Attentive Practices to Beat Stress

 

A moment of truth as I deal with my own stress.  After writing this entire post on dealing with holiday stress, I accidentally deleted it without saving, and had to start over.  Now I'll be taking some of my own advice, taking a deep breath, and enjoying a cup of hot tea while I rewrite this blog post in an attentive manner.

When our busy holiday schedules get the best of us, sometimes we miss out on all the great little moments.  Much like our yoga practice, there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, although that is often our goal.  Mindful practices can help reduce stress levels and allow us to enjoy our experiences more fully.

I'll list several practices to try.  Find the ones that appeal to you, and put them into practice when you're letting life's stressors get in your way.  Your nervous system will thank you.

Breathe

  1. The yogic practice of attentive breathing is a proven method to calm the nervous system.  Begin by noticing the length of your inhale, then try to extend your exhale to twice the length of the inhale.  Over time, if the length of your inhale naturally lengthens as you calm down, you can respond by lengthening your exhale even more.  
  2. Aromatherapy is a great way to relax.  Essential oils like lavender can be used in body products, diffused into the air, or added to hot baths.  I have been known to put a drop on a surgical mask when I'm working in a stressful surgical case during my day job in cardiology.

Move

  1. Take a long walk, preferably outdoors.  Put your phone away, and really stay in the moment.  Practice hearing the rhythm of your footsteps and breath, noticing the sights, sounds and smells around you, and put your to do list away.  Take the time to be mindful as you walk.
  2. Yoga is an obvious choice as a way to move mindfully.  You may be able to take a full class at your favorite studo.  If not, consider a home practice.  That may mean a few of your favorite poses, or sun salutations on your own, or you can search You Tube for a free class that meets your needs.
  3. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are great gentle ways to learn mindful movement.  I advise seeking out an instructor or class if this practice interests you.

Stillness

  1. Meditation is a great way to focus inward and reduce stress.  Medical studies have shown changes in the brain structure of meditators with as little as 20 minutes of daily practice.  Some of my favorite people are regular meditators!  Tara Brach has many great meditations that are available for free online, and it's a great place to start.

  2. Mantra is another way to find attentive stillness.  You may choose a phrase that means something to you or try a more traditional mantra.  I'm a fan of Om Mani Padme Hum, in the Tabetan Buddhist tradition.  So Hum (I am) is another common mantra.  Simply think or say so with the inhale, and hum with the exhale. 

  3. Restorative yoga is a great way to relax.  Classes are available in studios and online.  Legs up the Wall is a great restorative pose that can be practiced in just a few minutes.  It is practiced by quite literally laying with your legs resting up against a wall as shown here.

Taste

  1. Enjoy a nice glass of tea.  This has been a favorite method of stress relief my entire life.  While in Nepal, tea was regularly offered when we entered people's homes.  I love this tradition!  Don't multitask or pay bills while enjoying your tea, although a nice conversation with a friend or family member is encouraged.

  2. My 95+ year old grandmother and 13 year old son agree that a very small piece of dark chocolate is something to be savored and enjoyed.  Rather than diving into your child's halloween stash of candy, try allowing yourself to take a moment to really experience a small amount of your favorite treat.  No guilt allowed.

If you already practice mindfulness, be sure to keep it up during the holiday season.  If you don't, or if you're looking for something new, try a few of the practices on this list.  Notice how you feel, and enjoy a stress free life during the holidays and into the New Year.

 

Namaste - Beth