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Mindful Holidays During a Pandemic

December 23, 2020

By: Riitta H Rutanen Whaley, Mindfulness Instructor, Yoga Teacher

The current global COVID-19 pandemic has led to a holiday season, unlike anything most of us have experienced before. We may be grieving the death of a loved one, have been sick or limited in our movement, seen our children miss their friends and school, or lost some or all of our income.

The current pandemic has scrambled many of our plans for this time of the year. This time the context, the background have shifted and I find myself asking to what degree I am mindful (consciously aware, open, and curious) of this new set of circumstances, and to what degree I have been able to adapt or have ignored them. Are there situations where I am stuck in my routine, even if it is not the most cautious way to behave during the pandemic?

Whatever the answers may be, I believe this is an opportunity for us all to deepen our awareness, learn about our relationship to traditions, as well as about our reactions/responses to unwanted, painful changes in our lives.

These three ways of practice, accessible even in our busy lives, are at the top of my list:

1. Polish the practice of labeling emotions.

Dr. Susan David in her book “Emotional Agility” invites us to refine the process, so that we have an opportunity to get to know the range of our emotions and possibly, to unearth a deeper emotional landscape beneath the first label that comes to mind. Focusing on the feeling of anger might reveal that we are frustrated, annoyed, defensive, impatient, or irritated, while a sense of happiness can stem from feeling thankful, content, relieved, confident or trusting. Each one of these more distinguished sensations deepens our self-understanding and allows for greater comfort within. Improving the clarity of our inner experience usually empowers us to act more wisely in different situations.

2. Cultivate gratitude.

Maybe starting or ending your day by reflecting on five things that you are grateful for. They can be as simple as the gift of the breath you are receiving right now or the phone call you had with a family member earlier in the day. You may find that your wholehearted awareness of the tireless efforts of the healthcare workers caring for a relative or friend brings you blessings in disguise. Or perhaps exploring the power of random acts of kindness toward a stranger or someone you know. The family and friends we still have are like lights illuminating our path in life. As you light candles during this holiday season, you may want to extend the action deliberately and feel into the preciousness of each one you love.

3. Play with sensory adaptation.

As holidays tend to encourage playfulness, how about being mindful of how our sensitivity to a stimulus decreases under prolonged exposure. The wine may taste delicious at first, but with each sip, we become desensitized, and the experience shifts. You may find the same to be true as you walk into a house that smells of pine needles, eggnog, and gingerbread cookies, with those already present hardly aware of any of them. Or if you’ve ever jumped into a nearly frozen lake (one of my childhood memories), how quickly your body goes from panic to just feeling cold.

Wishing everyone moments of ease and joy over the holidays!

About Riitta H Rutanen Whaley, MS, MSPH

Riitta H Rutanen Whaley’s meditation journey began in 1987, with four months of yoga and meditation training at the Himalayan Institute in the US and India, and she has maintained a regular practice since then. She completed three professional Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intensives from the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness (by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others); Mindfulness Yoga Teacher Training by Zen Buddhist teacher Frank Jude Boccio; and numerous silent meditation retreats. Since 2011 Riitta has taught mindfulness classes and workshops at Duke Integrative Medicine and produced mindfulness practice CDs.  As the founder of Yoga for Life LLC, Riitta’s work is informed by her intensive yoga therapy training at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (India), Himalayan Institute (USA), and Auroville (India). Her expertise includes yoga for cancer patients, yoga for seniors, eye relaxation, and mindfulness training for children.  Currently residing in the U.S., Riitta has also lived and worked in Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East, serving in various capacities, including as a technical officer of various governmental and international organizations.

Riitta H Rutanen Whaley
Mindfulness Instructor, Yoga Teacher
Instagram @yogaforlife2008
LinkedIn @riittahrutanenwhaley
Author: Pausing Mindfully

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