How to kick holiday stress in the jingle balls with Reiki, yoga and meditation
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
It happens to everyone. You know — that breaking point where you feel like one more rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” might just throw you over the edge.
Ahhh, the holidays. They are a wonderful time to catch up with family members, enjoy a few too many cookies and get lost in that cozy feeling that somehow comes hand-in-hand with the season.
But let us not be foolish. Because while the holidays are in fact the cat’s (Rudolph’s?) pajamas, they can also be the culprit behind a mental breakdown or two.
Last year, for me, it was that damn holiday candy. I was covered in chocolate and caramel that were edible proof I had been lost in homemade candy making all day, when the unthinkable happened. I was pulling a batch of candies out of the refrigerator to check if the chocolate had solidified when the whole tray slid and fell to the floor.
Right then and there … I started to cry.
Was it about the chocolate? No. Was it because I was acting like a bit of a drama queen? A little. But according to Beth Shaw, president and founder of YogaFit®, Inc., my bit of a holiday stress moment was not all that uncommon. And, in fact, it was a simpler version of what many folks endure when sugar plums begin to dance in their heads.
“The pressure put upon us during the holidays come from expectations of ourselves and others; additional family pressures; lack of time for oneself and exercise; and holiday events that foster poor health [habits], like drinking and eating unhealthy foods,” Shaw said.
But don’t worry — all hope is not lost. In fact, you can have your sugar cookies with holiday sprinkles and eat ‘em too with the help of a few non-traditional stress relievers, like Reiki Stress Relief, meditation and a regular yoga practice.
“Reiki keeps me grounded, and living in the moment,” said Kim McCarthy Lunay, owner of The Reiki Room of Dayton. “Any type of stressful situation is viewed as something that will pass. It gives me faith in my ability to [figure out] whatever situation I find myself in. I never lose sight of the life lessons that are always present during times of stress.”
Lunay said Reiki is a Japanese-based technique that promotes healing through stress relief and relaxation. It involves the laying on of hands, and utilizes life force energy. The practitioner channels this energy into the client, where it helps to restore and balance the client’s energy. What’s more, people who practice Reiki can also use the same technique on themselves.
“It is empowering to be able to take responsibility for your own health into your own hands — literally,” Lunay said.
Curious about how a Reiki treatment might feel? Yeah, me too. Lunay told me that a client will experience a “wonderful glowing radiance that flows through and around you.”
“Reiki treats the whole person including body, emotions, mind and spirit creating many beneficial effects that include relaxation and feelings of peace, security and well-being,” she said. “These feelings would be very beneficial to anyone who is becoming overwhelmed by holiday stress.”
Sure, it might all sound a little hocus pocus-y, but who am I to judge? After all, I have yet to give it a shot and I’m the girl who cried over spilt chocolates. Chocolates. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about trying something new, then it’s the fact that you really can’t judge it until you’ve given it a whirl. It just might be the thing that rocks your world. At least that was exactly the case with me and yoga.
I used to be a girl who would always choose a tough run over downward dogs and headstands — and sometimes I still would. But these days I’ve learned that a little chanting is actually rather soothing for my oft-Type A personality.
“Through yoga we learn to bring awareness to all parts of ourselves with the understanding that, through integration, we come to a natural place of balance,” Shaw said. “Many of our stressful habit patterns are conditioned. Yoga teaches a whole set of patterns which are helpful in reducing stress.”
Shaw said even simple yoga breathing techniques can help reduce holiday stress.
“Yoga is the 6,000-year-old secret to health and vitality,” she said. “Yoga can be considered technology for getting back in touch with our true essence and ourselves. It is a way of remembering the health and wholeness that is our natural state of being.”
Sounds like just the reminder I need when a sugar coma has pushed me into irrationally judging my family members.
And for those moments Shaw points out something we’ve all heard before: The importance of taking a deep breath.
“Yoga, when broken down to its most simple form, is breathing and feeling,” Shaw said. “Through this breathing and feeling we learn to control our reactions to events and people. It is not the events and people in our lives that give us stress but the way we react to them.
“What makes yoga unique in terms of stress reduction is in its multifaceted approach. By working at the physical and psychological levels concurrently, yoga reduces stress at each level and this reduction in stress is supported by the work done at other levels. Yoga postures combined with deep breathing facilitate deep relaxation that combats stress.”
Truth be told, some of my most peaceful moments come to me during my yoga practice, especially during meditation and deep breathing. Lodro Rinzler, author of the meditation guide, The Buddha Walks into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation, said that while many people might think of meditation as glorified sleeping, it in fact has many benefits that can help to outweigh the mountain of unwrapped presents that are staring you straight in the eyeball.
“Meditation practice is about learning to be present and appreciate the world around us,” Rinzler said. “It helps us view the world not as a battlefield of stress, but as fertile ground to practice being openhearted and awake.”
Want to try a simplified version? Find a quiet place — one where Great Aunt Millie isn’t available to tell you about her adventures in hat knitting. Sit in a comfortable position, such as cross-legged and keep your spine tall (i.e. no slouching). Sit with eyes closed and soft, and begin to relax the muscles in your face. Do a check — is your jaw clenched? Are your thoughts on the Christmas ham you still have to put in the oven? Begin to focus on your breath, breathing in and out through your nose. Sit like this, consistently breathing in and out through your nose for 10 to 15 minutes. Each time your thoughts travel elsewhere, bring your attention back to your breath.
“Buddhist teachings show us that the only thing keeping us from being truly present with our world is a strong hang-up on our habitual way of looking at things; meditation is the tool that cuts through that stress and allows us to be present with life as it is,” Rinzler said.
And that rule stands for no matter the condition of your life or the number of stressful events that mount during the holidays. Is it possible to always avoid stress by making small lifestyle changes? No. But things can become more manageable and, believe it or not, subscribing to a regular yoga practice or investing in a new age treatment, like Reiki Stress Relief, might make all the difference in the world.
“Emotionally the body believes what the mind believes,” Shaw said. “Affirmations about peace, calm, and tranquility, along with positive imagery are conveyed to the nervous system … As we begin to explore these relationships more, we see which interactions genuinely support us in moving towards calmness.”
And when all else fails? Grab the tray of cookies and escape to a dark corner. No one will find you — promise.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik has been a long-distance runner for 15 years and is a certified Pilates instructor. She is the author of the healthy living blog, TheGSpotRevolution.com. Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at CarolineShannon-Karasik@DaytonCityPaper.com.