The second chapter (II.29-45) of the Yoga Sutras outlines yoga’s eight limbs, beginning with the yamas, ethical guidelines that are often dubbed the “five commandments of yoga.” These guidelines for living were compiled some 2,000 years ago, but studying them now can inform this season’s message of goodwill and rebirth. Consider the yamas as you move through the holiday season to keep you aligned with your yoga practice off the mat.
Be kind (ahimsa). At the darkest time of year, we celebrate light and hope. But twinkling lights and tinsel can’t chase away all the shadows that are part of life. For some, the holidays trigger a host of expectations and disappointments, and amidst the joy, feelings of loneliness, longing and sadness seem even more acute. Be gentle with others—and yourself. Goodwill toward all is the seed of true peace.
Be authentic (satya). Though we may no longer believe in Santa, most of us try hard to “be nice” during the holidays. To avoid the piece of coal in our stockings, we might put on a good show, baking cookies or acting like the life of the party even when we’re tired, stressed or sad. But what is the benefit of pretending for others if we’re deceiving ourselves? Empty gestures and false sentiments are mere tinsel. Instead of playing a part or hiding who you are, forge connections by choosing the words, deeds, and actions that come from your heart.
Be generous (asteya). That doesn’t mean spending more and giving loads of presents. One of the downfalls of holiday gifting and partying is that it can lead to comparisons and competition, which in turn may trigger feelings of superiority or envy. You won’t lift yourself up by outdoing someone else or by putting on a show of generosity that isn’t genuine. Instead, be generous of spirit—uplift others and spread joy. Give from the heart.
Let go (aparigraha). If time, money or other resources seem scarce, the gap between what is and what we desire can create tremendous anxiety. Whether we’re trying to recapture the perfect Christmas morning or avoid that oh-so-disastrous New Year’s Eve, we stop being alive to the present moment. Let go of preconceptions, hollow traditions and unrealistic expectations; be open to possibility in this season of rebirth.
Manage your energy (brahmacharya). The whirl of holiday gifting and partying can leave us feeling pulled in a thousand directions. It’s all too easy to spin toward overspending, over-extending, over-indulgence and regret. Manage precious energy reserves by continuing your daily practice and focusing on your inner work. Let nature be your guru: In the northern latitudes, plants and animals rest to build energy for renewal. If it’s too cold to spend time outdoors, accompany your asana practice with a natural soundtrack like ocean waves or birdsong. Meditate on falling snow or to the sound of rain on the roof.
The greatest balancing act in yoga isn’t Handstand; it’s finding equanimity in any circumstance. So with the bustle of the holiday season, it’s a great time to take stock of your commitment to your practice. Can you remember to breathe and practice the yamas on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning? If so, you may find yourself to be the recipient of the greatest gift of all.
How has your practice helped you find peace during the holiday season?