Stay Zen in November

6 ways to thrive through the change of season

By Melanie Richards, founder and director of HappyTree yoga studio in Montreal and Expo Yoga ambassador.

In our part of the world, November is notorious for being the most depressing month of the year. Like a boat losing sight of the shore, we must wave goodbye to our warm and colourful Indian summer and bravely face the cold, dark seas of winter ahead. Days are getting shorter, yet we are often expected to work longer hours and double down on productivity before the holidays.

If we were to take a page out of mother nature’s book, we would actually be preparing to hibernate. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us to live in harmony with the seasons and winter is a time for slowing down and turning inward. This is one of the reasons that stress levels tend to be on the rise at this time of year – not only are we adding more to our plates but we are, in effect, going against our biological rhythms by doing so.

Realistically, we can’t just stop everything we’re doing and curl up under the covers for six months; bills still need to be paid and we need to keep a warm roof over our heads. So here are six tried and tested tips to help bring a bit of balance and zénitude to your everyday life this winter.

  1. Give yourself permission to rest

You know that feeling of stillness you get when you look out onto a quiet landscape tucked in a blanket of snow? Doesn’t it make you want to take a blissful pause from the rat race? As an achievement-driven society, we tend to put more value on goals and actions than on relaxation and stillness. However, the latter qualities are indispensable contributors to success. It is only when we rest that our mind has a chance to process information; the body can only heal and repair itself when we are in a relaxed state; and to quote Ekhart Tolle, “Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found”. So the next time you get caught staring off into space or having a little cat nap at your desk, you can confidently say that it’s all part of your productivity master plan!

  1. Add a Yin or Restorative yoga class to your week

If you would prefer to formalize your resting time, try penciling a Yin or Restorative yoga class (or two) into your week and give it the same importance you would a doctor’s appointment or meeting with your boss. Nicknamed “the quiet practice”, Yin yoga’s long-held, passive stretches release deep tensions from the hips, legs and spine, while as its name would suggest, Restorative yoga helps restore and balance our fraught nervous systems. By taking charge of your energy, you’ll be jogging at a steady pace to win the race while your colleagues and peers are running out of steam before the finish line.

  1. Take Epsom salt baths

Are racing thoughts interfering with a good night’s sleep and leaving you feeling depleted? Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulfate, is known to promote sleep and stress management, as well as reduce pain and swelling. Add these magnesium-rich salts to a hot bath before bed and, speaking for myself, I’m out like a light.

Here is my favourite recipe for a relaxing and skin-softening bath concoction:

  • 1 cup Epsom salt
  • 1/2 cup Baking soda
  • 2 tbsp Almond oil
  • A few drops of your favourite relaxing essential oil (I recommend Young Living lavender oil)

P.S. This makes a great homemade gift for the bath lovers in your life! Just mix together a big batch and divide into pretty reusable mason jars. It’s eco-friendly, wallet-friendly and one less thing to stress about over the holidays.

  1. Stop, drop and Child’s Pose!

For eight years now, I’ve been teaching a weekly yoga class to the staff at a Montreal hospital. One of the head nurses used to half-jokingly suggest that when tensions run high in meetings, she should call out, “Stop, drop and child’s pose!”. I can just imagine everyone hurriedly pushing their chairs back and ducking under the boardroom table, assuming child’s pose until they feel calm enough to resume their discussion rationally.

It’s with good reason that this beloved posture is a go-to when we feel overwhelmed. Every sensitive part of the body is protected as we slide the hips back toward the heels and bring the forehead to the ground. It makes me think of a turtle tucking into its shell for protection. The other benefit of this grounding pose is that of breathing into the back. With the abdomen compressed against the thighs, we can more easily feel the breath massaging away the tensions along the spine. For more stress-busting yoga postures, check out my YouTube video, Yoga for Anxiety – 5 poses for inner peace.

  1. Practice Kundalini Yoga’s “Kriya to Withstand the Pressure of Time”

Yogi Bhajan, the master of Kundalini Yoga, predicted in the 1970s that the disease of our time today would be anxiety, depression and burnout. He brought Kundalini Yoga to the West as a valuable tool to help strengthen our nervous systems and raise our consciousness in preparation to meet the challenges of our twenty-four hour world with dignity and grace.

Time seems to accelerate in the fall and lately, I’ve been feeling the pressure of this change of pace. Lucky for me there’s a Kriya for that! A Kriya is a series of postures, breath, and mantra that work toward a specific outcome. The one I’m practicing regularly these days is aptly called, Kriya to Withstand the Pressure of Time. It involves “shaking like an earthquake”, dancing and sweating to lively Bhangra beats. My cat looks at me like I’m crazy but I swear it really works!

  1. Take a preemptive sick day

Nischala Joy Devi, author of The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras, lived in Swami Satchidananda’s ashram for eighteen years. The monks’ schedule was strict and rigorous – rising before dawn to meditate and working hard  through seva (selfless service) to purify their karma and ensure the smooth running of the compound. Every winter, the flu would go around and when a Monk was sick and contagious, he or she was instructed to take bed rest in isolation for three days.

Nischala conducted her own secret experiment by taking three days of bed rest before getting sick! She relished her time lounging in bed, catching up on sleep, reading for pleasure and sipping hot tea. In all the years that she performed this ritual, she never once caught the flu. Worth a try, don’t you think?

Another way to stay sane as we sail off into winter is to have a good crew on deck that we can rely on and have a good laugh with. Being a part of a positive and warm community, whether it’s at a yoga studio, online or with your friends, is a priceless way to relieve stress and get a boost of cheer as the weather turns nippy. What are the ways in which you stay calm under pressure during seasonal changes? Please share in the comments and let’s support each other in getting our zen on!

Don’t miss Melanie at Expo Yoga 2019!
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