Family And The Holidays
As I contemplate family and the holidays, my heart feels heavy. Like most people, I have some relationships that are challenging. I wish they were easier. In essence, I wish they were not as they are.
Yoga teaches us to be with what is. This is a practice of vairagya or non-attachment to things being a certain way — the way we want them to be. Quite simply, we are invited to let go of attachment to our feelings, desires, thoughts, beliefs, expectations, need to fix, change or control. Phew!
When I try on this guidance, I find myself taking a deeper breath, and to my surprise, sitting up a little straighter (a heavy heart causes us to slump). I notice my exhale becoming longer and my ‘witness perspective’ growing stronger. With a lighter heart, I can feel more compassion for the people that challenge me. I may not be able to understand them, but I can love them. And in so doing, I feel love and compassion for myself.
The Yoga Sutras often couples this non-attachment with abhyasa or constant practice, together referred to as the two branches of Yoga. So, what are we to practice?
In essence, a return to our higher self. As we anticipate difficult relationships we can ask ourselves, in any given moment, “How can I step into my higher self?” This is in fact where the constant practice is so essential.
Dr. Jayadeva, of the Yoga Institute in India, compels us to “cultivate the terrain” upon which our higher self can thrive. As we anticipate the holidays, we can be reminded of the importance of taking care of our basic needs, including and especially sleep, nourishing food, and exercise. If we are not meeting these needs well (a common downside to travel and holidays) then we are setting ourselves up for suffering.
Another practice to help prevent our forgetting of our higher self is to create reminders. In ancient stories, the guru would bless a copper bracelet and it was seen as magically powerful for keeping the student enlightened (perhaps just reminding them of what they already know?). For many, a deep breath provides a centering practice. For others, a prayer or yoga pose can cause a profound shift. At one difficult time in my life, I filled my pockets with affirmations written on little pieces of paper, pulling them out one at a time and feeding myself their wisdom and guidance.
As a final practice to combine non-attachment with constant practice, when a difficult relationship challenges us, we might drop into our hearts and connect with our feelings. An honest inventory of how we are feeling — whether fear, anger or sadness — is a powerful and vulnerable acceptance of important wisdom from our soul — and being with what is.
When we are able to communicate something from a loving, humble place, we might then choose to be quiet, or choose a silent prayer for a situation beyond our understanding and control. Or, we may find we simply need to leave a situation peacefully, so we can better “cultivate our terrain.”
May we take good care of our selves through the holidays and beyond.
Julie Rost founded YogaLife Institute of NH in 2006. She teaches weekly classes and workshops.
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