If the holidays stress you out, you are not alone. Not everybody gets along with their family, or if you are away from loved ones, it can be very difficult to go through the holidays without them. For students, it can be hard to switch from 'study mode' to stress-free, 'chill out mode'.
Whatever the cause, we all know that times of intensity of any kind can induce some stressful feelings, and a great way to keep from being overwhelmed by those feelings is meditation. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you overcome holiday stress.
Find a Comfortable Position
To get started with meditation, find a comfortable position. This can be lying flat on your back or in a comfortable seated position. (See this post for some relaxing poses that will help you feel more comfortable in your meditation).
In either pose, try to lengthen your spine and your neck, and draw your shoulder blades down your spine so you put more space between the tops of your shoulders and your ears. Bring your attention to your face, releasing any emotions or expression you are holding in your forehead, jaw, and mouth.
Begin with Breathing Exercises
Try counting the length of your inhales and exhales and making them match in duration (i.e., breathe in for five counts and out for five counts). Start bringing more awareness to this breathing process, feeling the air at the base of your nostrils and then consciously drawing it in, letting it expand the back of your throat, your diaphragm, and your whole belly.
Your belly button rises on the inhale, and falls again on your exhale as you release your breath again. Take careful note of how the breath is affecting your body parts, and imagine the fresh oxygen reaching all your muscles and subtly relaxing each of them.
Be Aware of Your Breath
If you’re new to meditation, it can be enough to simply stay here, being aware of your breath. Try to keep your mind clear of other thoughts, maybe acknowledging their presence if they intrude and then gently letting them go on the next exhale.
Don’t force it or be hard on yourself if thoughts do come to mind, but try to not focus on any specific thing, just let your mind and body simply exist, here in this moment, in this place. Live in the ‘right now’, moment to moment—that is the only thing that matters during this exercise.
Listen to Guided Meditation Recordings
If you’d like to try something more advanced, you can listen to guided meditation recordings, which help you visualize relaxing scenes and lead you into a deeper, relaxed state.
Once you’ve gotten familiar with guided meditations, you can start to construct your own. A meditation that you’ve created yourself can be incredibly powerful, helping you work on things that are specific to you. For example, a short meditation script that I like to use goes like this:
You are loved, you are enough—just as you are. You are a beautiful, living, conscious being full of light and love to give, and people give it back to you.
"Feel the air on your skin. Feel the ground below you. Feel completely present in this moment, in this time. This is you, this is your life. You exist, you are breathing, you are here. Bring kindness and peace to everything and everyone you can, including yourself. Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, let yourself have this relaxation. You are deserving, you are enough, you are loved, just as you are.”
Stay here for as long as is comfortable for you. This can be anywhere from five minutes to an hour—all meditation is good meditation.
To slowly come out of your meditative state, start to gently wiggle your fingers and toes, and maybe take your arms in a stretch over your head. When you’re ready, roll over onto your right side and, using your bicep as a pillow, bring your knees into your chest.
On your next inhale, bring yourself up to a comfortable seated position. (If you were in your seated position for your meditation, you can take a forward fold or a twist to either side to engage your body again.)
Seal Your Practice
Take a quiet moment here to recognize and seal your practice however you like. If it feels right, take a big inhale as you bring your hands in a circle above your head. On the exhale, bring your hands down to heart center, releasing the breath with a sound, starting with the syllable ‘Oh’.
As you reach the end of your exhale, seal off the sound by bringing your lips together and continuing to exhale through your nose, creating an ‘mmmmm’ sound. You can do this once or three times, whatever feels good to you.
Meditation can be practiced anywhere, any time, even if it’s standing on the subway platform. Any opportunity you have, and if you feel like you need it, you can use the breathing and relaxation aspects of meditation to center and calm yourself, whether it be at the table next to relatives you disagree with or alone in your room.
And just know—I (and other friends out there in the world) are wishing you the happiest of holidays and peace within your heart.