It is the end of winter when the promise of spring is just within reach but those melancholy feelings sit heavy on the mind. A visit to the doctor might yield a prescription for an antidepressant to ease the winter blues, which for many can be a lifesaver. Lack of sunlight can cause a vitamin D deficiency and bringing your levels up to normal can help lift the spirits. A spring-cleaning for the body-mind can also work wonders and this should include the practice of yoga. Not just to get rid of the winter blues, but medical studies show that by following a yoga practice you can significantly reduce stress and help to alleviate both anxiety and depression.
DIFFERENT YOGA STYLES FOR DIFFERENT OCCASIONS
The "blues" can mean something different for each person, and knowing your symptoms can help you design the right yoga practice to suit your mood. In Hatha yoga there are names for what you are feeling and ways to alleviate the mental pain. For example feelings of depression, referred to as "the dark night of the soul", where the joy in living has gone and you turn inward neglecting friends and family, food and exercise, seeking to stop the unbearable pain of living. In yoga this type of tamasic condition (feelings of inertia) responds well to physical movement and deep breathing (pranayama) exercises. A Vinyasa flow style of yoga class would be beneficial by opening the heart in backbends, lengthening the spine in forward bends, massaging organs and glands as the body revolves and twists, grounding the feet and challenging the mind to focus in balancing postures, then relaxing the mind in the final resting pose, Savasana (corpse pose).
On the other hand a rajasic condition is ruled by anxiety, fear and anger. The mind is constantly racing, while the body remains tense, restless and agitated. Burning off energy in a Power yoga style class may work for some, while others will respond better to a more relaxing, restorative style of yoga. Maintaining drishti or focus of the eyes helps to take the mind off the constant tape loop of negative thinking. Here too, breathing exercises are an important part of lightening the body-mind and alleviating negative feelings.
PAY ATTENTION TO BREATHING
For many people it is a surprising discovery to find they are unconsciously holding their breath much of the time. According to Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Wellness, the ancient yoga masters developed the practice of pranayama to help balance the emotions, clarify the mental processes and integrate them into a functioning whole. By regulating the flow of breath we can choose to stimulate or pacify our system as needed. This can take some time to learn, but should be integrated into your practice of yoga.
More and more people are beginning to see yoga as an approach to healing and even medical doctors are recommending yoga as part of their treatment plan. However, it is important that you find a qualified yoga instructor who has been trained to assist students suffering from depression. One such therapeutic approach is Yoga therapy, which refers to the adaptation and application of Yoga techniques and practices to help individuals facing health challenges. Yoga therapists adapt specific regimens of postures, breathing exercises and meditation techniques to suit an individuals needs. See it as Eastern concepts and techniques meet Western medical knowledge to restore balance to the mind, body and spirit.
YOGA AT HOME: THE SUN SALUTATION ROUTINE
For those just wanting to shake away the winter blues and let in some fresh air a regular practice of Hatha Yoga, 2-3 times per week, is the perfect antidote. If you choose to practice at home, but are not sure about the sequence of postures just follow or adapt the classic Sun Salutation (seen in the photo above), and repeat one side and then the other over and over again for 15-20 minutes. After awhile it becomes automatic, you won't have to think about what comes next and best of all it then becomes "active meditation" when all your cares and worries disappear opening up an empty space for the light of spring to shine in.
Delia Quigley is a holistic health practitioner, author of seven health books and an experienced yoga instructor. She also teaches the exquisite science of preparing whole, organic foods to support and strengthen the mind, body and spirit.