Deborah Lavinsky

Holiday time is no stranger to stress. The anticipation of seeing friends and loved ones in person again, preparing traditional meals and keeping the strength up to last through lengthy services can create some anxiety. As a seasoned rebbitzin and nationally-certified Pilates teacher I have faced my own bouts with stress and endurance over the holidays. Some of us will be spending time in synagogue and others will be watching from home on Zoom.

Here are some of the strategies that I use and recommend to keep your energy and health up during the Days of Awe.

Accept shortcomings

With social media displaying ideas about the perfect lifestyle, body and relationship, give yourself some space to be less than perfect. From a mind, body and spirit perspective everything we think and do gets recorded by our brain and transferred to our body in some way. Negative thinking about not measuring up to the ideals we see on social media can wreak havoc on our health.

Use this sacred time to make peace with your soul and forgive yourself as we collectively forgive each other.

Focus on the bigger picture

It’s easy to get frustrated or anxious when anticipating wearing a mask for hours, not getting to sit with non-relative friends or having to watch services on Zoom. This is the perfect opportunity to reach out to people you don’t know as well — or at all — and connect with them.

Sharing a few moments of kindness, commiserating together and encouraging one other can give spirits a boost.

Give your body ease

The holidays may involve more physical activity than you’re accustomed to with long periods of standing, longer walks to and from the parking lot, navigating a larger building. Fuel your body with a nutritionally balanced breakfast before you head to services. It’s important to drink plenty of water too. Take mask breaks outside and get fresh oxygen into your body. Don’t be afraid of bathroom breaks, either. To avoid getting stiff from staying in one place for hours it’s important to get up and move around.

Keep everything in moderation

The high holidays involve lots of eating. Some of our most treasured memories are the times we spent around our holiday table. We Jews love our food. Moderation is different for everyone, but there are some simple ideas you can use to avoid over indulging and feeling lousy afterwards. One easy strategy is to use a smaller plate instead of a large dinner plate to control your portions. Choose lighter-colored proteins like chicken and fish first, then fill in the rest of the plate with vegetables and fruit. Your smaller portions should be side dishes and sweets.

Take the time to savor your favorite foods by practicing mindful eating and be aware of the emotional triggers than can cause you to overindulge.

Breathe

That sounds easy but wearing a mask for hours can cause lethargy, sleepiness and anxiety. As we age, we tend to take in shallow breaths from the chest and not use all of our potential breath capacity from the back and sides of our lungs. One frequent observation from years of teaching pilates is that one’s posture can also affect breathing.

Using electronic devices or having physical conditions like osteoporosis, can cause one’s posture to be bent over in a cashew shape. The rib cage rests on the pelvis which prevents the lungs from fully expanding and taking in adequate oxygen. Seniors often lose the ability to sit or stand up straight because of the loss of core strength, chronic pain or physical conditions.

Use the time sitting or standing during extended prayers to practice mindful breathing and improve your posture. One method to improve your posture is to imagine a marionette string coming from the top of your head pulling your spine up in a straight line. Once you feel this change in your alignment, consider inhaling for two counts and exhaling for two counts while maintaining this posture. You can think of a single word — shalom — to focus on during this breath exercise- “Sha” on the inhale and “Lom” on the exhale.

Try to feel the back of your rib cage expand into your seat back. Start with 30 seconds and work towards increasing your time and endurance. You will feel more energized and alert with consistent practice. JN

Deborah Lavinsky is the owner of Phoenix Pilates and Rossiter Center and a nationally-certified pilates teacher, advanced certified Rossiter stretch coach and reiki master. For more information, click here.