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Stop the Madness | Choose Mindfulness over Perfection this Holiday Season

I’m just going to say it… I think the holiday season needs a radical overhaul.

More importantly, I think we, as a society, need to change the way we view the holidays. We see ads for the perfect, decadent Thanksgiving meal, served in a lovely setting where everyone is smiling, especially the gracious host. Truth is, in order to achieve that type of perfection, we nearly kill ourselves with stress trying to get that end result… which we never actually achieve. Instead of enjoying our time with loved ones, we can instead wind up emotionally unavailable and stressed out.

I know my mind typically kicks into high gear this time of year and undoubtedly my body begins to suffer. The incessant stream of unimportant and even negative thinking begins to invade my brain often leading to aggravation over how much I have to accomplish between now and January 1st. Then insomnia and exhaustion sometimes set in. Not good!

This year, why not vow to stop the madness before it begins by learning how to calm your racing mind? Mental clutter can literally wreck your life. That is why it is essential to not only practice yoga more often this time of year (or take it up if you’ve never tried it), but to add extra meditations into the mix as well.

Here’s why: The National Science Foundation found that the human mind can think between 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts each day. In some really active minds, that number could be as high as 60,000. Sure, the thinking mind is terrific because it has created myriad things that have improved our quality of life — but if not rested, most of those thoughts wind up being negative, pointless and often toxic.

In his book Wherever You Go There You Are, author Jon Kabat-Zinn describes how our minds feed the incessant stream of thinking in every waking moment. He beautifully demonstrates the impulse to constantly be in doing/thinking mode… even over breakfast doing things like reading the cereal box while eating.

It (my mind) scavenges to fill time, conspires with my mind to keep me unconscious, lulled in a fog of numbness to a certain extent, just enough to fill or overfill my belly while I actually miss breakfast. It has me unavailable to other at those times, missing the play of light on the table, the smells in the room, the energies of the moment as we come together before going our separate ways for the day.

Problems abound when we neglect our minds and do not take the time to practice stillness. A racing mind can lead to shallow and fast breathing, negative thoughts that can snowball out of control, sometimes causing strife with others or internal unrest. But I think one of the worst side effects of a fast-moving mind leads to a very hazy view of reality that really clouds the way you view the world.

Witnessing your thoughts is one of the most vital aspects of  yoga.  Being the observer of your thought process, the natural flow of your mind while not being disturbed or distracted. This part of your practice brings a peaceful state of mind, which takes you into deeper aspects of meditation. As you journey inward you experience Yoga or Unity that already exists within you.

Kabat-Zinn writes about voluntary simplicity. My interpretation of the concept is that by taking away from your to-do list you add to your happiness.

Practice Voluntary Simplicity By:

1. Intentionally do one thing at a time

At breakfast, just pay attention to eating and doing nothing else such as reading the cereal box or reading the newspaper.

2. Sitting in silence daily

Vow to meditate for 5-10 minutes each day with no outside distractions. Don’t complicate this! Just sit and listen to your breath. If you find the space between 2 thoughts you’ve achieved some stillness. Plus, the more you do this the easier it becomes.

3. Practicing saying no

This is essential! You don’t have to go to every party and you don’t even have to answer every phone call right then and there. You must master the art of prioritizing in order to have enjoyment over the holidays and in your life during the rest of the year.

I challenge you to practice true gratitude this year by simplifying your life this Thanksgiving. Move instead toward complete present moment awareness — and away from the illusion of putting together the perfect party. That will likely mean trimming down your to-do list in order to be fully engaged in your life and in your relationships with others.

 

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About

Julia began her personal yoga journey in 1991 and continues her training and study of yoga and meditation with master teachers and those she considers to be master teachers. She is also well versed in both Ayurveda and holistic nutrition. A former television news producer, Julia now writes about yoga, health and wellness. Among her written works, a book, Just Me and the Trees which is a guide to meditation for children. Find Julia on Facebook at StudioLotus.

View more articles by Julia Cohn

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