Applying Yoga Over the Holidays by Sandra Vanatko

I always find this time of year interesting. And it wasn’t until very long ago that I struggled with the holidays.  I think I struggled with the holidays for several reasons that I will share below but the more I apply my yoga practice off the mat the more I am able to ease my way through the holiday season with patience, compassion, and freedom from old outdated ways of being.

The holidays were always an anniversary of what had changed.  My mother had passed away and there was no way we could recreate something that just could not be recreated without the center of my universe no longer in it. Each holiday felt forced with a huge emptiness that I was trying to pretend wasn’t there.  Often around the holidays her missing presence was more noticed and my attention would drift to what wasn’t instead of what was.  

Today I keep my attention to what is. The teaching here was learning to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.  As I was able to fully process and accept what life served up, amazingly I felt peace. I no longer did  “what ifs.” Playing the “what if” game was deeply painful and it also didn’t let me see the blessings that were right in front of me.

Another struggle I had with holidays was wishing others to be different than they are.  I had expectations that they “should” act this way. They “should” do this.  And although it might be subtle these “shoulds” created expectations that were not being met and that meant suffering.  I was not processing life as it is and so by not processing life as it is my experience always came up short.  I seemed to want others to “be” a certain way.  I placed unrealistic expectations on those I loved most.  

The lesson here was allowing others that I deeply care about to be as they are without wanting them to change for me.  I had to learn to love them as they are without wanting them to be different than they are.  To move into this meant moving more deeply into my presence practice.  Often we want others to “be” a certain way because they are an extension of our ego-identity.  We take on others actions as being an extension of who we are.  This just isn’t true.  My practice of loving is giving others permission to be as they are and this has become an active practice of loving others.

I was also challenged by having to be more festive at the holidays than I would intuitively like to be.  Innately I have always known that I actually need to retreat somewhat more in the winter. I want more quiet time, solitude, and time for reflection. Often the social functions and obligations were challenging and wore me out to the point of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.  These days I take care to not overbook my schedule and make plenty of time to feed the part of me that needsto hibernate, meditate, and retreat at this time of year.

So how do the holidays look nowadays?  I am committed to a daily Sadhana (home practice) no matter what!  I process life as it is. I fully accept and allow what is.  I try to stay light-hearted about things. I love others by allowing them to be as they are instead of asking them to change for me.  I also find pockets of quiet amidst all the holiday chaos.  I focus on what is most important. I allow myself to move deeply into presence practice. If I feel emotions arising they are my mindfulness bells to wake up, to be more alert so I can receive insightful information from my body’s wisdom.  I anchor myself into the now with the power of the breath, curiosity, and the felt sensations within my body. I purposely make my exhales longer than my inhales to help induce a state of relaxation.  And this helps me calm my nervous system down so I can receive information from my body instead of just becoming overwhelmed. Here is a lovely article on working with your breath this holiday season. Just make your breathing slower, deeper, quieter, and more regular and you will feel better. It really can be that simple. It starts with your own breath.

I want to encourage you to get to your mat. At home or in a studio stay with your practice.  Often people will say I don’t have enough time but I find in my own experience when I do yoga first, I am more efficient in everything else I do.  Happy Holy-Days.

With Love,

Sandra Vanatko


Photo Credit: Jenny Reitz 


Details on our next healing journey retreat are here: