Health: Keep calm and stay mindful this festive season

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Noticing life as it happens could be key to staying calm. Katie Baldwin reports.

The festive period can be the most stressful and demanding time of year, which can take a toll on your wellbeing.

However it doesn’t have to be this way, one expert says.

Vidyamala Burch is a leading authority on mindfulness

She said: “The festive period is a very demanding time for many people, who may feel that they are already stretched to the limit, both mentally and physically.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Practising mindfulness, which is the ability to be fully awake to life as it happens and having a calm and present state of mind, is as simple as eating a piece of chocolate – really savouring it – and can ensure that this special time of year is rejuvenating and full of hope.”

Her first top tip for Christmas is to grab some chocolate.

“When you eat too much too quickly, you can miss the wonderful flavours, textures and aromas of food and drink,” she said.

“Reconnecting with your senses is at the heart of mindfulness, so, instead of wolfing chocolate down, take a small amount and savour it.

“Before you put it in your mouth, smell it and delight in all the different aromas. Then place it in your mouth and let it linger there, allowing the different subtle flavours to be released.

“Do this with each square and you’ll be amazed how much pleasure a simple bar of chocolate can give you.”

A festive stroll will be part of the plans for many families, and Vidyamala says: “There is no need to rush anywhere, you don’t have to go anywhere out of the ordinary, a short walk to the shops can be refreshing and calming, if done mindfully,” the co-author of Mindfulness for Health added.

“Focus awareness on your feet as they touch the ground, feel the fluid movements of muscle and tendons, and how your whole body moves as you walk.

“Also, instead of being absorbed in your thoughts, pay attention to all the sights, sounds and smells around you. Open up all your senses and smell the mustiness of the winter leaves, feel the rain on your face and watch how patterns of light and shade shift unexpectedly.”

But if it all gets too much, try a 10-minute tension release meditation.

“Close your eyes. Allow your shoulders, neck, back, and face to soften. Feel the points of contact between your body and the floor or chair. Allow your body to soften a little bit into gravity,” she said.

“Gather your awareness around the sensations of breathing. Focus on an area of tension and allow the breath to soothe and massage it for a few minutes. When you’re ready, focus your awareness on the next area of tension. Then focus on the next area – and so on.”

Vidyamala concludes: “Remember to be kind to yourself at this time of year and ensuring that you do the small things that you enjoy, such as having a bath, listening to music, having a nap, or just catching up with a friend.

“Being fully awake to the things that you do and living ‘in’ the moment, rather than ruminating on the past and future, will make all the difference to having a restful and restoring Christmas and New Year.”

Tim Marshall has travelled the world covering foreign affairs for Sky News.

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