Who Put the OY in JOY?

4 Ways to Lighten Your Holiday Load


Instead of counting their blessings, they sit at the family dining table counting the nanoseconds until they can bolt, flee, or curl into a ball, at one with the leftover pecan pie.

If you dread this time of year, if all your holiday spirit comes in a bottle, you've come to the right place today. Here are four actions that can transform your thinking, your behavior, your attitude, and help you coast through the holidays with less stress and an improved sense of well-being:

Richard Davidson-the director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-is a world-class thinker about what makes us happy. "Genuine happiness," he concludes, "is derived from the small things in life, from the encounters one has with people in all walks of life throughout the day. I think those small encounters, when they are done with presence, clarity, and openness, bring a genuine form of happiness."

This holiday season, pay close and conscious attention to the small things in life. Cultivate presence, clarity, and openness, and carry it with you to all Yuletide gatherings. Meditation masters-and Davidson is one of them-call this practice "waking up to the present moment." How to make it happen? Keep reading.

STOP, BREATHE, REMEMBER. Mirka Kraftsow, co-director of the American Viniyoga Institute, helps people feel more joy in their lives. A mind that is always busy, chattering, distracted by technology, is like walking around with a blindfold, she writes in a recent "Yoga Journal". It keeps you from noticing the moment you are in, the sweetness of your surroundings. To wake up to the present moment, she suggests these three profoundly simple steps:

1. STOP.
Start the process by clapping your hands, one time, nice and loud, as if you want to get someone's attention. If you're in public and feel too self conscious, say, "Wake up!" to yourself, silently but with real conviction.

Take a few focused, deep breaths. Inhale and exhale fully, with the intention of enlivening your whole being with oxygen.
3. REMEMBER. Now repeat this affirmation: "Here I am." It makes you remember that this moment is the only one, the beginning and end of your experience. Say to yourself: "Now, I am awake. I remember who I am, and I am present to the world around me."

SEE BEAUTY IN THE BEAST. Sally Kempton-another yogi who writes regularly about rejuvenating your spirit-suggests some divine strategies for getting through dysfunctional family dinners that drive you up a wall. One involves the core teaching of changing your mind by changing your thoughts.

When you catch yourself thinking, "I can't stand the way Freddy chews," quickly find the opposite, positive thought, like, "I love Freddy's sense of humor." Instead of, "Those kids are driving me nuts," tell yourself, "Isn't their energy wonderful?" Even if you don't fully believe it, Kempton instructs, your effort to shift your thinking to something positive will reduce your stress hormones and may inspire a feeling of compassion or love.

A related practice has to do with finding the one relative who aggravates you the most and opening your heart to him. Ask yourself, how did weird Uncle Al get that way? What are his wounds? His special qualities? Look lovingly (instead of critically), and watch your negative attitude transform into something deeper and more satisfying.

SOAK AND SOOTHE. When your nervous system is in holiday overdrive, get in the bathtub and soak. It's an ancient and sure cure for stress. "Submersion in warm water calms the physiological part of the fight-or-flight syndrome," says therapeutic bathing expert Jonathan P. DeVierville. It dilates your blood vessels, increases circulation, relaxes your muscles, and brings the body back into a more balanced state.

To boost the soothing effects, add herbal concoctions containing juniper, orange, linden blossom, or valerian. Soak for at least 15-20 minutes, and then slip a cozy robe over your wet skin and rest quietly in bed for at least ten minutes. Don't skip the post-bath relaxation. It's the combo that works the magic.


"Real joy is that which is available
to you right now."  - Phillip Moffitt

Marilynn Preston-fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues-is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country.
She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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