Create a Yogic Holiday Season

The holiday season can be joyful, a time to share what we have with family and friends. However, it can be a stressful time if we allow hectic schedules and commercial pressures to drive us. For yogis, the holiday season is a golden opportunity to practice yoga outside of the classroom, actually applying all the skills we have been honing over the year.

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

When I was a young medical doctor, I would often roster myself to work in the ER over Christmas, allowing colleagues who celebrated the holiday to be with their families. We were prepared for a very busy time in the emergency room, and one of the most common symptoms we treated was depression, with its underlying sense of alienation and loneliness. People who have lost loved ones or who are financially impoverished suffer tremendously during the holiday season. For me, it was a time when I could test just how stable the light of yoga was in my heart.

The Holiday Season Provides Opportunity
For all of us, the holiday season exerts pressures at some level. It can be one of the least peaceful times of the year. Commercial interests have usurped most holidays, and advertisers spend millions of dollars to hypnotize a whole country into spending and celebrating. The economy depends on us, we hear from all sides. Holiday shopping, visiting with family, the hassles of planning and traveling, managing food and alcohol consumption, getting enough exercise, and maintaining our yoga routines can all be overwhelming.

As yoga teachers, this is an ideal time to encourage our students to apply what they have learned in class. We can tell our students that managing the holiday season is their exam, the real test of how much they have learned and embodied over the year.

What Do the Holidays Mean to You?
There are a number of ways we can teach students to maintain a calm center during the storm of the holidays. The first thing to do is to dedicate some quiet class time for contemplation andmeditation. Students sit still, breathing quietly to practice any calming, grounding process. Once they have settled in, ask them to contemplate what a particular holiday means to them. They need to ask themselves what they really want to get out of this period, and what will best support them and others.

As they develop a sense of that meaning, suggest that they focus on disentangling commercial pressures from the essence of the holidays. This will help them plan strategies that will make this period meaningful and fulfilling.

Handling Stress
Paradoxically, stress is the biggest issue for most students during the holidays. Stresses come in many forms, and students should contemplate what theirs are likely to be. During meditation, they should playfully visualize what lies ahead. Encourage them to look back at past holiday seasons and consider what they would like to do differently this time. Can they create a situation that supports the emergence of intuition and creativity? They probably can, if they can stay conscious, calm, and focused.

There are many techniques that help us stay grounded and centered. To do this effectively, however, we need to contemplate strategies that we can actually apply outside of the practice space. This meditation, then, is mental rehearsal for the actual event.

Remind students that yoga is more than technique; it is a way of being. Breath is the best tool we have to remain conscious and calm; any time is a good time to practice moving and breathing more slowly and consciously.


Teaching the Spiritual Essence of Yoga with Integrity

The heart of yoga is spirituality, best defined as the process of self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-realization. This is what most of our students are seeking, even if they do not consciously realize or express it, and supporting another being on the journey of self-discovery is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow. But how can we teach spirit, depth, and meaning in an authentic and satisfying way?

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

It is often only when we teach yoga that we begin to learn what yoga truly is. This is because it is in the context of teaching that we are forced to examine our understanding of yoga critically, and to witness to what extent we embody and communicate this understanding.

Yoga can support the whole being if the student is open to the process. How open a student is often depends not only on how we teach technique, but on how we present our understanding. How we demonstrate essence and spirit in our teaching depends on how much we are actually living yoga, how heart-connected we are, and how much depth and wisdom we have developed.

There are many challenges facing us as teachers. How do we infuse a yoga class with depth without using excessive theory, jargon, and Sanskrit terms, which are often meaningless to our students? How can we teach with integrity, without feeling like an impostor, during personally challenging periods of our lives? In meeting these challenges, we must continuously contemplate what yoga and spirituality are for us, and how we gain depth in our own lives. Only then can we teach the rewards of a deeper practice.

What is Spirituality?
In essence, spirituality deals with our relationship with that which is beyond us as individuals. This is a relationship with something greater than we arewith a creator, or a source of being that we have come from before our —birth, and where we will go to after our death. This is a very personal inner journey.

From the yogic perspective, we experience the spiritual by cultivating our awareness and taking this awareness deep into the subtle dimensions of our being. Awareness allows us to experience the subtler aspects of life and marks a step on our inner journey toward self-realization. Once we have forged a conscious relationship with that which is beyond the “little” us, then we can bring that connection and understanding into our everyday lives. Only then can we truly permeate our lives and teachings with depth and meaning.

As teachers, we may be asked to give some form of spiritual guidance to our students to support their journey. The aim of yoga teachers should always be to empower our students to find their own way. One of the tools we give them to do this is awareness. Therefore, always direct your students to become more aware and more confident in their own feelings and intuitions.

Gaining Spirit in Ourselves
The most important first step for teachers is to develop their own spirituality. Spiritual knowledge comes only from a great deal of study and personal self-development. It takes time to develop true wisdom and a grounded, authentic spirituality. This cannot be achieved from books, and if we attempt to teach what we do not know, our students will quickly perceive this. If our spirituality is grounded in authentic realization, then we develop a heart-connected relationship with all of life and, therefore, with our students. Then even simple practices become potent.