We say this about long days at work, dental cleanings, planks, and Season 5 of Mad Men. (It picks up again, I promise.) We also say this about the holidays. I caught myself saying it just the other day. "Get through this..."
What is "it," exactly? Surely not the pine fresh trees, sacred candles, hot coca, Challah bread, and general good will toward men? For me, the terrifying "It"--oh, Stephen King, how perfectly you summarize fear!--refers to the garishly painted, balloon-popping beast of anxiety. All the fun and excitement of juggling different holiday festivities can quickly turn scary. To really nail "it" on the head, I've made a list and--like Santa or Taylor Swift--will be checking it twice:
-scheduling parties/ get together's and fitting them all in
-the guilt of overindulging in food and drinks
-traveling and the digestive issues that tag along
-cold weather, cold hands, cold feet, cold nose, so COLD!
-shorter daylight hours
-pressure to be energetic, cheerful, and peaceful on days when I feel crazy
WHAT SOOTHES THE ANXIETY
-getting extra sleep when possible
-yoga and meditation
-quiet walks outside
-time with loved ones
I can summarize the first list in one word: expectations. Maybe we expect unrealistic things of ourselves and others during this time of year. We put pressure on ourselves to spend lots of money getting everyone the perfect gift. We are encouraged to eat, drink, and be merry--but not gain any weight of course. These expectations come in droves in the form of commercials. Many of the expectations have to do with our role in the family or circle of friends. Maybe it has to do with how we see ourselves and our worth as a family member or friend. Wherever they come from, expectations can start to feel like obligations. I worry about not being Christmas-y enough, whatever the hell that really means.
If the first list deals with expectations, the second list is summarized by WARMTH. Whether warm comes from the smile of another person or a cozy thermal, I feel it in my body. It is a physical comfort. Even meditation feels physical to me. Breathing mindfully or walking mindfully affects my body, which always effects my state of mind. After all, aren't we physical beings? We hug, kiss, converse, and laugh together through the holidays. The energy we hold and share characterizes these interactions.
Cara Lehman taught a wonderful yin yoga class last Friday afternoon at The Light Within. That class inspired this article. Lying there in supported hip openers does something to your body--oh, does it ever!--and then something to your mind...
As my body released tension against the cozy blankets, blocks, and bolsters, Cara reminded us that letting go can be uncomfortable. She asked us to think about why we are supportive to others, but have a hard time allowing ourselves to be supported. She asked us to raise our hand if we needed extra TLC with adjustments during class. I didn't want to seem needy...but was having needs such a bad thing? I didn't think the other students were obnoxious for needing help. So why would I be? I put my hand up.
Cara practiced Reiki on me as I settled into dragon pose, a low lunge in which your pelvis rests on a bolster as the hip flexor opens. When she placed her hands gently on my head, I felt a tingly warmth all through my scalp and neck. That warmth seemed to travel down my body to my feet. I appreciated how it was a light and caring touch. She wasn't pushing me any one direction.
Cara mentioned that emotions would come up as we held each posture for several minutes. I was surprised to feel silliness, melancholy, gratitude, uncertainty, fear, empathy, hope, jubilation throughout the class. Ultimately, I felt contentment during savasana.
My emotional stocking will be stuffed with all the same mix of feelings this month. Maybe we can approach the holiday season as a yin yoga pose. It is something we hold for a certain amount of time. It is something we feel and breath with. There are parts that feel great, and parts that are uncomfortable. The experience is a part of our lives, making it important. Maybe instead of just "getting through it," we "breath through it." Like a good piece of dark chocolate, maybe the darker emotions are something to savor. Cara mentioned that the "yin" of our practice embraces that which is dark, quiet, and cool. How else could I appreciate the light, celebration, and warmth?
I don't want to dismiss the pain that comes with financial struggles, illness, or bereavement during the holidays. We say in yoga class that discomfort is ok, but pain is a different beast. For anyone experiencing pain this season, ask for help. The holidays used to be very painful for me. An eating disorder and depression can be a real buzz kill when the cookie trays come out. I would listen to the Carpenter Christmas album and feel of the tug of war of beauty and ugliness, joy and fear, hope and despair. I'm grateful for that album. The beauty of Karen Carpenter's voice and the tragedy of her life encouraged me to consider my own reality. I finally decided to get therapy around this time of year to work with these emotions. It has given me another stocking stuffed with coping mechanisms.
To all the students and teachers of The Light Within, I wish you a ____Holiday Season. Fill in the blank space. (Boy, am I channeling Taylor Swift today!) I'm sure it will change for all of us day to day. The truth of the experience is so much more meaningful than the expectation.