Christmas is almost here and we are enjoying weather that is more like February than December. I have to keep reminding myself that I do actually live in Wellington. The pohutukawa are flowering, but slowly, almost like they are embarrassed to be turning crimson this early. This is such a mad and busy time of the year as we all head towards our Christmas break that I thought I would write about how to manage it and maintain some sanity and do some yoga practice.

The theme is keeping it real so remember that Christmas is primarily about family. About spending time with family and this may not necessarily just be our direct relatives, but also our wider family. I have mentioned before that Guruji often said that “family is seventh series yoga”. For him family was the most important thing. So, in this time of celebrating family and spending time with family it is essential not to get too precious about our asana practice. Take what practice you can when you can, even if it is only a small practice, but don’t get upset if circumstances are such that it is not possible. There will be time to practice again, but time with family is precious.Xmas Tree

This is a time of celebration, so let go a little and enjoy yourself. Indulge, try not to over indulge, but do indulge. Have some bubbly, have some chocolate and that extra piece of Xmas cake. Let go of some of those restrictions you place on yourself because it is healthy to do so occasionally and Xmas only happens once a year.

This is a time of giving gifts and the best gift you can give is the gift of your smile. You can share this gift with everyone you come in contact with over this period. It will cost you nothing and it will make a huge difference because smiles are contagious. Many people struggle over this period and showing some appreciation for them with a smile or a word of thanks is not difficult. Remember the first of the Yamas is ahimsa, non-harmful behavior, so when you smile at someone you are practicing yoga. When you thank the shop attendant who is snowed under with demanding customers, you are practicing yoga. When you let someone into your lane of traffic on a busy motorway, you are practicing yoga. There are lots of small and simple things we can do that we don’t associate with our yoga practice, because we only think about it as what we do on the mat or at the studio, that are part of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. These practices are more important than our asana practice because they govern how we interact with the world around us and the people in it.

I think there is a bit of a trend in Ashtanga yoga at the moment to be very zealous, that is more about ego than about having a better practice. People are proud to be “hard core” Ashtangis. I had a good example of this when I was contacted recently by a person who used to practice with me but has moved to another city. When she tried to add Baddha Konasana in at the end of her practice before back bending she was told loudly, in a way that made her feel belittled and embarrassed that “we don’t skip postures here”. This is a woman who has a stressful job, who understands the sequence of asana, but who sometimes needs to shorten her practice. She is a long time practitioner who will not go back to this studio or to this teacher.

Now, every teacher and every studio has the right to do things how they want, but they also need to practice ahimsa, and be aware of how they express this to every person that comes to them. It was this teachers arrogance that upset the most. The point is, none of us are perfect. None of us do the perfect practice. None of us have the right to harshly judge others, especially when we have no understanding of who they are and what they are experiencing. Guruji could be very demanding, but as I have mentioned before, I have seen him totally skip Marichyasana D and give someone Navasana to practice. You are not getting your authority from Guruji if you are taking an extreme hard line attitude to the practice. He was the ultimate pragmatist and gave the practice to each person as that person needed, with compassion and intelligence. We should all of us, practitioners and teachers, aspire to do the same.

So remember, Christmas is a time of celebration and a time of giving. Be compassionate. Be nice to others and to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you skip the odd practice, or just do a really short practice. Keep it real and enjoy the festivities.