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Top 5 Holiday Health Tips from Yoga Teacher and Health Psychologist

Posted Dec 17 2009 12:00am


Kelly McGonigal, a yoga teacher, shares some tips on taking care of yourself during the busy season. Why does what she has to say matter? She's also a health psychologist at Stanford University and the author of a new book, Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Strategies for Calming Your Mind and Healing Your Chronic Pain. Here's to insight from science--and that uber deep knowledge space.

1. What you are most tempted to skip, you most need to schedule.
In the midst of holiday madness, the first thing most women push aside is self-care. Gentle exercise and adequate sleep will give you the energy for this busy time, and keep your immune system strong against colds and the flu (or help you recover faster). Look for other ways to restore your peace of mind, including meditation, relaxation, reading, or prayer. If you can’t take a long break, give yourself a breathing break to recharge. Just close your eyes or slip away for a few momentsand take a few full, conscious breaths. As good as a 90-minute yogaclass? Almost, and if you do it several times a day, absolutely.

2. Nourish yourself.
‘Tis the season to cook for others, toast with eggnog and spiced wine, and welcome gifted cookies, cakes, and pies. But a sudden change in your diet can wreak havoc with your energy, emotions, and health. Foods high in fat, sugar, or alcohol areespecially likely to trigger a headache, digestive upset, interferewith your immune function, and give you mood swings. Savor the joy ofpreparing and sharing holiday favorites, but commit to keeping abalanced, familiar diet for most meals. Make meals festive in otherways, such as lighting candles, listening to holiday music, or decorating the table.

3. Practice gratitude for what you have, not how it could be.
If your holiday plans don’t match up to favorite memories or ideal fantasies, it’s easy to slide into depression or disappointment. Banish the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Future, and create a special celebration for yourself (or for others). Pick one treat for every sense, including the music, smells, flavors, decorations, and contactcomforts that awaken for you the feeling of holiday traditions. Bring in an element of ritual, whether it’s lighting candles, singing, a church service, or a gift exchange. Then make a donation to someonewhose holidays are also less than ideal—whether it’s Toys for Tots, Santa for Seniors, or your local food bank.

4. Forget New Year’s resolutions.
Rather than deciding how you need to improve in the New Year, ask your body, mind, and spirit what you need in the New Year. Set aside some time to reflect on the following questions: Is there anything you have been avoiding or not giving yourself permission to do, that would bring healing or joy into your life? Is there anything you have been doing that your body, mind, and spirit need a break from? Where is your energy pulling you, and what do you most want to focus on this year? What are you ready to accept, or let go of?

5. 9-minute balancing breath
For greater resilience in the face of holiday stress, you can also try this 9-minute guided “balancing breath” practice and meditation. This breathing technique has been show to reduce blood pressure, decrease stress, and improve mood and energy.

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