Before yoga, I looked forward to the holidays about as much as I did a colonoscopy. Both require seeming endless preparation and culminate in a major PITA (pain in the ass) after agonizing hours spent getting ready.
Let’s face it, the holidays all too often collapse into a puddle of disappointment fueled by the rush of social obligations and family traditions and the pressure to create bigger-better-more magical moments. We self-induce stress by measuring ourselves against a Hallmark Channel movie, our mother-in-law’s comments about how great Christmas used to be, and our Martha Stewart neighbor’s exquisitely frosted reindeer-and-sleigh sugar cookies. And for those families who don’t meet the bar of Mom, Dad, two kids and a dog, the holidays are a sad reminder that something is lacking. Who can get through it all without feeling “less than”?
Enter yoga. Yoga taught me my feelings about the holidays had more to do with holding on to my expectations than letting them go and enjoying the imperfection. My meltdown over burning the turkey, my teeth-grinding about a heated political debate at dinner, my annoyance after an “oh, this is nice,” response to a gift I spent days choosing...they didn’t spoil the holidays. I did. I expected Norman Rockwell perfection, but I’ll let you in on a secret: there is no such thing.
There isn’t a magic spell to ease the holiday stress and anxiety, either. But there is a yoga practice that comes damn close. MANTRAS!
I can hear you scoffing, lovelies. How can repeating a few positive words make a difference? Ah, but have you ever heard of the Little Engine That Could, who huffed and puffed to the top of a hill by saying, “I think I can, I think I can?”
That is the power of a mantra. It can motivate, encourage, soothe, comfort, uplift. For me, a mantra is a prayer with a spiritual purpose, and by breathing in a handful of sacred words over and over, I focus on something outside my thoughts, letting my mind drift into calm and peace.
There is no better mantra for Thanksgiving than the “leaf” mantra above. It’s one I repeat often during my November and December classes to remind myself and my fellow yogis that life, in particular during the holidays, doesn’t have to be perfect to be magical and wonderful. Imperfect works just fine!
The leaf design flyer, created by Soul Stretch’s graphics guru, Tina, is a tangible way to use the mantra … maybe you want to share it at your family Thanksgiving. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks mantra, no right or wrong answers, just a way to bring gratitude to your table. (Click here to download a PDF and print at home.)
I am surrounded by__________.
I am grateful for_________.
Your answers aren’t going to be the same as mine or your husband’s or (probably especially) your mother-in-law’s. The words that come to you may be surprising. Really surprising! And while they aren’t trick questions sometimes it’s tricky to figure out what to “write” in those blanks.
Start by considering your “now.” Not your past, because there is no reason to go back there, and not your future, because we never know when the Big Savasana will claim us. Just be in this moment, and let a word float into your mind. I am ….. hopeless? Scared? Anxious? Excited? Bored? Do I need acceptance, or maybe to surrender to uncertainty, or to let go of anger?
I am ......
Maya Angelo says,“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
So often we walk into the same old holiday scenario year after year, carrying the baggage of holidays past, and yet we expect … we hope … this year will be different.
I am surrounded by ……
Sadly, most of the time we walk out of the same old holiday scenario feeling let down and disappointed because it wasn’t different. The posturing by your important executive sister was annoyingly the same. The grief at your dad’s empty chair still hurts. The argument about whether everyone should chip in to pay for the turkey rears its head yet again.
But could it be different? The leaf mantra points us in that direction. When we let gratitude and acceptance fill our hearts, there isn’t room for conflict and stress.
I am grateful for ……
Sometimes it seems we can’t wait for the holidays to be over already. Why wish them away? Why not unwrap, and share, one of the greatest gifts of yoga: that we are not alone, and when we open our hearts to the Divine in gratitude and acceptance, we find it doesn’t matter who we are or what we have … we all have something to give.
Gratitude doesn’t cost a penny, lovelies. Get a lot, give a lot.
I am … joyful.
I am surrounded by …. lovelies.
I am grateful for … breath and prayer and love.