The Presence of Peace: Breathing Calmly Amidst Holiday Stress

Julie Dunlop, author of Ocean of Yoga: Meditations on Yoga and Ayurveda for Balance, Awareness, and Well-Being shares tips on breathing calmly amidst holiday stress.

Are you one of those people who tries to “get through” the holidays? What would it take for you to shift to “moving through” the holidays or “experiencing” the holidays rather than just trying to get through them? Although the difference in this wording is somewhat subtle, it can be significant as we shift from survival mode into a more holistic acceptance of the process of being present—mind, body, and soul—for the holidays.The glow of Christmas trees, menorahs, and Diwali candles, along with many other images and traditions from richly diverse cultures, light our way through the holidays each year. Along with the beauty of holiday decorations and celebrations, however, often comes a fair amount of stress. This could be financial stress or the stress of physical exhaustion from simply trying to keep up with all of the extra events. It could also be emotional stress due to an injury or illness, challenging family dynamics, or grief from the loss of a loved one. Pause for a moment and check in: On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your current stress level? Breathe. Look around you. Then, look within. Is there any crisis taking place in the current moment, or is the stress generating from within? Feel the soft rhythm of your inhale and exhale washing through you with grace.

Gifts are often a part of the holiday season, whether we are shopping for gifts, purchasing gifts, making gifts, wrapping gifts, mailing gifts, returning gifts, or all of the above. Sometimes the most valuable gifts, however, are those that are intangible, such as peace, fulfillment, acceptance, joy, balance, and well-being. Consider also “The Gift of Collapse”:

(from Ocean of Yoga by Julie Dunlop):

 The Gift of Collapse

There is a precision in the symmetry of ancient civilizations and the geometry of modern society. In both Yoga and Āyurveda, we focus on balance, praising it as a path to well-being. And yet, if there is over-focus on balance, we can veer into perfectionism, judging ourselves without mercy. If there is a priority on keeping everything together, this constriction can keep us from being available to the vulnerability, the softness, the openness of living authentically. Sometimes it takes a complete collapse—physically, mentally, or emotionally—or all three—or at least a wobbling, a wavering, a significant undoing of our balance—to humble us, to recalibrate our systems, to re-wire our way of looking at ourselves and others. 

So the next time you fall out of a pose, fall out of a relationship, fall out of alignment with the person you thought you were, see if you can see this as an invitation for transformation rather than as a failure. More valuable than the appearance of perfection is the impeccability of our willingness to encounter our full selves. Through each collapse, our humility deepens, opening our heart-mind to the wisdom of both the imbalance and balance as shadow and light intertwine.

Consider the first three words that come to your mind when you think of the holidays.  Are there things that you think or feel about the holidays that you do not express? The incongruity of feeling or thinking one way and feeling pressure to act in another way can be challenging and stress-inducing at any time, but especially at the holidays. For instance, perhaps you are part of a large extended family that expects you to visit each year but you prefer solitude at the holidays, or vice versa. Perhaps you have a different set of spiritual or religious traditions than the rest of your family or choose to eat or behave in a different way than your family members. If there is a lack of acceptance of these differences, all of this can cause quite a bit of indigestion at the mental and emotional level, sometimes manifesting at the physical level as well.

Lion Pose, where we open the mouth, extend the tongue, gaze upward, and exhale forcefully, can offer a very therapeutic non-verbal release at the throat chakra. Try it five times and see what you feel.

While we may often think of yoga as physical postures on a mat, yoga actually has eight limbs. The first two limbs (yama and niyama) offer us ancient wisdom for daily life.  Ahimsa (non-violence) invites us to be compassionate to others and also to ourselves.  Given the many habits we have developed over the years and the strength that many holiday traditions hold, it can feel daunting to modify a holiday in any way. Tapas (the fire of transformation) can help. Through self-discipline, we can choose to change a way of thinking, speaking, or acting that can bring our holiday experiences into closer alignment with our priorities and beliefs. For instance, we might replace money spent on travel with money donated to those in need—or we might replace money spent on gifts with time spent with loved ones. The options are endless, and once a spark of innovation begins, the flow of creativity can bring forth healing on many layers in many different directions.

We may be able to change a lot internally and externally this holiday season, or we may not, given the complex constellation of factors in which we dwell. Santosha (acceptance) asks us to be content, to accept the current reality with truth, with grace, with authenticity. Given the nature of the translucent thread of impermanence woven through every moment, there may be changes awaiting our holidays that we cannot even begin to imagine. This is where the flexibility we may develop in yoga or another mind/body practice can support us, as we continue to adapt to the present—the gift of the present moment delivered to us in each unfolding breath.

Rather than pushing away any feelings of sadness, grief, loneliness, longing, or despair that may be conjured up by the holidays, see if you may be able to honor them, simply by acknowledging them as part of the journey. Taking the companion of a candle, sit with the warmth of its light, feeling in its glow the light that will return to your path.  Feel the flow of your breath, the rhythm of its presence that is with you always. Breathe in peace, forgiveness, love; exhale any hurt or anger you may harbor in your heart.

Then, placing both hands on your heart, breathe into all that you are feeling. After several minutes, then place your palms together, bringing to your awareness five things—tangible or intangible, small or large—that you are grateful for. Slowly unwrap each of these sacred gifts, taking time to appreciate the nuances of their origins, their abiding support. With appreciation for these gifts, consider what you may be able to give—to yourself and/or to others. In what ways might you offer an hour of your time, perhaps visiting with a friend or someone who is injured or ill, making a meal for someone, or sending cards, emails, texts, or photos with messages that resonate authentically with your heart?

Similarly, in what ways might you enhance your experience of the holidays through the gifts of the five senses?


  • Consider FaceTiming or Skyping with a friend or family member you haven’t seen in a long time
  • Gaze for five minutes at a sacred image of a place, person, or object that means a lot to you, feeling the depth of your gratitude
  • Look inward, gazing at all the various pieces of yourself with acceptance, respect, compassion, understanding
  • Look up at night, taking in the luminosity of the moon and stars


  • Call a loved one and enjoy the unique vibrations of this voice as it travels across the miles into the intricately designed curves of your ear
  • Listen to music—either an old familiar favorite or treat your ears (and soul) to a brand new artist, or even an entirely new genre
  • Enjoy five minutes or more of silence, feeling the gentle wave-like flow of your breath, experiencing the present of being present


  • Bring fresh greenery, such as pine branches, into your home or office
  • Enjoy the scent of an essential oil, such as lavender, or choose a scented candle to light
  • Let the aroma of a traditional dessert baking fill your kitchen
  • Notice the aroma as you sip a cup of herbal tea, such a ginger, peppermint, or chamomile
  • Sit close to a warm crackling fire and enjoy the scents of the burning logs
  • Invite the scent of incense, such as frankincense or sandalwood, to waft through the home


  • Make a favorite holiday food from your childhood and share it with someone (If you don’t have the recipe, look online for a similar one and approximate it as best as you can)
  • Try a new restaurant, or order something for the first time from a familiar restaurant
  • Treat yourself to ordering a new cookbook
  • Select several items from the produce aisle that you have never tried
  • Have a holiday potluck with your friends, neighbors, or co-workers


  • Offer yourself the gift of massage, marma, acupuncture, or another form of bodywork
  • Go into nature and pick up pinecones, leaves, stones; touch the bark of a tree, the sand on a beach
  • Notice the feel of the touch of the wind as it brushes your skin
  • Enjoy a warm bubble bath or bathe with sea salt

Regardless of how you choose to explore or experience the holidays, know that while holidays can be a precious part of life, they are just one facet of the exquisite composition of life. Ultimately, every day is a holiday, a cause for reflection and celebration, when we take notice of each moment’s ephemeral nature and return to what resides inherently within:

Ocean Within
(from Ocean of Yoga by Julie Dunlop)

 Within you, an ocean of peace.
Within you, an ocean of love,
understanding, compassion flowing.
Feel its waves washing over you,
through you, washing every bone, every cell,
every feeling, every thought.

 An ocean of truth and beauty within.
The brilliance of sunlight dancing upon water,
and the gentle rhythm of the waves,
this beauty, this peace, alive and flowing, in you.

 You—an ocean of light.
You—an ocean of peace.
Your love, like the ocean, vast and deep.

 Flowing through you, the loveliness of the sea.

 You, the ocean.  You, the waves.
You, the light on water.
You, the peacefulness washing upon every shore.


For more information on Ocean of Yoga, please visit our website.



Top 10 Tips for New Yoga Teachers


In Yoga Teaching Handbook, a new release for November, you can read expert advice on teaching yoga and managing a successful yoga business. One of the contributors of the book, Alison Purchase, has put together ten top tips for new yoga teachers, which you can read below. 

1: Keep your class plan flexible.

Plan the general structure of a class rather than each pose. That way you can adapt the class based on the students’ needs and you won’t feel stressed if you forget what pose you had planned next.

2: Take an interest in your students.

If you arrive early and stay late, you have the opportunity to chat with your students and find out more about them. Students often have questions or are looking for advice to develop their practice. Continue reading

How can therapists use trauma-sensitive yoga with their clients?

In the second part of our Q&A with Dagmar Härle, she discusses how therapists can use trauma-sensitive yoga with their clients, and how to adapt their style of working with someone who has experienced trauma. You can read part one of the Q&A here


Why is it important that yoga teachers and therapists have an awareness of what positions might be potentially triggering for someone who has experienced any form of trauma?

Using yoga in the beginning of the process, we want to offer resources and foster self-efficacy and self-esteem. Offering postures with legs wide open like in happy baby where we lay on our back, holding the toes in our hands or buttocks unprotected like in a downward facing dog, for sexual traumatized people we have to be aware that those asanas can trigger. But avoiding these poses in the long-term doesn`t solve or heal because the patient cannot make new experiences like “I now can tolerate poses I couldn`t weeks ago”.


Holding people in their comfort zone ultimately doesn’t help them, or let them develop. It’s a matter of timing. Offer “safe” and easy asanas (always being aware that we don`t know what triggers may be) in the beginning and start to open up while the person makes good experiences and gains resources.


How important is flexibility or creativity in teaching style when working with people with a history of trauma?

Offering choice needs creativity. Flexibility is needed when an asana or breathing technique triggers and you want to offer another possibility.

Continue reading

What effect does practising yoga have on emotional and stress responses?

In the first part of our Q&A with Dagmar Härle, she discusses her background as a therapist, and how those who have been affected by, or experienced trauma, can improve emotional and physical well-being by participating in ‘trauma-sensitive’ yoga. Click here to read part 2 of the Q&A.


What led you to become a yoga teacher and a trauma therapist? What inspired you to combine the two?

I practiced yoga for many years and eventually I wanted to learn more, and get a deeper understanding of yoga and its philosophy. Therefore, I completed first a kundalini and later a Hatha yoga teachers training course and began teaching yoga classes. It was a perfect combination and helped me to stay balanced and resilient in my work as a coach and therapist, and I learnt mindful tools that I could teach to my clients.


I started trauma therapy training about 15 years ago in somatic experiencing, as I had so many clients who suffered from various symptoms due to trauma (especially trauma beginning in childhood), and I realised that I needed tools to work with clients who had such experiences. My studies of psychotraumatology at the University of Zurich deepened my knowledge and experience of working with those with trauma, but still there was a missing piece. So many patients couldn’t tolerate trauma exposure – they either dissociated or reacted with overwhelming sensations and emotions.


Yoga is a perfect training for the nervous system because there exists calming as well as activating poses and breathing techniques, and it has become obvious to me that yoga is a perfect tool to support patients in self-awareness, self-efficacy and self-control. I started with mindful yoga groups for patients and then I eventually brought yoga into therapy. Going to the Trauma Center and learning from David Emerson and Jenn Turner the TCTSY (Trauma Sensitive Trauma Center Yoga),

I was reassured in my way of using choice as an important way of supporting self-control and self-efficacy to the patients. In practice, for instance, you can execute a side bend with both arms stretched or one arm stretched while the other arm may hang loose or you sit on a chair and bend forward putting your hands on your knees or you go deeper perhaps until your hands reach the floor. It`s always the choice and under control of the patient.


What effect does practising yoga have on emotional and stress responses?

Yoga offers asanas-postures as well as pranayama-breathing techniques to either calm down or activate the nervous system, or in other words, activate either the parasympathetic or the sympathetic branch of our nervous system. Understanding that trauma survivors suffer from both – overwhelming sensations and emotions (sympathetic branch) as well as dissociation and shut down (parasympathetic branch, or more exact, the dorsal vagal part of it) helps to let clients know that they can benefit from yoga because we can offer them the tools for both. Learning the tools to stop dissociation and to be able to handle overwhelming emotions and sensations has an important effect on self-efficiency and self-worth.

Continue reading

Sitting on a Chicken: Extract


To celebrate the release of Sitting on a Chicken by Michael Chissick, we are releasing an extract from the book, featuring four interactive yoga games and poses you can use with your children or pupils!

To download the extract please click here. 

Learn more about Sitting on a Chicken here. 

Michael Chissick has written several books for children, published by Singing Dragon, please find them here.

An Interactive Pilates Adventure: Why Connor the Conker?

Below, author of Connor the Conker and the Breezy Day, Rachel Lloyd, explains exactly why she created Connor the Conker and why he works with interactive pilates.


Over the years I have worked with many children in various settings from film sets, (Bridget Jones’s Baby, Harry Potter, The Theory of Everything) to fitness studios and dance and drama classes; and two things that have become abundantly clear to me from all this experience: Continue reading

Can Yoga Improve a Child’s Behaviour?

In this article, Michael Chissick, author of  Seahorse’s Magical Sun Sequences, Ladybird’s Remarkable Relaxation and Frog’s Breathtaking Speech answers the question ‘Can Yoga Improve a Child’s Behaviour?’


In the following case study you can read how *Sinclair’s behaviour improved significantly because of his success in the yoga lessons over two terms. The plan, to teach challenging postures with aspects of social & emotional of learning at the core of the programme, helped change Sinclair’s attitude and behaviour. Continue reading

Request a copy of the new US Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Catalog

Our brand new US Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Catalog is about to mail. If you’d like to receive a free copy, please sign-up for our mailing list and we’ll send a copy ASAP.

Take advantage of this opportunity to see Singing Dragon’s ever expanding list of authoritative books and resources. Acupuncture 2015 catalog 2Guohui Liu, M.Med., L.Ac.’s major new translation of the classic Shang Han Lun, Discussion of Cold Damage (Shang Han Lun): Commentaries and Clinical Applications, makes the foundational text fully accessible to English speaking clinicians for the first time. Rainy Hutchinson, an acupuncturist who runs her own clinic in Sheffield, UK, invites students to color and doodle their way through the sequence of images on each channel in her new book, The Acupuncture Points Functions Colouring Book. Longtime Singing Dragon author, Dr. David Twicken DOM, LAc provides a complete exploration of the theories and clinical applications of the Luo Collaterals, and the Shen and the five Shen in his newest book, The Luo Collaterals: A Handbook for Clinical Practice and Treating Emotions and the Shen and The Six Healing Sounds.

Click this link to sign-up to our mailing list and receive a catalog which features the above books and more.

For more information on Singing Dragon or to see our complete list of books and resources, please visit:


Breathe in, Breathe out

The practice of yoga has many forms—postures practiced on a mat, intentionally shaping our thoughts and words and actions in ways that are beneficial to us and others, breathing fully most of the time, and working at being our best selves, which is sometimes harder than it may seem. How you create, share, make your space, live, and express yourself on a daily basis, is at the center of the practice of yoga.

By slowing down our breath and observing how we feel (our body, our energy, our state of mind), we can influence how we experience what is happening to us, around us, and discern our role within it. Good, bad, and gray in-between spaces have the potential to become something quite different, depending upon how we perceive them and view them in our mind’s eye, which most often emanates from how we are already feeling (on the inside). Ever notice when you are in a bad mood, it seems like you come in contact with nasty seeming people and other hindrances to your positive progression? Likewise, when you are feeling good, do you notice more people smiling at you when your eyes meet? Are you more aware of the happy coincidences that seem to fall like mountains at your feet?

Have you noticed what happens to your breathing when you are emotionally disturbed—upset, frightened, surprised, unhinged, sad? Often it gets shallow, short, and it can feel like you are inhaling and exhaling jagged puffs of air. Sometimes for a moment or two, you might stop breathing all together, like when you are concentrating deeply or taken by surprise. How do you breathe when you feel restful, relaxed, and carefree? It almost feels like there is an endless supply of air that flows like a gift, like mystery, in and out of your lungs, in and out of your body. Your breath might be slow and long, it might even undulate your belly gently.

When you are distracted or disconnected from yourself—who you perceive yourself to be within your roles, relationships, and responsibilities—there is no way you can relax, get calm, or feel peaceful. At its core, your yoga practice has the potential to connect you more fully to the stillness always inside of you.

Right now, where you are, begin to practice yoga by watching your breath for a few rounds of breathing: inhale, exhale, breathe in, breathe out. Where does your breath move in your torso, your chest, your rib cage, your belly? How does your breath feel as it flows in and out of your lungs? Are you consciously making yourself breathe or does it feel like your body is breathing you? Spend some quality time with your inhalation and exhalation; can you climb on them as they go up and down, can you lift lighter and fly freer?

Now that you’ve spent time observing how you breathe, deepen your breath practice. Try to regulate how your breath flows, affects, and strengthens you with this Three-Part Breathing exercise from Yoga Girls’ Club: Do Yoga, Make Art, Be You.

Three-Part Breathing

  • You will divide your breath into three parts as you breathe into your belly (the bottom of your lungs), into your rib cage (the middle of your lungs), and into your chest (the very top of your lungs). This is a calming breath that you can practice anyplace, anytime.
  • Inflate your belly with breath, count: one, two. With the same breath, expand your rib cage, count: one, two. Same breath, fill (and feel) your chest with breath, count: one, two. Hold your breath in for a count of two.
  • Breathe out from the space of your chest count: one, two. Same breath, knit your ribs together as you empty them of air, count: one, two. Same breath, deflate your belly as you empty your lungs completely: one, two. Hold your breath out for a count of two.
  • For nine rounds of breathing, swell and deflate your belly like a balloon, feel your ribs expand and contract like an accordion, and experience your chest rising and falling like waves in the sea.

Release your influence on your breathing and return to your normal inhale and exhale. Watch your breath (in and out) for a few rounds. How do you feel now; your body, your energy, your mindset? As you practice being in the space of your breath, noticing how it feels, you are nourishing your body and quieting your mind, nothing outside of this space within you is necessary for you to relax, release, and create space for ‘you.’

Tiffani Bryant, PhD, is the author of Yoga Girls’ Club: Do Yoga, Make Art, Be You, an interactive workbook filled with easy-to-follow yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation techniques, and opportunities for self-reflection through making stuff that matters.