It’s that time of year again! Time to gather with family, relax, enjoy good food and conversation, and leave all of your stress behind. Right? If that’s not how you typically experience the holiday season, if you need some help staying Zen, then here are 5 tips that you can start using immediately:
1. Learn the Art of Qigong
Imagine that it’s Thanksgiving Day. Imagine that you’re stressed out. (Ah, but I repeat myself.) Now imagine sneaking into a quiet bedroom and using your secret weapon to banish stress in as little as 2 minutes.
Teaching the self-healing art of Qigong is what I do for a living, and I’m passionate about it, so you can’t really blame me for putting this at the top of the list. To me, there’s no better way to deal with stress – and not just during the holidays – than to practice this amazing art. The results I’ve seen in myself and my students are simply astounding.
What is it? Qigong (pronounced “chee gung”) is an ancient Chinese self-healing art that uses flowing movements and gentle breathing techniques. My students describe it as meditation in motion, hence the name of my school, Flowing Zen. It’s similar to Tai Chi, except that it’s much, much easier to learn, requires zero athleticism, and can be practiced in as little as 2 minutes as day.
Of course, you have to find a good teacher, but the results are worth it. Once you learn this art, you have a stress management system not just for the upcoming holidays, but for every holiday for the rest of your life!
In the meantime, you can get a taste of this art right now by learning a wonderful exercise called Lifting The Sky.
2. Enjoy Your Food
It’s fascinating to watch my teacher, Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit, eat a meal. He truly savors every bite. Imagine the best meal you’ve ever had, where you enjoyed every single bite. That’s him — with every meal. Granted, he’s a world-renowned Zen master, but still, we can learn something from his eating habits.
If you feel yourself getting stressed at the table, then force yourself to come back to the food. Look at the color of it. Smell the aroma as you pass dishes around the table. Savor the different combinations of flavors. Put your fork down and chew each bite thoroughly.
It’s ironic that people spend so much time preparing food for the holidays, but are too stressed out to enjoy it. Don’t be one of them. Every time you feel stressed, every time someone at the table starts talking politics, just come back to the food. That’s Zen.
3. Keep Your Mouth Gently Open
Not when you’re chewing, silly! But the rest of the time, keep the mouth gently open with the jaw relaxed. By relaxing the jaw, you actually relax your entire nervous system. This is something that Zen masters have known for centuries, and is now being confirmed by modern science.
Whenever you feel stressed, check your jaw. Is it tense? Of course it is! Now relax your jaw and breathe out through the mouth with a gentle sighing sound. You’ll feel the difference immediately. The sighing sound not only forces you to relax your jaw, but helps to release negative emotions.
Forgive them. If you cling to resentment and anger, then you are affecting your energy, your biochemistry, and your health. In other words, you’re just hurting yourself with that stuff. Even the Mayo Clinic recognizes the connection between health and forgiveness.
It is critical to understand that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you condone what they did. That’s not what forgiveness means. We can forgive someone and still hold them responsible. In fact, if they weren’t responsible, you probably wouldn’t need to forgive them in the first place.
In my experience, the best way to practice forgiveness is in a relaxed, meditative state. Stand upright, close your eyes, and relax from head to toe. Breathe out gently through the mouth with a sighing sound as described above. In a meditative state, it’s easier to let go of the negativity. Keep the mouth open and the jaw relaxed as you practice forgiveness.
It also helps to take baby steps. Don’t try to forgive 100% in one session. Just do 1%. That’s enough. In fact, it’s a lot.
5. Be Grateful
When you’re stressed out, it’s difficult to practice gratitude. And yet gratitude is the antidote to stress.
Are you worried that the turkey will be overcooked? Be grateful that you have plenty of food to eat, unlike billions of other people on this planet. Are you upset because someone is talking politics? Be grateful that we have the freedom to disagree. Are you stressed out because of the holiday traffic? Be grateful that you have a car, not a bicycle, to take you where you’re going.
In my classes, I often teach a simple gratitude exercise. You can try it yourself:
- Stand upright.
- Relax from head to toe. (Try my free audio lesson if you don’t know how.)
- Think of something or someone that sparks a feeling of gratitude.
- Feel the gratitude in your body and breathe gratefully.
The secret is to feel it. If you don’t feel it, then you’re not doing it right. It doesn’t matter what you use to spark the feeling. What are you grateful for? A pair of shoes? A TV show? A food or beverage? Start there.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of gratitude. If you can use it — and it’s not easy — then you’ll stay Zen not just during the holidays, but through the entire year.
It has become cliché to say “Happy Holidays”, but I mean it — really try to be happy this holiday season. You can do it! Put these tips into action, and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make the holidays happy. You can also share these tips with friends and family. Imagine everyone at the table keeping their jaw relaxed and their mouth gently open. Now that’s happiness!