By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
We all have a common thread, especially firefighters. Our thread is that of helping and supporting one another. From Thanksgiving through the New Year, the time is a celebration of eating, drinking, and gift giving. It is a time of shopping, decorating, and sharing good times with friends and family while observing both our American traditions and varied religious holidays. The firehouse takes on a festive atmosphere, with great meals and an abundance of holiday treats made by wonderful firehouse chefs or dropped off by appreciative local citizens.
During and after the holiday crunch and into the New Year, it is important to be aware of your connection to mind, body, and spirit. As we celebrate and go from shopping to parties to family gatherings to religious events, it is easy to overindulge in food, drink, and stress and come through the holidays feeling depleted instead of enriched.
Americans experience two common health challenges during this time of year: weight gain and emotional stress.
Holiday Weight Gain and Emotional Stress
“While Americans gain much less weight over the winter holidays than is commonly believed, the weight they do gain may be a major contributor to the increase in body weight that often occurs during adulthood, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Cumulative holiday weight gain may be particularly problematic for those who are already overweight or obese.” (http://win.niddk.nih.gov/notes/fall00/fallwinnotes.htm)
Yoga offers the firefighter some powerful tips to maintain inner and outer balance throughout the holiday season.
Eating the Yoga Way
Yoga has an in-depth and comprehensive approach to proper eating and digestion that is customizable to the individual physiology. For this article, we would like to offer the most generalized tips.
- Eat in a settled atmosphere.
- Sit down to eat.
- Eat only when feeling hungry.
- Reduce ice cold food and drink.
- Wait until the meal is digested before eating again (2-4 hours for light meals and 4-6 for full).
- Eat fresh-cooked meals when possible.
- Avoid overeating. Your stomach is about the size of your fist. It is recommended to have about four fistfuls of food on your plate per meal. Do the best you can.
- Before eating, have a moment of gratitude for the food you are about to eat. Give thanks to all of the people involved in preparing the meal.
- Yoga considers eating more about being satisfied than being stuffed. Remember to celebrate and enjoy all of the food you are eating–even the triple chocolate layer cake, the holiday cookies, and the apple pie.
- Eat to live rather than live to eat.
- The Reaching Butterfly pose is a great yoga pose to improve digestion and make space for your intestines and stomach to function more efficiently and effectively for those great celebratory meals. The Butterfly Pose lengthens the intercostal muscles in between each rib, allowing the lungs to take deeper, fuller breaths.
Reaching Butterfly Pose with Claire
- Sit upright. Clasp your hands underneath the sides of your feet. Breathe in and out 3-5 times.
- Inhaling, reach right arm up toward the sky; press your fingertips up. Look up at your hand.
- Exhaling, come back to the center.
- Inhaling, reach your left arm up, pressing fingertips toward the sky. Look up at your hand.
- Repeat 6-9 times. Relax all the muscles in your face and enjoy.
- Come back to center. Breathe deeply 6-9 breaths.
- Improves digestion.
- Creates space for the lungs to expand more.
- Lengthens the inner thigh muscles.
- Lengthens the muscles around the spine and increases blood flow around the lower back and hips.
- If your knees bother you, move your feet away from your body.
- If your shoulders are uncomfortable, keep your arms down by your sides.
- Move easily from one side to the other. Notice how your body feels, and choose the most comfortable choice.
Remember, yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “union.” This time of year, be sure to take time to nourish your body, mind, and spirit. Most importantly, enjoy union with your family, friends, and loved ones and give the most precious gifts of love, caring, and appreciation.
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.