A yogi's guide to a conscious Christmas.

Whatever your race, religion or tribe, if you live in the Western world you can’t avoid the annual festivities surrounding the anniversary of the birth of Christ.

For many of us the religious significance of the holiday has been marginalised and superseded by a celebration of family, and an opportunity to spend time with loved ones that can be embraced by all faiths. By virtue of timing it is also a chance to reflect on the year that has passed, and look forward to new beginnings.

But the affectionately termed ‘silly season’ (where general over-indulgence is order of the day) can take its toll on all of us. And for some who have lost loved ones, or who are single or separated, struggling financially or dealing with blended and extended families, it can be an incredibly stressful and even depressing time.

Whatever your situation here’s my yogi’s guide to a stress-free, joyful and compassionate holiday.

1. Keep calm and avoid the rush

“Once she stopped rushing through life she was amazed how much more life she had time for.” ~ Unknown

We spend the vast majority of our lives in fast forward mode and the countdown to the holidays is no exception. Christmas deadlines, crowded shopping centres, hangovers and haranguing in-laws are enough to leave anyone with shredded nerves and a short-fuse by Boxing Day. Ease yourself into the festivities by planning well ahead. Simplify holiday plans and reduce the number of parties or Christmas drinks you attend. And ensure you take time out from the chaos to relax or meditate.

2. Be a mindful consumer

“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Christmas has become a manufacturer and retailer's dream with billions of dollars spent every year on cheap novelty items, unwanted gifts and discarded packaging that ends up in landfill. In the US 99% of materials consumed are no longer in use after 6 months (Source: www.storyofstuff.org). Consider too the hidden costs behind the production and distribution of goods; from human suffering (i.e. cheap labour and poor working conditions) to environmentally damaging resource extraction and pollution. A major paradox of consumerism is that rather than making us feel more satisfied (as advertisers would like us to believe), the consumption of goods may actually lower our happiness. Be a conscious consumer this season. Buy less and buy products that don’t cost the Earth.

3. Have a kinder Christmas

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

Every year millions of animals suffer and are slaughtered for family feasts only to end up as tonnes of food waste. A vegetarian Christmas might be a bit of a stretch for many, but before you order your super-sized Turducken or a hundred weight of prawns this Christmas, consider reducing your consumption of meat and seafood and adding more delicious vegetarian options to your Christmas table. Visit www.animalsaustralia.org/kinder-christmas for some brilliant seasonal recipe ideas, and when buying animal products try to select ethically raised or sourced, organic or free-range. Our furry, feathered and fishy friends are equally deserving of a little kindness and goodwill this festive season.

4. Give the gift of compassion

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ~ Plato

Remember ‘Tis the season to be jolly’ may not strike a chord with everyone. Whether you’re a festive fan or a holiday Grinch, make a commitment this season to observe your reaction to situations or people that challenge you, and remember to respond compassionately. Reach out to others for whom Christmas is a particularly difficult time and without forcing joy upon them ask simply ‘are you ok?’ Spare a thought too for those less fortunate by donating to charity, volunteering or paying a visit to a lonely neighbour or relative. The most precious gift you can give anyone this season is your time.

5. Reflect and be grateful

“I would thank you from the bottom of my heart, but for you my heart has no bottom.” Author unknown

Whether the past year was a huge success or frankly sucked, we can always find someone or something to be grateful for. Take time out to reflect on your achievements and lessons learned in the past 12 months. Write a list of things you are grateful for in your life. And send a heartfelt letter or card expressing thanks to those who have supported you throughout the year. Then let go of any regrets or resentment you’ve been holding onto from the past year (or longer!) and open to whatever the universe has in store for you for the next 12 months!

Wishing all my readers a very happy Christmas.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu ~ "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all."