Well there’s no getting around it. As we move through our December days, confronted by jingle bells at every shop window, and every streetscape adorned with all things merry and bright, we are without a doubt headed for that marvellous celebration. Christmas. And I love it.
I come from a large Catholic family who placed a certain reverence on this special time of year. My Dutch East Indies born father was careful to use the phrase, “Happy Christmas” rather than “Merry Christmas” as that sparkly home-made banner of sentiment was hung across the front windows of our lounge room, facing outwards to the street. I was a little embarrassed by this as a child, wishing dearly Dad would just get on board the Aussie Christmas train and use a bit of Merry in the place of Happy. As I grew older, I came to understand that his deliberate choice of words was just perfect.
The festive season at it’s heart is when we have such an amazing opportunity to be in touch with the small things that connect us to the people we love. This isn’t about retail. This is about moments. Little snapshots of life right here and now. Whether that is being truly present while unwrapping a present, savouring that first mouthful of Christmas cake and taking in all the layers of flavour or mindfully stirring the mixing bowl, preparing with great heart whatever it is that your loved ones salivate over, we all have the chance to stop and be very still in the middle of the frisson and madness.
My daughter and I have had a tradition now for eighteen Decembers of taking the pudding basin, stirring it three times and putting a wish in there. A samkalpa. A heartfelt intention directed specifically towards the people we love. Yes there are currants, raisins, cranberries and figs in my puddings. But there’s a good dash of samkalpa too!
A Christmas full of happiness is a Christmas full of presence. And no, that wasn’t a typo. The very first yoga sutra, At ha, asks us to be present. Right here, right now. Notice. Because being present is a present in itself! While the busy-ness of December can be completely all-consuming, I choose to take each element of the silly season separately. Each ornament I hang on the tree is placed with care and attention in exactly the right place, with my darling Pa’s glass baubles (which may well be from the very first Christmas in Australia, they are THAT old!) hung high just like they are every year, when we all have a good old giggle at Pa leaving us his fragile, shiny green balls.
There is a very specific vinyasa krama that is in place for every part of setting up the Christmas tree at my place and decorating it. And heaven help anyone who throws a wayward downward dog into the vinyasa. This is a sequence well practiced and perfected over the years and every second of it is precious. And every year at the end of the process, I burst into tears. Happy tears. Happy Christmas tears.
Happiness is a sneaky thing. And our yoga practice reminds us of this. We inhale and move the body this way. Exhale and move the body that way. Add a few more luscious breath cycles, a few more movements in the body and a whole lot of focus on being right there in the moment and soon enough it’s a whole vinyasa. Then a whole practice. Perfectly still while being in movement, focused on being present in each moment of each pose, we find that wonderful deep sense of whatever this meaningful and rich practice of yoga means to each of us. And we find presence.
By acknowledging and savouring each moment of our yoga session separately from the next, we can come to the awareness that just like those gorgeous strings of metallic pearls around the Christmas tree are individual parts and yet all attached as one adornment, what we experience moment by moment can be joined together to become one long string called happiness.
I was going to write about adding some more abdominal twists into your practices to assist the digestion which seems a rather weighted issue in December. Pardon the pun. But I decided instead to write this piece about my December wish for you all. To be blessed with a happy Christmas. We can have the Merry any old time! Santi, santi santi to you all and your loved ones. Santi, Sanskrit for peace, is coming to town I’m sure. Notice and witness your tiny increments of time. String them together if you like, and swirl them around your tree. Draw your precious moments inwards, just like those beautiful, prana-rich inhalations we teachers at The Yoga Institute encourage in our classes.
And exhale your Christmas presence to the people you love. Mindfulness seems to be front and centre in so many articles these days, and how wonderful that the best seller lists for literature in 2015 are heavy with mindfulness colouring in books. Even the Christmas windows at David Jones feature decals of these mindfulness art books as part of their display. Amazing. Retailers take note. I think things are shifting. Perhaps we are all hoping for lots of Christmas presence.