If you’re a human being who has ever made it to January 2, then you know these two truths about the holidays: 1) they can truly can be a magical time, full of love and cheer, and 2) they’re stressful as hell.
Between the shopping, the sugar, the endless awkward social situations, and the family blow-ups, it’s hard to stay sane and centered—and that’s where meditation comes in.
“It’s the most powerful stress-relieving tool we have,” says Emily Fletcher, an ex-Broadway star-turned-Vedic meditation expert who founded Ziva Meditation and the online course at Ziva Mind. “In high-demand times, it’s even more important to get really regular with your meditation practice—but it seems to be the first thing that slips.”
Don’t let it. Here are Fletcher’s four quick techniques for vanquishing holiday stress in four typical holiday scenarios (travel delays to annoying parental remarks) that even a meditation newbie can master.
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If you’re an experienced meditator, Fletcher’s advice is simple: Meditate on takeoff and at landing, in addition to whatever your regular practice is. Anytime the human body moves faster than a run—as it obviously does when you’re hurtling through the sky—it’s super draining to the system, so be sure to give yourself that extra bit of calm, quiet focus.
But even if you’re a mindfulness neophyte, now’s a great time to start just by doubling your exhales. How it works? If you breathe in for two counts, exhale for four. If you breathe in for three, exhale for six. Try that 10 times. Fletcher recommends this simple technique, which you can do sitting (like, when two hours have gone by and your plane is still idling on the tarmac) or walking (perfect for those not-so-perfect moments you’re pacing around the terminal wondering if you forgot to turn off your hair iron before you left for the airport).
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Rather than channeling your inner Ronda Rousey, stop, feel your feet on the ground, breathe, then scan the whole body of the person who is annoying you and focus on the most beautiful thing about them. “It might be the way the Christmas lights are flickering in their eyes, or even, like, ‘Hey, mom really took extra care with her mascara tonight,'” Fletcher explains. The exercise is very simple, but it works. “You want to water the flowers,” she says, speaking metaphorically, “not the weeds.”
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Holiday shopping can be madness, but don’t let it get the best of you. When you’re at your breaking point, find a bench or sneak away to a coffee shop to try a technique Fletcher calls Come to Your Senses. Take a breath or two and really hear what you’re hearing around you. Look around and really see what you’re seeing. Do the same with taste, smell, and touch—”then, for extra credit, see if you can wake up all five of your senses at the same time.” Once you’re feeling centered, you can return to your shopping list feeling confident that you won’t anger-buy an ill-fitting sweater for your sister.
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While gearing up for high-stress soirees, it can help to focus on a slogan so you don’t immediately regress to your cranky, 15-year-old self. (Been there, done that.) For example, remember that your family installed your buttons, so they know how to push them. Another one? “When someone is yelling or upset, they’re commenting on their own state of mind—not you,” Fletcher says. And lastly, “Everyone is just doing the best they can with the tools they have.” You want to tap into your inner grace, not your inner Grinch.
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