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christmas raceFor those of us who celebrate Christmas, December can feel like a race to the finish line. If we’re not careful, all the days leading up to the “Big Day” can run together in a blur of preparations, obligations and celebrations. I imagine this is what a race around a track must feel like – putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as possible while your surroundings (the railing of the track, shouting crowds in a stand, the officials table) fade from your focus as you speed past them. My brother, a competitive runner, used to tell me that he didn’t hear me cheering or see his friends waving frantically as he zipped by. All he was aware of – indeed all he could remember of the race – was his stride and staring at the runner in front of him who he was determined to pass.

To allow ourselves to fall into this mindset is a shame, for when we do so, we miss out on the moments of our life. Any time of anticipation – be it a birthday, a vacation, a move, the last day of school – carries a heightened risk for this to happen. A “finish line” can be a very distracting lure for our attention – especially one as glittery as Christmas Day. But missing out on December because we’re so focused on Christmas would be a pity, for as much as there is to get done, there is even more to be savored during these fast-paced weeks.

Enjoying each moment along the way isn’t always easy. Especially when there is as much to enjoy and as much to do as there is in December. I realized the other day that my time on my yoga mat actually gives me the chance to practice this. On this particular day, before I’d finished three sun salutations, I caught myself “planning ahead.” I realized I was considering which postures I could skip in order to get to my rest and onto my day (and my “To Do” list) faster. I was so distracted by the finish line of my practice that I wasn’t even feeling the movements and breaths that usually feel so good to me. I certainly wasn’t reaping any of yoga’s mental and spiritual benefits. Really, in that state, I might as well not have even been on my mat.

I actually stopped moving (right in the middle of a sun salutation!), stood still at the top of my mat, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. In that moment, my choice was clear. To go any further in such a state was a complete waste of time and energy. It was doing for doing’s sake. I needed to get it together or to pack it in. In my next breath, I’d not only made my choice to continue to move and breathe through my practice, but I’d chosen to move through December differently too – choosing either to give my all to each activity or choosing to skip it.

I wound up having a really special practice that morning. While I didn’t perform any amazing physical feats (my hamstrings weren’t especially loose nor my backbends especially bendy), I did manage to create some flexibility in the hardest “muscle” there is to stretch – my mind. By willfully returning my focus over and over again to each and every breath and each and every movement I took that morning, I was able to change my state of mind.

Without taking any shortcuts, I finished my practice and still had plenty of time to navigate the rest of my day. Better yet, the rest of my day didn’t feel like a race. Rather, it felt like my practice. I was able to enjoy doing each of the many things I had to do because I was giving each task – even the most mundane – my full attention. As I climbed into bed that night I knew I’d stumbled upon a gift that could ensure that I’d fully enjoy this hectic, harried, but oh-so-happy time of year rather than allowing it to blur past me as I speed toward the finish line.

While it’s not easy, the choice is mine – and yours – to make!