With 2014 a mere 6 weeks away, many of us are starting to feel the year-end crunch. This year, even the holidays are compressed, with Thanksgiving and the first night of Chanukah falling on the same day – an anomaly that won’t occur again for another 77,000 years or so.
Exit (mostly) commercial-free Thanksgiving, enter the Menurkey – a combo turkey and menorah designed by 9 year old Asher Weintraub:
But even a whimsical Menurkey might not counter the holiday stress that so readily accumulates.
What if, instead, we initiate habits now that help eliminate the discomfort we’ve come to accept as normal at year end – exhausted, bloated, broke? For it’s entirely possible to sail into the New Year grounded and healthy and partake of all of the celebrations and beautiful traditions that give the season its meaning!
Ayurveda explains that disease and health are influenced by three main factors: diet, time and routine. Here some seasonal suggestions for each to make the final weeks of 2013 ease-full. Fold a few of these into your life today, and you’ll not only be reducing your stress but giving your immune system a boost throughout the holidays and into 2014!
- Start the day with a warm cup of water and lemon to facilitate elimination before you drink or eat anything else.
- To keep the digestive fires high, avoid raw foods and eat local, seasonal foods that are fully cooked and served warm. Stews, soups and oatmeal are all excellent options during the winter months. Turmeric, cayenne, ginger and other spices that strengthen the digestive fire (agni) can be used liberally. Cayenne is especially helpful in eliminating mucus and flushing toxins from the body. Garlic is also heating and supports heart heath. Avoid iced beverages, opting for room-temperature or warm drinks.
- Forego coffee as your primary go-to beverage and experiment with herbal teas or caffeine-free Tulsi, (also known as Holy Basil). Tulsi is revered in Ayurveda for its ability to reduce stress while increasing energy and overall wellbeing.
- Follow the light: Get up with the sun and go to bed earlier. A regular bedtime – 10pm, if possible – can make a big difference in your energy levels and ability to stay healthy during the winter.
- If you feel sleep-deprived, resist the temptation to oversleep on weekends, which only further disrupts your sleep cycles. Instead, adopt a restorative practice like progressive deep relaxation. Twenty minutes of this 3 to 5 times a week can equal many hours of sleep. The stress reduction it provides, in turn, will help facilitate better nighttime rest.
- The last week of December is a powerful time for restorative practice. Recharge your batteries by dedicating at least 20 minutes each day to a restorative pose, such as those in this lovely sequence from Yoga Journal. Or consider an on-site retreat to reflect on the past, envision the year ahead and deeply enjoy the present.
- Visualize the kind of holidays you’d like to experience. Do you want to simplify? Begin a new tradition? Consider donating gift(s) or your precious time to those less fortunate. Volunteer to work a holiday shift in a soup kitchen or at a senior center. There’s no calculating the amount of joy you’ll create (or feel) when you participate in this type of service.
- Exercise. Daily. Late fall can be a beautiful time of year to hike or walk on the beach. Not only are trails and public areas less populated; the magnificent colors stimulate the senses and provide a powerful dose of healing. In fact, being in nature is one of the most beneficial Ayurveda prescriptions. When extreme weather makes it impossible to exercise outdoors, consider a new indoor activity – perhaps something you’ve never done before such as MELT, Zumba, Tai Chi or Restorative Yoga
- Skin is your body’s largest organ. Protect it by regularly performing self-massage (abhyanga). In winter, this practice is particularly soothing and grounding. Keeping your sinuses clear with the help of a Neti pot may also be helpful at this time of year. Relatedly, when out in frigid cold, lightly cover your mouth and nose so the air you inhale will be warmed as it enters your body. Cover your ears on windy days to keep out the chill.
The yoga sutras teach that “pain which has not yet come is avoidable.” This wisdom may inspire us to respect each precious moment we are given as it is given – and to care for ourselves wisely and kindly.
The moments in life we remember most are the ones that are infused by one-pointed awareness. They are indescribable. They cannot be purchased or packaged. They are, quite simply, rich with blessings and gratitude.