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Surviving Family Holidays – Yogi Style – by Aida Bielkus

“Niyamas” is a yogi code for living.  Here is the Cliff Notes version of three of these principles – Samtosha, Tapas and Saucha –  which can be used during the holidays to ease stress.   Samtosha is the ability to find satisfaction and happiness even in the difficulties of life.  In other words it is not about believing in an external peace but really feeling an internal true peace and not letting external struggles affect you.  Tapas means to burn up negativity and create energy.  The holidays are a great time to look at burning off old habits that are no longer serving you and start new ones that you are passionate for and help heal you and your family.  Saucha is maintaining cleanliness within the body, practicing good hygiene, and consuming balanced food that cleanse body, and purify both the body and mind.

Here are applications of these philosophical precepts during modern-day family holidays.

1. Release the desire for your family members to change or be anything different than they are.

Practice Samtosha which is roughly translated as ‘contentment’. Feel content and grateful with what is.  This does not mean that you do not care. However let go of thinking that you can change someone else – the only person that you can change on this planet is yourself.  By changing yourself then you change your world, not the other way around.  You can change the way you hold on to the need for control.  You can change the way you react to your environment. You can change your own inner dialogue.  You can care for yourself deeply and take full responsibility for your own healing.

Let’s take “Uncle Charlie” for example.  You have gotten into wars of words with him in the past leaving you angry and bitter.  Before coming to Thanksgiving, sit down with yourself and acknowledge all of the ways you wish “Uncle Charlie” was different. Recognize that he is who he is because of all of the things that he has experienced in his lifetime.  Let go of your desire for him to change.  Accept him for exactly who he is. At the Thanksgiving table when he says something offensive know that this is coming from his stuff, do not try to change him.  Respond with a neutral, ‘okay. I hear what you are saying’ mentality.  When you accept him, you will feel the change you are looking for from inside of yourself.

2. A Family that Moves Together Stays Connected.

Create some Tapas, build enthusiasm and joy for life by creating energy through moving.  Sitting around the table for too long can begin to make everyone feel tired and grumpy.  Begin by emailing everyone ahead of time to bring their sneakers.  You will get Nay Sayers! Ignore them and carry on.  Organize the “family walk” after dinner.  Look at it as staging a campaign and even if you get only one other person to walk with you, you have made a mark.  Come prepared with a suggestion of a local trail or destination walk to get everyone out of the house to get some fresh air.  Sure, maybe your Grandmother with stay home but try to rally as many walkers as possible.  A great time to walk is between dinner and dessert.  For those sports’ fans in the group make sure you have a way to put the big game on pause or record it.

If the weather is not cooperating suggest a short game that involves moving like Charades!  Another easy fun game that gets everyone standing is the “Hands in Knot” game… everyone stands up in a circle and puts their hands into the center and grabs two hands that are not their own, without letting go the circle has to untangle and open up into a circle.  This gets everyone working together, acting like kids again and laughing.

3.  Balance yourself by cleaning house (your body) before and after the holiday.

Shaucha means to live purely.  During a holiday that is not always so easy, however bring in cleansing practices to balance the mind, body and spirit.  Drink lemon water before, during and after the holidays to help flush the body of unusual foods/drinks you may be consuming. Sweating is the body’s natural way of letting go of toxins so sweat before and after the holidays in yoga, or any other form of exercise or even sitting in a sauna or warm bath. Great yoga poses to rinse out toxins are Supine Twists, Chair Twists, High Lunge Twist, or simple stand -stretch up- stretch back- into Mini back bend.  Inhalation and exhalation a great way to oxygenate the body, even some basic stomach crunches can achieve this if you do them for long enough. Think of ways to get breathing, sweating, even if that means vacuuming at a turbo speed before the holiday! Also think about tidying your space by donating unwanted items or finally ridding your hard drive of unnecessary files. Doing, and feeling better, does not have to be complicated even when getting a big Turkey, Tree or Candles through that front door may be!

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