Readers, today I bring you a very special blog because it is my very first collaborative post. One of my fellow YTT grads and incredible friends, Nikki Murphy, and I are bringing you 12 totally doable practices that you can incorporate to keep you mindful and present through the holidays. (I apologize this is going up a little late for Chanukah.)
When I thought of this blog, I had the urge to share it with someone and have them get their hands in it, mostly because I was getting stumped on coming up with 10 tips. Nikki was the first and perfect person that came to mind. She is a terrific writer, passionate person, and holds true to practicing what she preaches to the absolute best of her ability. Lo and behold, she was excited about the idea, and we came out of it with 2 extra bonus tips on top of the planned 10.
Without further ado, here is our advice for keeping it together through all the stress the end of the year brings:
1. Mindful Purchasing
We all tell ourselves that the holidays aren’t about the presents, but then we over fuss about buying the perfect gifts and taking advantage of every sale that crosses our Facebook feed or email inboxes. I do it, we all do it. This is a shame free zone. The problem is, not only is worrying about our finances a cause of stress during the holidays, but so is all that extra clutter that’s starting to take up more and more space in our home. It can be hard not to completely spoil the people, and even pets, we love with all the end of year deals going on. I advise you to take a day. Just one day. Experiment with not impulse buying. 9/10 sales aren’t 24 hours, even when they claim to be some of the time. Just because something catches your eye doesn’t mean you have to get it. Advertising is created to catch your eye and convince you you need it. Observe your need for that instant gratification and sit with it. Do I really need this? Will it add value to my life or the life of the person I’m buying this for? Am I getting this because the pretty colors and sparkles are telling me to (totally works on me)? Do I have better use for that money elsewhere? If you can’t get whatever it is off your mind after a day, or a week (the longer the time period, the better the gauge), then go for it. Life is short.
There are 2 kinds of people: people who clean when they’re stressed and people who stress over cleaning. Cleaning for me personally is a very overwhelming task, but I’ve gotten to a point where being surrounded by clutter was heavily affecting my anxiety levels in a negative way. Making strides in decluttering my living space has vastly improved my mood. Between decorations being out, having family and friends over, and buying gifts, there’s bound to be extra clutter over the holidays, so even though it’s another thing to stay on top of, getting the house organized will really help you feel like you have things under control. Start with one room, one corner of a room, or even one drawer in a corner. Don’t think of the whole house/apartment. Make piles: keep, donate/sell, throw away. This is a great time to practice non attachment. I’ve started to say goodbye to things that no longer serve me and I have been able to apply that in other areas of my life. Be honest with yourself and question, with things you want to keep, if they really bring you joy. It’s a very similar gauge as the one mentioned above with your purchases.
In Buddhism and many eastern cultures, it is believed that the root cause of suffering is desire. Lusting for things we don’t have is an endless cycle, we’re only ever fulfilled for a short time before we want more. Becoming aware of this, can allow us to realize these desires are so fleeting, and usually the more we have the more we want.
Next time you feel yourself going around in a loop of desire, ask yourself what you’re grateful for. What do you take for granted? Constantly wishing for things we don’t have, can cause us anxiety, especially when we don’t have the means to obtain them. Redirecting our focus on the things we do have, tangible or not, and practicing gratitude for these things, can bring a sense of contentment, and lessen symptoms of anxiety. Make a list of what you’re grateful for. Read it and add a little to it first thing everyday. It will set the tone for a grateful mind thoughout the day.
4. Brain Dump
Our minds are constantly racing with a million different thoughts that bounce around our brain like a ping pong ball. While a lot of these thoughts stem from responsibilities and to-dos, a lot of our thoughts are driven by emotions. These emotions can include fear, sadness, worry, anger, frustration, guilt, joy, excitement, happiness, etc. A lot of times were not really sure what we’re feeling or why, sort of like running on autopilot.
It’s helpful to check in with yourself, to stop and ask yourself how you’re feeling, and also ask why. It can be even more helpful to write the answers down. Journaling can be intimidating for some people, especially if you’ve never journaled before. Don’t think of it as journaling, think of it as dumping the contents of your brain onto a piece of paper. Don’t worry about grammar, formulating perfect sentences, or even making sense. Write whatever words, thoughts, feelings, or questions that come to mind. Self-reflection is key to our growth and personal development as humans.
Tips to start:
-Write down the first 3 thoughts that come to mind
-Write down the first 3 emotions that come to mind
-Write down the first 3 questions that come to mind
Just see where that takes you, and keep going. Be honest with yourself, no one else is going to read it. Don’t be afraid to feel.
Moving the body, at absolutely whatever level is possible and comfortable for you, is so fundamentally important. Today’s society involves a lot of stress and a lot of sitting, whether that be in our cars, at our desks, or in our home. The combination of inaction in the body and stress of everyday life is the making of true exhaustion, and can lead us to getting stuck in both body and mind. To get unstuck, move your body- any way you can! You don’t have to be any kind of athletic type. Take a lap around your block with the dog. Do 15, or even 10, minutes of yoga or light stretching before work in the morning (even better- do a search on desk stretches and work on your mobility throughout the day!). Google some fun cardio routines you can do around your house, or while you’re tidying up the living room, take a break for a solo dance party! Moving your body is proven to reduce stress, improve your mood, clear your mind and loosen up tightness brought on by lifestyle when done properly. I've heard it to be recommended to get in at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, but that is certainly not a goal that can be achieved overnight. Start with what works for you. This is all about grounding you, not bringing you another thing to panic over. Start slow and be forgiving. If you don’t know where to start, YouTube is your friend, or you can find a buddy you trust that knows what they’re doing to help you out. There might even be DVD’s or books at your local library. It’s important to note, when trying any new exercise, be careful of your body’s limitations as to avoid injury.
If you’re wondering what I love to do personally, I like to get lost on the elliptical at the gym and follow that either with a free yoga flow or a yoga class on Omstars, my personal favorite yoga streaming site. I also follow a lot of movement enthusiasts on Instagram and save any sequences or flows I like, so I can try them later. (Sidenote: Both of us are yoga instructors who will gladly answer questions on starting a yoga practice if you want to leave a comment below.)
Starting a meditation practice can sound/be intimidating. We’re used to our minds constantly racing with all of our responsibilities and the distractions of our capitalist society during this digital age. Our phones are always in our hands, we’re always thinking about the next task on our to do list, making stories up in our heads about the future, and thinking about what we want or “need.” Meditating for just 5 minutes a day can drastically improve your quality of life. Our minds need time away from all of the overstimulation, to be still. This can feel uncomfortable because it’s something most of us aren’t used to, but with a little bit of practice, you will feel the benefits.
Benefits of meditation:
+Reduces stress and anxiety
+Proven to decrease the inflammatory response caused by stress!
+Promotes emotional health
+Studies found mindfulness meditation to have decreased symptoms of depression in over 4,600 adults
+Lengthens attention span: studies found that just 4 days of meditation can be enough to increase your attention span
+Increases positive feelings toward yourself and others
Guided meditation is a great place to start! There are plenty of apps out there to help you, Headspace probably being the most popular, and even things you can find on YouTube or music streaming services by searching guided meditation. There is no wrong way to meditate.
Our breath is the foundation of our being. We can not survive without it. Focusing on the breath, whether it’s during a seated meditation, scattered throughout our day, or even more ideally at all times (comes with much practice), allows us to feel grounded. It brings us out of our environment, out of our stress, anxiety, and emotions, and into our body and soul. Focusing our attention inward brings us to the present moment, and out of the past and future.
Set a reminder on your phone, every hour, no matter what you’re doing. Take 10 deep breaths into the belly.
If you also want a more formal practice, sit or lie in a comfortable position, so that the spine is erect, and the chest is open. Bring the eyes closed, and begin to breathe into the belly, focusing on nothing but the breath. Start with 5 minutes and then build your practice as you become more comfortable with the stillness. (This is also a great way to cultivate focus when starting your meditation practice.)
Many of us are made to believe that solitude is a bad word. We think being alone is scary or unnatural. Not true! Solitude in moderation can be very beneficial for the mind. Our lives are filled with so much stimulus and processing, especially around the holidays. It’s important to take the time to purposefully find quiet and disconnect from all the information being thrown at us. If we don’t give the mind space to breath and reset, we can feel cluttered and suffocated inside. Take minutes out of your day, or one full day of the week if you can, to just be in your home, unbothered. Don’t run errands, don’t think about what has to be done next, don’t listen to music or turn the TV on, don’t even speak- just be present in your environment. Create a cocoon. Truly listen. The world will not collapse if you are not constantly busy or distracted. Hold someone you’re close to, or hold yourself if you have time alone, to cut off everything and turn inward into yourself, into this moment, and find stillness.
9. Screen Time
Screen time consists of anything from surfing the internet, scrolling social media, watching TV shows or movies, playing games on your phone/computer/or console, and literally anything else that involves a screen! Devoting all our attention to our devices can take us away from the present moment, and into the fabricated lives of other people, both fiction and non-fiction. Social media alone can trigger a comparison effect in us that can cause anxiety, depression, and even low self-esteem.
For a fun way to limit your screen time throughout your day, check out the Forest app! That’s one of my favorite ways to detach from my phone. The forest app has you set a timer to plant a tree, and if you go to use your phone before the time is up, the tree will die. If you collect enough points as your forest grows, along with unlocking different rewards, you eventually get a chance to use them to plant a real tree!
Probably the most important time to detach from our technology is before sleep. Limiting screen time before bed promotes better sleep, leaving you rested for the next day. Using electronic devices before bed can be physiologically stimulating, due to the fact that the light from the screen delays our body’s internal clock and the onset of REM sleep. Stopping the use of electronic devices 30 minutes before bed allows our minds to unwind, relax, and prepare for sleep.
Setting an intention at the start of your week, day, or even your practice (whether it’s meditation, yoga, or anything else), can help you maintain a positive outlook, stay mindful, and on track to complete the tasks to set out to achieve. Setting an intention, and even writing it down, can set you up for a productive and grounded day. Having a clear direction in how we would like our day, week, month or year to go is a tangible way to manifest those things. Our words and thoughts have incredible power.
It’s so easy to forget how much we have and take the people and things in our lives for granted, especially when those people or things might be getting on our nerves or it simply feels easier to project our end of year frustrations onto them. Instead of keeping your eyes on your own island this holiday season, make it a point to build a connection with your fellow man. If you have the luxury of time or are capable of shifting the holiday budget around, research causes you care about and contribute some way. Connect with something greater than yourself and ease into that vulnerability. There are probably organizations minutes from your home that could really use extra help over the holiday season. If you have a creative talent or special skill that can be used to raise money or that skill itself can be given to someone to make them smile during a hard time with their lives, use that. Doing good for the sake of goodness helps us to actively practice our compassion and reconnect with the inextricable bond we have with every human being- every living thing- on this planet and beyond.
12. Treat Yourself
Especially if you are the type of person always putting others before yourself, this one is for you. It’s amazing to care for others and practice selflessness and generosity, but it is just as important that we don’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of others. Self love enables us to perform at our highest frequency in our everyday lives. It may feel really unnatural for some of us to give to ourselves, especially during a time of year when we are being especially giving to those we love. It can be easy to put ourselves last and just say you’ll get to yourself after the holidays, but right now is an important time to make sure we remember that what we want and need matters too. Resentment can rise and energy deplete otherwise. So, make sure time and/or money is being set aside for you. Even if it’s something small, get something or do something for you that’s been on your list- guilt free. Appreciate the things you do for yourself just as much as someone else would appreciate the things you do for them. Treat yourself, and even talk to yourself, like you would to someone you truly loved or how they would to you. You are amazing, sweetheart. Thank you. What would I do without you? You deserve every gift that comes to you.
There are a lot of reoccurring themes here, as you can see. We hope you are able to try at least one of these this holiday season, but it’s never too late to start any of these practices. Of course, we wish you a very happy holidays. Read on for an interview with my co-writer, Nikki Murphy.
You’ve has a really transformative year. Would you take us through your story a little bit?
In May 2016, my Aunt was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, I took care of her from that day on, until she unfortunately passed away in February 2018. I was always close with my Aunt Joan, but the relationship you develop with someone as a caretaker, is like no other. So to say I experienced a loss, is a huge understatement. I was with her until her last breath, and the image will never be erased from my mind. I’ve experienced death hundreds of times in my career, but never like this. While it was traumatic, it was also transformative. She helped me grow in ways I never would have anticipated, and I will always be grateful to her for that.
In the midst of caring for my Aunt, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in January 2018. While I absolutely hated my diagnosis, I’ve since embraced it. It too has transformed my life in ways I can’t really describe. While it’s easy to feel like your life is just about ruined with a diagnosis like this, I’ve since embraced it. I definitely experienced my share of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness for most of this year, my diagnosis has actually allowed me to take my life back. It’s allowed me and almost forced me, to be conscious of what I put in my body at all times. It’s taught me how important it is to take care of ME. For as long as I can remember, my only focus was taking care of others, my diagnosis has forced me to find a balance, and today, I’ve never felt better i my life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
This past year, along with my yoga practice, has taught me to breathe through the discomfort.
Where did your mindfulness and yoga journey begin?
During the summer of 2017, I began my yoga practice in my living room, for no apparent reason. I believe I was looking for something. For as long as I can remember, I went to the gym, counted calories, had severe food anxiety. I just didn’t feel good, physically, mentally, emotionally, and looking back, spiritually. I was sick of going to the gym and feeling anxious about my appearance, like I never really achieved the results I wanted, any “progress” I made, I wanted more. The goal was always to look better, gain more muscle, trim more fat, have more defined abs. And most days I dreaded going. So on a whim I decided I would practice yoga in my living room and cancel my gym membership. That was the day my mindfulness journey began as well. The feeling of stillness, contentment, and self-love that yoga has given me since day one, is the polar opposite of my experience working out. With continued practice, I’ve been able to take my yoga practice off the mat, yoga is not exercise or stretching. It’s a way of life and a spiritual path. In August of 2018 I became a 200 hour certified yoga instructor, and I am so grateful to be able to share this transformative practice with others.
How do you practice and set aside time for your craft and individual growth?
It’s easy to feel like we don’t have enough time in the day/week for ourselves. But when you realize how imperative it is for your overall wellness and quality of life, and when you realize that YOU ARE WORTH IT, you make time. You have no choice but to make time. Because of my self care practices (yoga, meditation, reading/learning, eating a whole food nutritious diet), I am better able to serve and care for others. I may not always have time for an hour yoga practice, but you always have five minutes. Five minute to sit, breathe, and be still. With practice you learn to weave your self-care throughout your day, even if that just means stepping away from a stressful situation, and focusing on your breath, being less reactive to external stimuli and stressors, or packing a healthy lunch before leaving the house.
How do you think your practice taking those skills into the real world to create positive impact and foster growth in society?
Through my social media platforms, blog posts, yoga classes, guided meditations, my Juice Plus events, and just my everyday interactions with family, friends, and even strangers.
Nikki is a 200 Hour Certified Yoga Instructor, Registered Nurse, Wellness advocate, Juice Plus Representative, and Meditation Guide. If you’re interested in learning more about Nikki or her services, you can find her on Instagram, Facebook, her (shiny new) website, and her Juice Plus site.
Thank you so much for reading,
Alli & Nikki xx