As the days grow darker...remember to be light

Breath deeply this December

December is here. Stress from all angles has probably begun to crowd your thoughts or sing you to sleep (more like tuck you in and keep you awake at night with anxiety). Stress seems to arrive out of nowhere, like an uninvited house guest. We seem to know that stress has terrible effects on our health, but what we don’t seem to know is how to stop it. How do we do this without also stopping the multitude of responsibilities and the overwhelming amount of things that need to get done this time of year? One way to do this is not to stop, but to pause and take a breath.

Ignore the fact that this seems obvious and instead pay attention. Take a conscious breath. Notice the temperature of the air as it enters your nasal passage and slides down your throat. Notice your ribcage subtly expand and allow the breath to fill the bottom of your lungs and expand your belly. Pause. Notice the slight space in between your inhale and exhale. As you exhale, allow it to be slow, soft and calming. Continue to do this, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever you face. Notice the effects.

If this sounds too simple, it is. It's also too easy to forget about giving breath proper attention, even though it's one of the most vital functions that allows us to be here - doing so many things - in the first place. This is because breathing is one of the few functions in the body that can be either automatic or controlled. When things get hectic, we tend to focus on the things themselves and forget that we also have the ability to shift the focus to the breath. This absentmindedness can be dangerous to our wellbeing because when the breath becomes shallow, so do we as our entire body suffers a lack of oxygen. Stress has now found the key to enter our home uninvited.

One of the most efficient ways to kick out this unwanted guest is simply to bring more attention to the breath. Yes, there are other ways to combat the ill effects of stress, such as exercising, getting a massage, taking a bath or eating a few extra pieces of pie. But what if we only have time for the pie? Breath is the only option that is accessible wherever you happen to be. It can even enhance the other stress-fighting options. So the instant you catch yourself getting stressed out with traffic, work, family, shopping, finances or just taking on the ups and downs of life, I invite you to take some of the spotlight off of the thing itself and shine some light on the breath. Allow it to be soothing. Cultivate this connection. Check in with it often, ask how it’s doing and see what is created as a result.

Lights are strung up all around us to help brighten the darkest days of the year, and I invite you to allow them to be a reminder to do the same within yourself. Remember, you can use your breath as a tool. The moment you recognize any type of stress within yourself, remember to pause, take a conscious breath and witness what is right in front of you. Focus on this more than your thoughts. Let the breath get in, and allow yourself to feel more spacious and light. Make a choice to let go of some of the heaviness. Remember to not take it all so seriously. As the holidays approach, remember to let your heart be light. Find a way to share this with the world and those closest to you and you will have found gifts worth giving that are more significant than we all realize: light-heartedness and joy. Isn’t that what this season is all about anyway?

If you're interested in some reading material on mindfulness, I highly recommend Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, which can be found on Anythink's online catalog here.