By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
This holiday season, live your yoga on and off the mat. Let’s remember what “yoga” means. It is a Sanskrit word that means union. Yoga is the union of your body, mind, and spirit. Feeling the yoga “union” with your family, friends, and everyone around you can help to reduce stress around this busy time of year.
When we think of the holidays, we think of it as a time to enjoy our friends and gathering with family. As enjoyable as the holidays are, getting ready for the holidays can be a stressful part of the year. Luckily, there are many things you can do to reduce stress and create a happy, memorable holiday season. Studies have shown that creating more positive causes in our lives along with laughter can help to decrease stress. This holiday season, seek out pleasurable experiences rich with laughter, and reduce the potentially harmful stress hormones you’re lugging around with you.
We should always choose nourishing choices for our soul as well as we do for our physical body. As you go into the holiday season, stimulate your relaxation response by deep breathing and meditation (see instructions below). Breathing, meditation, and yoga are all excellent ways to lower stress levels. By properly practicing these exercises, you can initiate your relaxation response, which can help to lower the heart rate and blood pressure and even decrease the adrenal hormones that tend to increase under stress. Another proven way to reduce stress is with laughter. Laughing holds a certain power, the ability to make us smile ear to ear with happiness. It is one of the best antidotes for stress and bonds us with others. Laughter can diminish pain, boost energy levels, and increase our immune systems.
Celebrate this holiday season uniting with loved ones. Embrace the festive spirit, and take time to relax and nurture yourself and those around you. Remember, laughter is the best medicine, and taking time to relax is just as important as getting all the shopping done. It is essential to maintain a balance in everything we do. Live your yoga on and off the mat! Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
Ujjayi Breath: The “sounding breath” or “ocean breath”
1. Sitting with your spine straight, or lying down on your back (knees bent or straight), take a few deep breaths. Relax.
2. With a slow and steady breath through the nostrils, gently contract the back of your throat (the glottis), creating a soft and audible hissing sound. The sound is like a gentle “snore” in a deep, relaxed sleep. (To learn how to create this sound, practice whispering “ahhhhh” with your mouth open on both the exhalation and the inhalation. Or, open your mouth on the exhale and gently “ahhhh” as though you were blowing fog on a mirror–that’s the “rushing,” wave-like sound you are seeking to create with a closed mouth.)
3. Lengthen the breath as much as possible, and focus on the sound. Repeat for five to 10 minutes. As you advance in your practice, repeat ujjayi breathing for longer periods of time.
So Hum Meditation:
1. Sit comfortably where you will not be disturbed, and softly close your eyes.
2. For a few minutes, simply observe the inflow and outflow of your breath.
3. Now, take a slow deep breath through the nose while thinking the word So.
4. Exhale slowly through the nose while thinking the word HUM.
5. Allow your breathing to flow easily, silently repeating, So… Hum… with each inflow and outflow of breath.
6. Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in your environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating, So… Hum.
7. Continue this process for 15 or 30 minutes, with an attitude of effortlessness and simplicity.
8. When the time is up, sit with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes before resuming your daily activity.
Experiences during meditation will fall into four categories: (1) Repeating the mantra, (2) having thoughts, (3) falling asleep, or (4) experiencing pure awareness. Keep these guidelines in mind.
A. Repeat the mantra easily and effortlessly. It may change, become vague, or follow a certain rhythm. Just let it go and experience any changes innocently.
B. If you notice that your attention has drifted away from the mantra to thoughts, sensations in the body, or noise in the environment, gently bring your awareness back to the mantra.
C. If you fall asleep, it is OK. The body will naturally take the rest it needs. When you notice that you have been asleep, just return to the mantra. If your meditation time is up, spend a few minutes repeating the mantra before stopping and coming out of meditation.
D. If you notice that there has been some time without thoughts or the mantra, yet you were aware, that is called “slipping into the gap,” or pure awareness. The experience of the mind settling down to a state of no activity but awareness is a transcendent experience of the peace within. As the experience grows, you will notice that this quiet witness begins to become part of your everyday awareness.
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.