Self-care. I know many people who wince at the term, myself included until really rather recently. Self care for many of us seems to necessitate wealth, both in terms of time and money. I am not particularly affluent in either sense, I am, after all, a full time yoga teacher, but I have discovered some small and almost too simplistic rituals that yield big benefits. These become particularly useful tools for the festive season which, for all its joyful excess, often takes away just as much as it gives. I am going to share with you a few ways you can get centred in yourself, without being self-centred. These are almost all free too, and can be done in the comfort of your home.
"Put your feet up" is a age-old metaphor for chilling out. Here, you can use it both metaphorically and literally. Legs-up-the-wall pose, or as its known in its Sanskrit origin 'Viparita Karani' is a restorative yoga pose that is as simple and effective as they come, and a tonic for the festive season in more ways than one. Three things that arise during this time of year: exhaustion, stress and digestive issues. This simple method works to remedy all of these, and all you need is ten minutes, a pillow/blanket and a wall. Place a pillow or blanket against the wall and then edge one hip on, before shuffling your pelvis all the way on and resting your legs against the wall. The legs don't need to fully extend, and you could even rest the soles of the feet on the wall, or bring the soles of the feet together with the knees bending to the sides, for extra hip opening. All you need to do now is focus on your breath, not effecting any change on it, but just observing it, and in doing so you may notice it starting to slow down. This works on the central nervous system, to bring you into your rest and digest state, helping to bring you down from a state of anxiety and overstimulation. Once the fight or flight response is down, your body can also get back to digesting food, something that requires more effort in the season of excess. With those two factors in bed, this simple pose is excellent when practiced before going to bed, not only to lull you into a more restful state, but to help digest heavy food, the indigestion of which can tamper with our sleep cycles.
This time of year asks a lot of us in terms of how we interact with others.There's more socialising, which for some is an opportunity, others a pressure. Either way we have less time to ourselves to focus on our needs, which can leave us feeling drained, irritable and more reactionary. The best medicine for this is meditation. A lot of people don't know where to start with this, but simplicity here is key, and not trying to run before you can walk. A meditation practice does not necessarily have to be, nor even for advanced practitioners is, the twice daily 20 mins of transcendence that Instagram would have us believe. In fact there's no way you can see it, it is total inner work, done only by you. All you need to do is find one word that holds significance for you. One syllable is ideal, the simpler the better. Mentally repeat this word on a loop for 5 minutes. You are meditating and the word is your mantra. It doesn't need to be some fancy Sankrit word with ancient meaning. If you take to meditation then I definitely recommend looking into the more esoteric aspects of the practice, but for now the repetition of your chosen word will serve to quieten your busy thoughts, or at least separate you from them. Another incredible thing that happens when you meditate is that you get this degree of separation from your emotions. Of course you still feel them, but meditation changes how you react, or rather, respond to them. This is ideal if, like me, you find the socialising season exhausting, and you often come away from an event feeling an apparent need for 'space'.
The final ritual I'd like to share with you is the incredible practice of yoga Nidra or yogic sleep. Nidra puts you into that state somewhere between being awake and asleep. It's pure rest, that leaves you feeling energised rather than groggy, and because you are lulled into that lucid state it does wonders for accessing your creativity also. It has countless other benefits and there are many, many other fascinating features to this special practice, but rather than trying to over-explain it here, I'd love for you to experience it yourself. I highly recommend going to a skilled teacher, of which there are several, particularly teaching at studios such as Triyoga, based in London. However, if you can't get to a studio, there is this brilliant resource online https://www.yoganidranetwork.org/downloads whereby you can listen to a guided session for free and at home.
Even implicating just one of these self care rituals will have a notable impact on your wellbeing this winter. Not only will the harmful impacts of partying be minimised, but that added mindfulness you cultivate along the way may see you leaning less into excess, and finding balance.