The holidays are upon us! Happy belated Thanksgiving to all my American family and friends (and a very belated Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian folks!) It’s hard to believe that within weeks, Christmas will be upon us, and shortly after that, 2018.
One of the things I love most about this time of year is the prevailing atmosphere of kindness and celebration. The 'festive spirit' seems to carry from get-togethers and parties to the lines of grocery stores and traffic lanes. It's a time when attention is focused on giving thanks, appreciating blessings and being compassionate to others.
Now, I know that the holidays aren't always sugar plums and fairies. In fact, this time of year may actually be more harried, stressful and nerve-wracking. If the holiday season has you rushing to fill holiday orders, longingly being separated from family, or having to brave the crowds to buy presents for everyone on your list, then this time of year it's even more important to prioritize self-care, and taking the time to do things that bring wellbeing and joy.
This month, my inspiration comes from both that which I am thankful for, and that which invites ease. Below, you'll find a breathing exercise from yoga that can bring about calmness, hear how a shift in my perspective has brought about a renewed sense of gratitude, and listen to a tune that's perfect for singing this season if you're in the 'thanking out loud' mood.
Taking Cues from Buddha
Back when I was a yoga teacher, I remember teaching what was referred to as ‘Buddha Belly Breathing,’ which is just a fun way to describe diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breath work is credited to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn brings a sense of calm to the body. A prime breathing practice to call upon during the holidays!
We’ve all seen photos of the Buddha, right? The ones where he’s got a huge smile on his face and a big, round, happy belly? That’s the image we’re trying to emulate with this type of breathwork. Ease, calm, and joy achieved by deep belly breaths.
If you want to try this type of breathwork for yourself, here’s the set-up. I recommend laying down, namely because I find it easier to feel the movement we’re looking for, but also because, hello, laying down rocks! Given that consideration, this breathwork is great to try when you wake up in the morning before getting out of bed (and starting a hectic schedule) or, right before falling asleep at night. Or both!
You don’t need any fancy tools, just start to settle into your breath, in and out through your nose. You can bring your hands to rest lightly on your lower ribs, or just below your ribs on your abdomen. This assists with getting the feel for the Buddha belly we’re looking to achieve on inhalation. For most, this breathing may feel like a reverse breath in that, when you inhale, you focus on expanding your belly and when you exhale, you focus on letting the belly fall. (Forgive my un-scientific approach to this description).
Scientifically, you don’t actually breathe into your belly. (You breathe into your lungs.) However, your belly does react with this type of breath due to the movement of the diaphragm. And you aren’t solely supposed to feel the expansion of the belly up into your hands, it's more like 360 degree breath. Up and down, left to right and back to front - as the whole abdomen area expands. I like to think of it as if you were blowing up a balloon - on an inhale the balloon expands three dimensionally, and when you let air out of the balloon slowly, as in an exhalation, the release also happens three dimensionally.
And that's it. Slow, deep breaths in, feeling the belly expand, and slow, deep breaths out, feeling the belly settle back to normal resting. You can practice this for as short as a couple of rounds, or as long as you'd like.
It may take a while to get used to breathing like this. Whatever you do, don’t strain to expand your belly, and don’t stress if you can’t get the hang of it (it’s supposed to be relaxing after all!). Really, any deep breathing, or conscious breathing, works to induce a sense of calm. Too often we breathe shallowly through the upper lungs while constricting the stomach. Deep breathing - filling the lungs completely - allows for a much better exchange of breath and nutrients throughout the body. And as conscious breathwork is like a mini-meditation due to the focus on the rhythmic inhales and exhales, you can use the time to also incorporate a little meditation or mantra. In the festive spirit of gratitude, the mantra could be as simple as repeating in your mind ‘Thank’ on the inhale and ‘You’ on the exhale, or any other phrase that is meaningful to you. (Not exactly thanking 'out loud' but meaningful all the same.)
If the holiday season is stressful for you (or even if it isn’t), you’ll do yourself a favor to include some deep breathwork to your routine.
(PS. I found the above quote online, as cited by the Buddha, but I have no way to verify if he’s credited for these words. Actually, one of my favorite memes is of a picture of the Buddha with the “quote,” ‘Pretty sure I never said that,’ since he is so often misquoted. Still, wise words nonetheless.)
Cabernet, Whine Not
The deep red hue of Cabernet has been a huge inspiration this month. Namely because we spent a week in wine country (roam post to come), but also due to the changing colors of the leaves, my Harry Potter Gryffindor obsession and my never-ending knit project in this color - all of which have brought a lot of fun alongside a sense of appreciation. (Side note: I've zoomed through reading the first three HP's and have watched all eight HP's since fall rolled around!)
I've mentioned it before, but I've only truly taken up knitting this year. I dabbled in it in previous years, even took four classes at a LYS, but for some reason this year I've immersed myself. Since February, I've learned to knit a sweater, taught myself colorwork with two hands, and visited many yarn shops locally, nationally and abroad. What I really love about knitting, is that the possibilities are endless. I am forever inspired by the maker community out there, and I find myself seeking new, more challenging projects each time. I am so grateful for the creativity, passion and enjoyment that I've received from making things out of a ball of yarn, that this year I find myself 'thanking out loud,' singing knitting's praises.
Presently, I've only one thing on the needles. (It's easier for me to remember what I'm doing that way.) And this one thing has actually been sitting on my needles for quite some time. At one point, I actually expressed some frustration with this knit project taking so long. I had just been saying, ‘maybe I’ll have this done by Thanksgiving,’ when I realized that Thanksgiving (at the time) was less than two weeks away. I actually started to whine about my slow knitting skills, and worried that I wouldn’t even have this project finished by Christmas! (Yes, I’m that slow and I like to impose deadlines on myself for no apparent reason.)
You see, I’m knitting a ribbed vest on size 3 needles in mini alpaca for myself. That translates to: knitting a garment on the smallest needles in my kit with the thinnest yarn I have ever used, i.e. takes a big time commitment. Looking at the positives: it’s gloriously soft, it’s marvelously repetitious, and I have been able to sit and knit while relaxing in some pretty great places over the past several weeks that I’ve been working on it. What more could I ask for? I've decided, with this simple shift in perspective, to approach this knit project with gratitude and joy instead of by complaining and whining. Oh, and one more bonus? I’m a January baby, so I know I'll wear this garnet-Cabernet color all through winter.
Changing my perspective from one of frustration to one of gratitude, I’m noticing that this is the ideal knit project to work on throughout the holidays! Not only can I snuggle myself inside with my cozy family by my side, but I can also practice my deep breathing whilst ribbing away. Who doesn’t need a project like that at this time of year, right?
This is actually a funny coincidence. I was trying to think about songs about gratitude, and I remembered one that my friends and I used to sing in high school. I Googled the lyrics that I remembered (because I couldn't remember the song name or artist), and was brought immediately to the song’s video (see below).
The song is called, ‘Whoever You Are,’ by Geggy Tah. It’s kinda silly, kinda fun, and says ‘thank you’ a lot, so it’s perfect. Additionally, and here’s the coincidence part, is that the word, ‘tah’ (part of the band’s name) is a very casual way of saying ‘thanks’ in some countries, like Australia. Pretty timely, right? Oh, and if you get this song stuck in your head, and you happen to be out in your car at this time of year battling all the crazy holiday traffic, perhaps it will help to bring a smile to your face and a little gratitude for your fellow travelers on the road.
Happy Holidays, whoever you are! May they bring joy and gratitude, peace and calm, and a whole lot of 'thanking out loud.'