Reach The best gift of Christmas is to be present Being present is a question I often ponder, both on and off the mat. In fact, this is an article I have had in the pipeline for a while, but just not been ‘present’ long enough to write! By Wanderlust Journal Photo by Kari Shea A yoga teacher will often use this phrase during a class, and it would be easy to dismiss this as not necessarily having any substance. But think about this for just a moment – every time I press a key, and type a letter or word in this article, helps determine what comes next. Both in terms of the sentence, and how that influences the paragraph and framing of the article as a whole. Being present helps me go with the flow and adapt accordingly. I find synchronizing thoughts, actions and feelings therapeutic, not overly concerned about how the story unfolds. As a father of twin boys, with a full-time desk job and as a part-time yoga teacher, I find it hard to be ‘present’, and I’m sure that I’m not alone. There are so many distractions in our lives, it can be hard to focus on a single thing for a moment. Let alone ourselves which has a tendency to fall down the pecking order when ‘being present’. Consider this – how many times do you check your phone in a day? Notwithstanding screen monitoring tools that automatically tot this up, it’s likely that you significantly underestimate this. I certainly do, and ironically have found that as my social media presence has increased since becoming a yoga teacher, so my time spent on my phone, has increased significantly as I ‘check-in’. You could argue that by checking emails, and social media like and comments is ‘being present’ but it’s important to ask whether checking in so frequently is really serving you. It’s not just through use of technology, but many aspects of our lives where we are challenged to be present. How many times are we lost in thought while eating, drinking, walking the dog, taking a shower or heaven forbid, while listening to family, friends or colleagues talking? It’s just too easy for the mind to take over, and our lives to be lost in a world of historic thoughts or future plans, rather than being present and experiencing the sensations of the moment. Now, it’s not as simple as clicking a finger and living every second in the moment, especially around this time of year. The festive period can be particularly challenging to be present because our lives often go into overdrive with many distractions. Coupled with increasing levels of fatigue after a long year, this can make it all the more difficult to focus on one thing at a time. With so much vying for our attention, how can yoga help us be more Christmas present? Seasonal stillness I often begin my Yoga for Men classes by inviting my students to close their eyes, recognizing the environment they’re within. Emphasizing their senses as they come to the fore. By turning our attention inwards can take us out of a thinking mode, to sensing something as simple as the change in air temperature as we breathe in and out on a crisp winter’s day or feeling the wrap-around warmth on the skin from an open fire. Live and breathe it A breathing practice serves many purposes, ranging from unlocking energy within the body, to supporting muscle release. I love using my breath as a bridge between the body and mind, bringing a greater sense of self-awareness and balance to my practice. A busy festive period can overstimulate the nervous system and be physically and mentally exhausting. Finding time for the breath can be challenging but so beneficial. Look for pockets of time to lengthen the breath, such as in a supermarket queue. Take time to check-in with the breath when you check out. Moving away from tension I invite my students to be present by closing their eyes through a short sequence to immerse themselves in the sensations. Alternatively, to seek out subtle movements, being inquisitive about how this feels. Many of us will be taking long-haul flights or cross-country road and rail trips to see family and friends over the festive period. Sitting for extended periods is not good, as we often store tension in the neck, shoulders, back and hips when seated. I personally find neck rotations, shoulder rolls and cat/cow poses to be hugely beneficial when teaching chair yoga classes. Be curious about where tension is held, and move the body in a way that eases it. It’s the thought that counts Many of my Yoga for Men students initially come to my classes with physical ambitions, such as wanting to touch their toes. As they delve deeper, other benefits, including to their mind, begin to emerge. When we have so much on our plate (and not just the Christmas dinner), life can become overwhelming. Look for opportunities to find quiet time for the mind, such as by stepping away from the maddening High Street crowds to a local green space. Sit and be still, acknowledging thoughts as they rise and fall, directing attention to the nature that surrounds us. Congratulations if you have remained present for long enough to read this far. Being present can be very challenging, so be thankful as you hold onto any precious micro-moments that arise over the festive period, and be hungry for more in the New Year. — Rob is a yoga practitioner from Bristol, England with over 10 years’ experience. He is also known as YogaDad which resonates as a Dad of twin boys. Rob’s philosophy is to inspire those that may not have considered yoga before to give it a try. He seeks to break down stereotypes of typical yoga practitioners – this includes through his popular Yoga for Men classes. Rob has a number of media appearances under his belt – this includes television and radio interviews with major media corporations – BBC, ITV and Sky TV.