Forget about enjoying the holidays: More and more, the majority of us just want to make it through. Which is why a meditation practice—proven to counter stress, beat depression and illness, keep energy levels up, and help encourage better sleep—can come in especially handy this time of year. The best part: You don’t need to invest a lot of time or commitment (and, unlike most everything else this season, it’s totally free). Angela Wilson, MA, Manager of Evidence-Based Yoga Curriculum for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, offers the following tips for practicing on-the-go mindfulness: no quiet room, dimmed lights, or mat required.
At the mall: There you are, last in line to buy your kids the latest whatever it is, feeling pressed for time, pushed, crowded, annoyed. “Whenever I find myself stuck in a mile-long holiday line, I pause and practice,” says Angela. “First, notice that you know what? You’re stuck. Then check out the scene around you. Are there things you didn’t see before because you were too busy and too caught up in your day? How do the people around you look? Stressed, happy, sad, tired? Really take it all in. Even notice the merchandise. Then notice your breath, how you feel. Can you make a little more space for how the world looks around you, no matter whether it looks calm or totally harried?” Before you know it, you might find yourself at the top of the line, happy the end is near—and perhaps more at ease with the day.
With strangers: Angela also suggests making a conscious effort to make eye contact with salespeople, coffee shop employees, and other strangers you encounter throughout the season. “Ask them how they are, and really be interested,” says Angela. “It’s so easy to just stay lost in your own personal to-do list. But when I’m able to engage with the person, it’s actually quite sweet. I can actually see the person relax a little. They smile more. They look happier. It’s a great feeling to connect!”
In the car: Between the traffic and the crowds, getting places can be very stressful during the holidays. “Since my parents live outside the state, I’m almost always traveling for holidays,” says Angela. “The airport used to make me crazy!” One thing that’s helped: downloads of talks given by her favorite meditation teachers. “The combination of the message and the teacher’s calm, serene voice has a soothing effect,” she says. “If I have a long layover, I’ll walk slowly around the airport listening to the talk. I get a little exercise as well as a dose of inspiration.”
At the office party: “It’s tough for anyone to get through the holidays without some degree of indulgence,” says Angela. “But simply having compassion for yourself—whether that’s cutting yourself a break when you eat too many cookies or when you want to skip that friend of a friend’s New Year’s gathering—can help stave off feelings of guilt or shame.” One recent study showed that women who are more compassionate with themselves ate considerably less. “An important piece of mindfulness is to know ourselves and our own limitations—and to use that knowledge to make a conscious choice about what we want to do with our holiday time,” says Angela.
And throughout the season: “Over the years, I’ve learned to take moments to just pause and experience those parts of the holidays I really enjoy—the lights, certain foods, or songs,” says Angela. “In appreciating the little things, I realize that sometimes I can walk through the holidays in a daze, feeling overwhelmed, just getting by. But if I make an effort to notice whatever moment I’m in—even it’s a particularly stressful moment—it’s usually not as bad as I had imagined it would be. Usually.”