It’s holiday time again, and some of us are ecstatic….and some of us are not. Holidays are usually a time when memories and emotions reappear from childhood, and they aren’t always the easiest ones to negotiate. Even if we are not consciously aware of it, longings and expectations about what “family” is, or what “Christmas” or “New Year” are supposed to be, can feel heavy and affect our emotional lives.
Many of us experience a lot of stress around this time of year – triggered by lack of sunlight during the dark winter solstice, or our mounting credit card bills, or from family dynamics that often play out during “festive” gatherings. Fortunately, there is help, and it is easy. All it takes is using something we already have – our breath.
As a peace educator, I have a lot of respect for using breath as a tool to center ourselves. Conscious breathing will help you feel more grounded and calm.
If you notice that you’re feeling anxious in any way, take some time…a few moments…to become aware of your breath. Notice yourself, your body, your thoughts. Probably, you are holding your breath or not breathing very deeply. So stop your busyness – and give yourself the gift of a deep breath. Or two. Or five. Fill your belly and your lungs. Allow your entire torso to fill with good oxygen on the inhale and empty fully on the exhale.
One really important point about tuning in to your breath is to be especially aware of the difference between your inhale and your exhale. They are two separate parts of one breath, and you can use them for different needs.
For relaxation and stress reduction, use the exhale as your point of focus. Try breathing out about twice as long as you breathe in. So if you inhale for two counts, exhale for four. Next breath, experiment with inhaling for three counts and exhaling for six. Remember to exhale very slowly and evenly. Take as long as you want to get to the end of your breath.
While you are relaxing into your breath, begin letting go of any tension that has built up in your head, neck, jaw and shoulders. Consciously release the grip in your mind and body, thoughts and muscles and allow the tension to drop down towards the ground. During your exhale, you will be lowering your heart rate and releasing tension from your muscles.
Your inhale brings nutrients to your body, newness to your mind and enlivens your blood. Inhale some good, fresh oxygen and positivity as a replacement for the tension you’ve just released. Your head will clear, and you’ll be able to handle your holiday gathering much, much better.
Hope this helps. When I taught peace education in San Quentin Prison, the men often remarked upon how much this simple relaxing breath technique helps them. I figure if it works for them, in an intense place like San Quentin, it can work for you and me.
Try it, and let me know how it goes. Happy Holidays!
— Ana Holub
Clear Path to Peace • www.anaholub.com