Holiday Yoga Practice: How Santosha Can Bring the Magic Back
I’m not sure when the winter holidays began being equated with stress, but I think I know why. When I was a child, holidays were well-orchestrated events. My parents loved to surprise us with special, unexpected gifts we hadn’t asked for, and loved to set a cozy and festive stage for the ultimate event, the opening of gifts. They got a huge kick out of seeing us enjoying ourselves, so they took great care to make things as magical for us as they could.
Now as an adult, I find myself wanting to recreate that cozy, festive atmosphere for my own holidays. Only since I’m no longer a kid, I have to create it myself—not as easy. So rather than stressing myself out trying to create magic—when we all know that magic happens on its own—perhaps I need to redefine what would make these rare schedule-free days truly magical for me.
Most years I spend all day in the kitchen on Thanksgiving, even if the only recipient of my culinary explorations is going to be my partner. I do love to cook, and I’m diehard about cooking everything organic and from scratch. But sometimes spending my day off in the kitchen wears me out. By the time dinner rolls around, I’m often too exhausted to truly enjoy eating. And how much can two smallish people eat?
This year we’ve been invited to spend Thanksgiving with a lovely couple we met through mutual friends. Despite my repeated offers to bring something, they’ve continued to refuse any contributions to the feast beside our company. Even though I love to cook, I’m grateful to not be in charge this year. It’s kind of like my parents doing all the planning so that I can enjoy whatever surprises the day might bring.
Santosha is Here and Now
As we all know, Thanksgiving is a holiday we’ve set aside as a culture to acknowledge our good fortune and to remember to be grateful. It’s about stopping for a moment to remember our many blessings, big and small. Santosha, the second niyama, is the practice of cultivating contentment. Practicing contentment means we appreciate the blessings we already enjoy rather than wishing for something we think we lack. Santosha helps us recognize our inherent completeness, just as we are. Contentment leads to a quiet, satisfied mind, a mind that celebrates the perfection of each moment.
So, just to get things started, here are some things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving day:
Traditionally, I teach a yoga class on Thanksgiving morning. I’m grateful to get to start my day with my amazing yoga sangha, many of whom I’ve known for decades. They are truly a blessing.
I’ll get to spend most of the day at home with my sweet felines, who will be completely grateful for whatever food I give them.
Not being responsible for the Thanksgiving Day meal will allow me to take a long walk in my beautiful city.
Even though my sisters live far from me, and I won’t be able to spend face time with them on Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for their presence in my life and for the opportunity to catch up with them on the holiday.
I won’t have to drive my car all day.
I’ll have time for a long pranayama and sitting meditation practice, maybe two.
Like every day, unexpected things will happen. I’m grateful for my longstanding mindfulness practice that helps me to greet the unexpected with acceptance and even delight.
If yoga is truly a path of peace, gratitude for our lives as they are is one of the paving stones. I can’t manufacture magic on Thanksgiving, but I can recognize the magic that’s already there.
Interested in deepening your practice this holiday season? Here’s another thoughtful contributor post from yoga teacher, Kristin Olson- find her on our practice channel too!
And more delightful insights from YogaUOnline and writer, Jennifer Williams-Fields: 10 Yoga Tips For the Holidays.
Reprinted with permission from Hugger Mugger Yoga Products Blog.
Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. She is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products¹ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.