I recently re-read this wonderful article by Dr. Lynn Somerstein, a wonderful therapist and yoga teacher. Lynn is also on the advisory board of Sprout Yoga (thank goodness!). My plan through this post and others is to encourage readers to build an library of ideas of how to survive the holidays. As I’ve written before, yoga is more than just a series of movements, it includes philosophies and disciplines too. Below is Lynn’s article on staying true to yourself during the holidays and avoiding food binges, I think her experience as a yoga teacher is woven through it. I know I’ll be using her tricks below to stay centered and calm, and as I’ve written before – Yoga Chitti Vritti Nirodha – Yoga Is the Stilling of the Whirlpools of the Mind. So even if you can’t whip out a warrior pose in the middle of Christmas dinner you can still breathe and still the whirlpools.
By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, RYT
The hardware store on Third Avenue has a sign in the window that says, “Sharpen your knives for the holidays.”
Many of us are lucky enough to have joyful holiday celebrations, with loving family, friends, people who are positive, and that’s wonderful—but unfortunately not the universal experience; there’s a down side to many celebrations—not everyone is your friend, and some of those unfriendly people sharpening their knives for the holidays want you to be their turkey.
For example, food is love, right? Well, sometimes it is, when your friend cooks you something special and you are free to eat as much or as little as you want, and give a big thank you. But some friends and relatives aren’t satisfied with a compliment- they want to you to eat it ALL UP. Like the Clean Plate Club Kid I wrote about last month. He comes from a family of overeaters and controllers- they’re only happy if he eats so much he gets sick—that’s how he proves he loves them.
Or how about meat eaters who insist you really aren’t a vegetarian, or vegetarians who rank you out because you eat meat, or drinkers who push alcohol on someone who is in recovery.
And what happens if you’re on a diet, or you’re allergic, or you simply can’t stand sitting next to Aunt Rose, or anyone, but you have no choice, and you get really mad, so you stuff yourself, or you starve yourself, or you just go in the bathroom and throw up.
What about that mean cousin who always gives you the business about your love life, or your job, or your kids, or your bank account?
Walls closing in. Push back and find space.
Object Relations theorist DW Winnicott talked about the play space- an imaginary state where everyone is equally free, holding of self and other, and able to pretend and have fun.
Here are some playful ideas to help you strategize, survive Thanksgiving, and not feel like a turkey. Write me if you think of a few more.
1. Don’t come with expectations. Just show up and be with people as they are, not how they should be or where you would like them to be.
2. Your imagination was your first toy, and it still can be.
3. Make believe you’re an anthropologist observing a strange tribe. Take notes!-
4. Had enough to eat? Say no thanks and stand firm. Hide your plate. Or give a very detailed description about what happened the last time you ate too much Thanksgiving dinner. Gross.
5. Pretend you’re a hostage waiting for your release. How much money for your ransom? Who should pay? Maybe you’ll manufacture a wild escape. How should your jailers be punished? Let your imagination run wild.
6. Okay, so Aunt Rose never stops talking and has no manners. You’re not going to change her- you’re stuck. You can sit and steam and ruin things even more for yourself, or you can find ways to dampen your burning fuse. Maybe Aunt Rose wants to be interviewed. Maybe you’re a TV host. Maybe one of you is Oprah in disguise. Take turns, even if Aunt Rose can’t.
7. Try deep breathing. Breathe out and make the room bigger.
8. Tell jokes to yourself, and to anyone else who might have a sense of humor. Keep the mean remarks private though.
9. Remember– all the spiteful things your nasty cousin says tell you lots more about HIM than about you, and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. He’s pushy? You’re kung fu master. Let the negative energy flow right past you and back at him. BAM!
10. Try not to leave your body, if you can. Ground yourself by feeling your feet on the floor, your hands in your lap or on the table. Breathe. Focus you attention on something beautiful.
11. If that doesn’t work, how about an out of body experience? How do things look when you’re floating up on the ceiling? Wave to the folks down below. Can anyone see you?
12. Pretend you’re an invisible star or king or Buddha or angel. Knives, sticks, stones, not even nasty words can hurt you.
13. Act like you’re surrounded by Buddhas in disguise, and honor everyone. Remember- therapy gives you tools you can use for self-defense as well as self-understanding.