The season we call winter happens where the tilt of the earth is furthest away from the sun. Almost all religions and cultures in temperate climates have some way of celebrating this time of year by giving, feasting and being kind to others. The roots of this festival go back to when our ancestors celebrated the shortest day and longest night of the year; a time when people were completely dependent on their knowledge of the changing seasons for survival. The winter months were cold and dark and food was scarce. Livestock was slaughtered to eat and wine and beer would be ready to celebrate what it meant to be alive in the heart of mid-winter.
In the developed world, most of us are lucky enough to live at a time when there’s ready access to food, heat, and light, although the commercial influence of what we celebrate today may have drifted some distance from the origins of this annual festival.
Although it’s not all joy and happiness for everyone as research shows that many people suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression at this time of year. The changing seasons, like the onset of winter, can affect our moods. Given the darkness, cold, wet weather and scarcity of food most of our ancestors experienced, this is not surprising. Within the body, the reduction in sunlight affects the production of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which, among other things, contributes to our wellbeing and happiness. This is why people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder are often prescribed light boxes that simulate sunlight.
Whatever you’re doing over the break, practising a bit of mindfulness can help you stay connected with the present moment, rather than replaying painful memories, or worrying about the future. Being mindful helps maintain emotional balance and stability, a more positive outlook and better relationships.
At this time of year, our ancient ancestors celebrated renewal, new life, and vitality, which are all relevant to practising mindfulness. Here are some suggestions for revitalising yourself over the break:
- Explore nature: Go for a mindful walk in the countryside, woods or coast and open yourself to nature. On your walk, take some long, deep breaths as you look out at the horizon and feel energised and alive
- Meditate: Get into the habit of finding time and space for a 10-15 minute meditation each morning and see what difference this makes
- Let go: If you feel tense, tight and limited within yourself, take a few deep breaths and allow the tension to soften and release and your posture to be more open and relaxed. Use curiosity to connect with the sensations in your body, as you let go of any limiting thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
- Be kind: Give the “gift that keeps on giving” by practising kindness, understanding, patience and compassion with everyone you encounter, even strangers and difficult relatives
- Savour the moment: remember to keep bringing yourself back to savour the moment, which is the only time you can experience happiness.
- Stay alert: Watch out for semi-conscious mind-wandering – especially negative automatic thoughts
- Feel gratitude: Be open to gratitude when people give. This is not only gifts; it could be that someone gives you their full attention, a helping hand, kindness or understanding. You could also feel gratitude for people who are working during the break on whom we’re dependent – like the emergency services.
- Work with emotions: Spending time with extended family can sometimes open up old wounds. Maybe you’ll be thinking of the people who are no longer with us, or this time of year reminds you of a painful past. Embrace and acknowledge whatever feelings arise, using curiosity to explore what they are about, seeing where they resonate in your body and relaxing and releasing those areas, knowing that you are not your emotions and allowing the feelings to dissolve in their own time
Whatever your personal views and feelings are about this time, your mindfulness practice can help you navigate through the break and come out the other end wiser, happier and revitalised.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
Then play the second practice to relax and revitalise the body, emotions and mind ready for the break.
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