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Still wound up from the December holidays?  January offers an excuse to take some time for yourself to relax and reconnect.


Few seasons scream “stress!” like the holidays. Shopping, house cleaning and social gatherings, plus heavy meals and tight budgets, have taken their toll.

Now you’ve got New Year’s resolutions to honor.

“The season is joyous, but it’s also exhausting,” said Patricia Alexander of Templeton, a writer (she co-authored “The Book of Comforts”), life coach and group leader for Weight Watchers. “Over the years I have discovered I need to honor my body and my emotions by giving myself a little meditative time.” As we enter 2008, it’s important to take some time to relax and reconnect.

Relaxation is “absolutely imperative,” agreed Linda Lewis Griffith, a marriage and family therapist and Tribune columnist based in San Luis Obispo. “It’s the first thing we give up when we start to get stressed, and yet it’s the first thing we need.”

Plus, she added, fewer hours of daylight and more coughs and sniffles mean that spirits are naturally low in winter. Setting aside time to meditate can help combat depression and anxiety while opening a world of serenity and self-discovery.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled tips on having a happier winter and productive new year from local experts and British professor David Fontana, author of the new book “Meditation Bliss: Inspirational Techniques for Finding Calm.”

Just breathe:
“Look at your meditation as a quiet room where you can go and think,” said Griffith. “Shut the mind down, put it on hibernate, just let yourself go in that room and be quiet.”

According to the therapist, it’s as simple as taking five slow breaths.

As you breathe, shake out your hands and let them hang. Relax your jaw, your chest, any part of the body where your muscles tend to tense up. “When we breathe, we stop gripping,” Griffith explained.

Perform this exercise regularly — try once every hour — for a calming effect.

Back to nature: Here on the Central Coast, we’re surrounded by natural splendor, from misty Estero Bay to the North County’s oak-covered hills and the rolling, sands of the Oceano Dunes. To clear your head while stretching your legs, try the Adventures with Nature hikes organized by the Morro Bay state park museum. This Monday, two separate hikes explore Montaña de Oro State Park, while a third provides a “lunchtime look-see” at mating herons and cormorants.

The Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club also offers guided hikes. This month’s destinations include the Dana Adobe in Nipomo and Salmon Creek Trail, just across the Monterey County line.

Making scents: Pale purple blossoms dance in the breeze at Green Acres Lavender Farm in Atascadero, releasing a heavenly perfume.

Prized for its relaxing, romantic effect, lavender is just one scent that alters moods, evokes memories and aids meditation. Farm owners Janice Silva and Bob Bostwick sell lavender bundles plus essential oils, soaps, sachets and candles.

Lone Madrone Herb Farm, west of Paso Robles on Highway 46, sells more than 400 varieties of herbs, including fragrant and tasty basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and sage.

For incense, commonly used to promote contemplation, try local stores such as Bali Isle Imports in San Luis Obispo or the Halcyon Store and Post Office in rural Arroyo Grande.

The sound of music: “It is no surprise that throughout the centuries humankind has associated music with the gods,” David Fontana writes in his book, “Meditation Bliss.” Music can delight, excite, sooth — even lead to spiritual revelation. Fontana suggests using music to relax and focus your thoughts.

“Close your eyes and relax your body. Listen to the music, absorbing yourself totally in its rhythms, cadences and tones,” he writes. Settle in a comfortable chair and play your favorite CD. You can also catch one of several local concerts. Tonight, singer-songwriter Andrew Bowen brings his mellow blend of folk and Americana to Linnaea’s in San Luis Obispo.

Focus on taste: Food might seem like an odd way to guide meditation. After all, many of us experience stress from overeating, eating poorly or not eating enough.

Yet Fontana says that very act of tasting and savoring a snack can provide true enjoyment and inspire gratitude. “Mindfulness in eating is a meditation in itself,” he writes.

Fortunately, our county offers a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, gourmet wines and handcrafted olive oils, meats and cheeses. Sample the season’s bounty at a local farmers market. Or savor the finer things by filling your basket at De Palo & Sons in Shell Beach, Crushed Grape in San Luis Obispo or Linn’s Gourmet Goods in Cambria.

Go with the flow: Few elements are more soothing than water, whether in the form of a crystal-clear fountain, a swift-moving river or crashing ocean waves. For those of us with aching backs and joints, however, a steaming hot tub has even greater appeal.

Feel your troubles melt away as you sink into a private, naturally heated tub at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Beach, or River Oaks Hot Springs & Spa in Paso Robles.

According to Alexander, there’s nothing wrong with a little pampering. A massage or a day spent in bed can work wonders on your mental and physical well-being.

“One of the most important things is to practice kindness, not only to others but also to yourself,” Alexander said. “The Book of Comforts,” co-written with Michael Burgos, focuses on ways to comfort one’s spirit, body and soul.

Have a willing heart: On Christmas night, Alexander found herself bent over a sink of dishes. Rather than gripe about the chore, however, she chose to think about other holiday gatherings between family and friends. Washing dishes took on an almost Zen quality. “Before I even finished my reverie, (the dishes) were clean,” she said. Alexander described a female mentor who blesses each member of her family as she folds their laundry.

“It’s something you have to do anyway, so it’s wonderful to come at (chores) from an attitude of counting your blessings,” Alexander said.

Get creative: Even if you’ve never painted a picture or penned a poem, you’ve got a creative spark. “By stilling your mind in meditation, you can tap into the source of inspiration and open up to the quiet voice of your own genius,” Fontana writes. Channel your creativity by exploring classes available to community members. Cal Poly’s Continuing Education program offers courses in watercolors and wine appreciation, while those interested in jewelry, pottery and cartooning can check out Cuesta College.

Alexander even recommends using art to envision the future.

She suggests making a collage to symbolize hopes and goals, or writing down plans for the new year. “Because it’s not a list — it’s thoughts and visions — it kind of keeps you on track,” she explained.

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.

© 2008 San Luis Obispo Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.