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Sarada (Sally Martin), expert from  Organic India shares four ways to look after yourself and your community this Christmas. Find out how practicing Ayurveda helps her combat stress and keep her cup full.

Wow, what a year. Who will ever forget 2020?

As we enter the slippery slope to Christmas, I draw from the Hare and Tortoise fable and remind myself that taking a steady pace is the only way I know how to sustainably navigate the festive season in any year, especially this year.

I also contemplate what it means to give and to receive. "Christmas is a time for giving" rings through my mind. But is it all really just about giving? I don’t think so.

There is a fair and balanced exchange between giving and receiving - this can be easily forgotten as we - throughout the year - naturally fall into patterns of giving to the point of over-giving or, receiving to the extent that we expect too much from others. Perhaps a fortunate few have a balanced mix of both and, as a result, experience the extraordinary magic and beauty of a healthy, functioning community.

Given that the essence of Christmas is really about connecting with loved ones and simply enjoying some quality time together, here are four things that I am focusing on to approach the festive season in a way that simultaneously looks after my community and myself;

1. Shop mindfully

My inner tortoise is making a plan early and considering simple, understated gifts that keep giving. The more thought I put into this, the more joy, satisfaction, and fulfilment I feel already. Coming from the less is more angle, I know I can really hit the spot with ethical, mindful gifts that can be easily incorporated into daily life- such as a good quality reusable takeaway cup like this one from SoL cup, and some delicious herbal tea. Beloved friends and family members who enjoy a good tea break and are also ethically and socially minded will just love that every mug of Organic India Tulsi tea supports the livelihood of rural family farmers in India as well as the wellbeing of the entire planet. My gift list will consist of locally made beeswax wraps, fun stainless steel straws, 100% natural hand creams, lots of stress-relieving supporting and immune boosting Tulsi tea (Tulsi Sleep, and Tulsi Turmeric Ginger are always received gratefully) and other useful items that can be used again and again.

Shopping aside, I’ll also plan some time for making homemade treats. Gifts that rate highly amongst my family and friends include crafts made by my kids - look to nature for inspiration - petals and leaves make for perfect confetti or press some flowers to decorate a homemade card. Home baked treats are sure to win over your loved ones too. Anybody who has ever received a homemade fruit mince pie will understand how very special a gift this is. 

The offering of a helping hand can also be invaluable to a time-pressed or stressed-out friend - how much love can go into a home deco or garden project (redeemable in the New Year)? Whole families also may choose to make a group contribution to a cherished charity. These are some simple ways to create a mindful, connection-rich Christmas that engages and enriches community.

2. Connect. Connect. Connect

I’ll be reaching out to my support network - remembering workmates, neighbours, friends and family members who’ve assisted me throughout the year, particularly during any challenging patches or busy phases - I want them to know how valuable these connections are to me. Surprise! A little gratitude, recognition, and acknowledgement for random or regular acts of kindness, large or small, go down so well as the year comes to a close.

I consider my relationship with Mother Earth. We are all interconnected and 2020 has reminded us how interdependent we actually are, on each other, and our planet. Schedule that zero waste street gathering. Get together, share food, and ask that everyone brings their own glass, plate, and cutlery. Keep food simple, whole, fresh, and nourishing. Try to avoid loading up the planet with a big rubbish bag at the end of it all. Sadly, plastic easily breaks, yet it does not break down.

Consider those further afar. More than ever this year, many loved ones won’t be jumping on a plane home for Christmas, so book that chat over zoom, share the love over a cup of tea or your breakfast bowl, and make sure you let loved ones know how much they mean to you. I’m personally not one to hold back when it comes to speaking from the heart - there’s no time like the present.

3. Volunteer

Is there somebody close by who could use a little extra support? Community organisations and church groups often curate care packages for those in need. Perhaps they could use an extra set of hands to pack those up, or a delivery driver. Maybe you enjoy baking or creating and have an opening to do something or make something unexpected for others.

This is the essence of Christmas - to give without expecting anything in return other than the heart-warming joy of knowing somebody has been delighted by your kind and thoughtful contribution. This is something whole families could plan, and carry out together, with so much wholesome satisfaction.

4. Self-care

Remember the tortoise? Looking after myself is a vital part of taking care of those around me. When my own cup is full, I can fully show up for my community. It is very difficult to offer much if I am feeling depleted. Regardless of the season - spring, summer or silly - I call upon the ancient and timeless wisdom of Ayurveda - the oldest traditional health system in the world - to support my wellbeing. I will continue with intermittent fasting - eating good quality whole food made from scratch as the sun sets, and then nothing at all apart from filtered water and Tulsi tea for approximately 14 hours. 

I will aim to keep my sunrise walk with my pooch in place and go to bed as early as I can to rest deeply. Simply taking regular tea breaks throughout the day and carrying Tulsi in my SoL cup when out and about ensures I am nourishing myself with one of the most astounding herbs our planet has to offer - a stress-relieving, immune boosting tonic herb that tops up my vital spirit with every sip. I will also try to guard some quiet reflective time for gratitude, yoga, and contemplation as the year comes to a close.

A fundamental aspect of self-care is stress-management, and gee Christmas time can test our stress response. In Ayurveda, there are two simple, beautiful ways to approach stress management. Aiming to reduce exposure to, or the likelihood of stress, wherever possible is the first step. This means managing expectations, making realistic plans, attainable goals etc. So maybe thinking twice before putting your hand up to singlehandedly cater for your family’s Christmas gathering. 

The second step is to work on your own stress resilience - and this is unique to every individual. Tulsi is a very handy helper in this regard, because this adaptogenic herb works to support a healthy stress response. Other simple supportive practices can include waking with the sun each day, eating regular meals (avoiding snacking in between to rest the digestive system) and eating the final meal as the sun sets. Our bodies love routine - regular sleep times and a dependable exercise routine. With 2020 having already affected the stress levels of so many entire communities, this Christmas may not be the year for burning the candle at both ends - instead, it may call for some extra early nights.

It is in giving that we receive, and in receiving that we give. Being comfortable doing both, with a full and open heart, will offer so much to our community this festive season. It is not selfish to fill our own cups so that we can pour it into others - rather, it is a necessity. Plod forth dear tortoises, I wish you a mindful and connection-rich Christmas.

For some gift ideas with a difference take a look at our Conscious Christmas Gift Guide.

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