Today I went to a yoga class—my first in over a year. I’ve been feeling a bit stiff and my flexibility isn’t as good as it was, so off I went to make myself Downward Dog, relax into Child’s Pose or even do a whole Sun Salutation.
Yoga, from the outside, looks very relaxing and flowy. From the inside, muscles get stretched in ways you didn’t think they could and your body bends and holds positions until you think it can hold no more. And you feel pain in places you didn’t know were sore.
You realise when you stretch those muscles that your knees are a bit sore or your hips have an ache that you weren’t aware of before you found yourself in an awkward Pigeon Pose.
For some of us, Christmas can be a little bit like the pain in your muscles when you return to class after a break from yoga. This time of the year can bring out the emotional aches and pains that you weren’t aware of, until that person makes that comment about that thing that no one ever speaks about.
Your heart fills with dread.
Or the sadness that surprises you when you set the table and remember that the person who sat in that chair last year is no longer with you.
Your heart aches.
The anger that rises in you when a certain person boycotts the family gathering because of some petty issue that grew out of all proportion until the parties involved decided they were never going to speak to the other again. Ever.
Your heart hardens.
Maybe the pain is because you are alone and all the schmaltzy TV movies make you cry. Most of the time you’re okay because you work, you’re busy and your friends have time for you, but Christmas everyone disappears until New Year.
Your heart breaks.
Our dreams of a harmonious Christmas full of joy, peace and love are often just that—unfulfilled dreams. We can’t control other people’s actions and emotions creep up on us unexpectedly, so how can we cope with Christmas without losing our minds, our dignity, or our sense of well-being?
Here are four lessons I’ve learnt over lots of Christmases:
1. Have realistic expectations: don’t expect or try to create perfection. Go with the flow.
Life did not intend to make us perfect. Whoever is perfectbelongs in a museum. Erich Maria Remarque
2. Anticipate and have a script ready to deal with things you know trigger your emotions and avoid blurting out unfortunate things that may inflame the situation.
You don’t think you can last all day at a certain place:
‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ll only be able to stay for two hours.’
A person brings up a contentious issue and wants to talk about it right then.
‘I’d like to talk to you about this, but I’m going to help in the kitchen. Maybe you’d like to tell me about in a couple of weeks when we catch up.’
Don’t get drawn into those conversations—try waffling, changing the subject, smile and wave as you tell them, ‘I really don’t want to discuss that today.’
Walk away. Set the boundaries in your mind before they happen.
3. Accept that Christmas is not the time our needs will be met. The hurts and pain of the past year won’t magically disappear. That person who doesn’t appreciate you during the year may not suddenly appreciate you now.
The ghosts of Christmases past come to haunt you and ignite strong emotions in you. If you are prepared for this, you will deal with the issues before the day and won’t be tempted to settle the score, or make snide comments, or burst into tears when the same thing happens again.
4. Focus on others and make sure they have a good time. Volunteer at a shelter, give gifts to the needy, or cook a meal for someone you know will be alone.
If you gain a higher perspective, the rest of the problems seem diminished in some way.
By all means, this is not an exhaustive list to fit all the complex issues of the heart at this time of year, but it’s worth trying to get our hearts in a healthy place before the pain surprises us.
One more thing, the pain of exercise is something you don’t regret once it’s over. Sometimes it’s the same with families and Christmas. Making the effort to exercise and prepare our hearts may be a stretch, but you’ll feel calmer and more peaceful.
You’ll be glad you invested in some emotional exercise, and you may even enjoy Christmas.