) and truth (the Yama of Satya). We feel joy, harmony and congruency.

So each time a choice arises this holiday season, we can center ourselves by taking a cleansing breath, and asking some poignant questions. What is the simplest, most authentic, most heart centered and moderate decision? Does this express true devotion to what I consider most holy? Can I be content with that expression, regardless of how it compares to current cultural standards and propaganda?

To receive the benefits of the ancient ways, we must embrace them through our modern choices. This year, may your choices and your holidays be ones of simple joy and deep devotion, and may you experience the peace of truly “holy days.”

Tips for Bringing Simple Joy to Your Holidays
  • Spend some quiet time with your family discussing what is important and meaningful to all of you.
  • Prioritize and don’t overload your schedule. Say no lovingly, and preserve the joy in what you say yes to.
  • Be content and fully present with the activity at hand rather than already anticipating what’s next.
  • If the traffic or lines have you frustrated, take breath-breaks, focusing on slow even inhales and exhales.
  • Release attachments and be prepared to cancel plans if obstacles present themselves and the kids are melting down.
  • Embrace something simple, like sitting under the tree and meditating on the twinkling lights.