Keeping your Mindfulness Going During the Holidaze
By Dr. Gus Castellanos, guest contributor
The holidays are stressful and full of distractions, making it easy to neglect your mindfulness practice. Travel, parties, time constraints, fluctuating energy and mood can interfere with practicing. It's not surprising that many "fall off the practice bandwagon" during the holidays. Notwithstanding the challenges you might have, it is essential to keep your practice going to reduce stress and other negative feelings. And without mindful awareness, we are more likely to miss the positive moments.
Here are a few practice suggestions and mindful reminders to help you through. They are interspersed with lightness and playfulness since humor can help us cope with difficult situations. A sense of humor can be more effective than positivity in alleviating negative feelings. Plus, our problems are too serious to be taken too seriously.
1. Be flexible. Shorten the length of your formal meditation recording. Try practicing without recording if you are not already doing so, negating the need to have your digital device. Also, busy days are when informal practices are practical and productive. Bring mindful awareness into everyday activities such as eating, showering, and walking. And if you are flying, do a quick body scan as you go through the security scanner!
It doesn't require long daily sits for months to see benefits. Neuroscientist and mindfulness researcher Amishi Jha (author of the bestseller Peak Mind) finds that 12 minutes per day is effective. Other researchers and teachers find that 'many mindful minutes' throughout the day is enough to reduce stress and improve wellbeing. Still, even short practices or many mindful minutes can be hard to do with all we may have going on these days. Since the mind's natural tendency is to focus or ignore, meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg points out, "mindfulness isn't difficult; we just need to remember to do it." If remembering is not easy, then it’s the motivation to practice that is as important, if not more so, than which or how long the practice is. As such, make a short-term, personally meaningful goal for your practice. If you meditate to achieve something determined only by what happens months to years later, you are less likely to work toward it during the hectic times. But with a personal, short-term goal, you'll work towards it and see incremental improvements and benefits along the way, making it worth doing. So, practice in ways that are easily achievable. Be creative - holidays are a great time to be present-minded.
2. Stay attentive to your moods, since this is the season of darkness and light in North America. Keep in mind, though, darkness has a lot to teach us. One of the big takeaways of mindfulness is learning to sit with discomfort. When done with a friendly and curious attitude, practicing during unpleasant moments can be quite revealing. For instance, I find the bright side of the dark times is that darkness extinguishes my "bright ideas." In the beloved MBSR poem, The Guest House, Rumi writes, "the dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in." However, sitting with discomfort takes care and kindness. And it's essential to stay connected with mindfulness teachers, practitioners, and groups. They can support and hold you accountable, especially during the holidaze.
3. Pay attention to what you are paying attention to since what you are paying attention to will change your brain for the better or worse, thanks to neuroplasticity and neurotic-plasticity. So, pay attention to your attention and to what has heart and meaning.
4. Be especially aware of overreacting and impulsivity. If you find yourself eating unhealthy goodies these days, do so without guilt, regrets, or disgrace. Be gentle, not judgmental, for it's not what you're eating that causes the suffering; it's what's eating you!
I have been in the moment for so long, it feels like the moment never ends. The irony is, I've only been in the moment for a moment! As crucial as mindfulness is, sometimes there can be too much awareness, notably when undue anxiety, profound grief, loss, or trauma are present. Loving-Kindness, gratitude, forgiveness, and self-compassion practices are particularly worthwhile and effective during heart-heavy, difficult moments.
5. Finally, take good care. Limit news and social media, take breaks, get quality sleep, exercise, go into nature, participate in spiritual and religious activities. These activities will help your mindfulness practice be less distracting and discouraging.
And don't forget to make it fun, for if you take the F U N out mindfulness, it's just mindless.
Wishing you much joy, ease, and comfort. May you live each day, as John O'Donohue says: "Compassionate of heart, Clear in word, Gracious in awareness, Courageous in thought, and Generous in love."
Look back and be grateful
Look ahead and be hopeful
Look around and be helpful
How do you practice mindfulness during the holidays? Please share your thoughts in comments.
Gus Castellanos, M.D. is a graduate of the U of Miami Miller School of Medicine, 1980. He practiced Neurology and Sleep Medicine for 25 years. He began practicing mindfulness in 1998 and teaching mindfulness programs in 2009. He is now a full-time mindfulness-based program teacher and researcher that is certified to teach MBSR by the University of Massachusetts Center For Mindfulness. He is an adjunct instructor at Nova Southeastern University where he developed, delivered, and researched a mindfulness-based program for their students, staff, and faculty.
Gus is an instructor for our MBSR course. Click here to learn more and view upcoming classes.
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