As the holidays are slowly creeping in the corner, starting this week, we are often reminded of this unwelcoming annual maelstrom of booking trips, planning family gatherings and get-togethers with friends and loved ones at a time of maximum anxiety. We find ourselves dangerously flirting with "stress" and "tension" as another year has come and gone.
These holidays are not intentionally harmful but we as human beings tend to strive for perfection in everything we do especially during this time of year. We leave little room and time for ourselves to think and reflect as we clutter our minds with endless questions of doubt, fear and uncertainy: "Can I afford this gift for someone?" "Will I be able to get a better flight deal?" "Will there be enough food for everyone?"
One approach to uncluttering the mind and combating these stress factors of planning, organizing and maintaining an end-of-the-year hectic schedule is yoga.
As a student of yoga, I often find yoga to be physically challenging but therapeutic. Before being a yoga student, like most non-yoga people, I pictured mind-boggling images of ultra body-bending twists and turns that look almost impossible to perform: difficult head stands, awkward body poses and positions, and stretching beyond the sky’s limit. All can be true and untrue depending on the effort you put into it. As I quote from my yoga instructor, “You can make the practice be very simple or very difficult — this is your practice and no one can force you to do it.”Warrior Pose and Camel PoseThe benefits of yoga are tremendous, for mind, body and even spirit. According to the New York Times and the Archives of Internal Medicine, "Weekly yoga classes relieve symptoms of low back pain about as well as intense, regular stretching sessions, a new study shows." MedlinePlus, the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, asserts "Eight out of ten people usually suffer from low back pain at some point during their lives." Yoga cannot heal every disease or physical ailment but can make you more resilient in coping with your physical and mental challenges.
Though I won’t state all the benefits of doing yoga but I will mention that yoga has been long practiced since the 3rd millennium B.C. in the Indus Valley Civilization, now modern-day Pakistan and India. Ancient Sanskrit scriptures and seals suggest that the people in the civilization founded and practiced yoga and meditation quite frequently. The goal of yoga is the attainment of a state of spiritual tranquality. Originating from ancient religions and beliefs, yoga is perceived to clear one's thought from stress and tension. Along with meditation, yoga is also practiced in other faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufism (a practice in Islam that focuses on mysticism and intense meditation).
A View from PakistanOne of the challenges of doing yoga, is maintaining a steady breathing flow in a variety of simple and complex positions. There are also different types of yogas such as Hatha yoga (performing various poses while adding force) or Bikram yoga (performing yoga under intense heat while reducing stress, tension and preventing injuries).
MeditationFrom beginners' practice to the history of exercise, NYPL research and branch libraries offer plenty of resources in doing or researching yoga. If stretching isn't your thing, you can also consider meditation classes to improve your deep breathing, declutter your mind and focus on what's important.
If you are shy about doing yoga in the company of other participants, consider checking out our DVD collections on yoga and meditation! But the classes themselves are a great way to meet other yoga students and fans.
Perhaps you are a talented individual immune to holiday anxiety and can ward off the stress during this time of year or maybe you actually enjoy this fervent feeling but in case you have the irresistible urge to indulge during the holidays, yoga can still be part of an exercise regimen to reduce the guilt!