Yoga to fight off Seasonal affective disorder or SAD
When the day shortens, signaling the end of summer, some of us find ourselves waning in contentment–this author included. The “Winter Blues” hits us at varying degrees. The clinical term is SAD or seasonal affective disorder. According to the National Library of Medicine, It is “a recurrent major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern usually beginning in fall and continuing into winter months.” it continues to say that SAD can manifest in varying degrees from mild, moderate, marked, severe, and disabling. It’s not to be taken lightly.
In my case, SAD has affected me more and more the longer I live in Europe. Being Filipina, I lived most of my life in warm weather. I never had to worry about catching a cold from the wind, wearing layers, or selecting the appropriate jacket or coat that corresponds to the lowered temperature. These changes have made me reclusive to attend social functions, I’m tired most days, I have to force myself to practice, or possess positivity in my day-to-day life. As a teacher, I have to make a great effort to power through with my students and give them consistency in their classes. As I analyzed myself, I also observed that Europeans are going through the same thing or worse when winter arrives. This compelled me to help with the issue.
For this article, I took a week to dive deep into my feelings as they happened in different situations in my daily activities as well as my yoga practice. I was able to digress that training in some forms of yoga, asanas, breathing, and mindfulness techniques has helped my students and me push through the emotions we deal with.
Start with your Mind
The mind is the only tool you have in managing your emotions. I know It is easier said than done but as down as you may feel, taking the smallest step can be the greatest one you can do. This is the admission that you have SAD. Sometimes saying it aloud to yourself or a loved one can be such a relief in itself because at that moment you know how to address your problem. From here you can download articles on the subject, or follow a meditation app to slowly train your brain to pause. With my students, I usually open with five minutes of mindful breathing and remind my students to take this part of the class as seriously as the physical ones because we don’t get moments of conscious stillness in our day. As for my practice, I try to focus on the present and the sensations that come with every breath. If I am not feeling up to practicing self-guidance in my meditation session, I use a guided meditation app called Waking Up. Other forms of mental practices may decrease the signs of SAD. Taking up a hobby, Creating art, or anything that allows you to enter into a state of “flow” to unsaturate your mind from negative thoughts. All of these methods can be a step in the right direction.
In yoga, you use the breath as a tool to connect the body and mind. So of course you will need to use your breathing to help us through when you’re down and out. This is where mindful meditation comes into play. Taking the time to be mindful and/or present is essential in lifting your mood. The app I use mostly follows the mindfulness technique but there are many ways to connect the body and mind through breath. The Himalayan Yoga Institute describes the nine types of yogic breath to address different practices or situations. The most helpful ones for SAD are Ujjayi which centers you, Nadi Shodhana which calms you down, yogic active breathing to practice while in movement, and Chandra Bedhana or Lunar breath which is specifically good for depression.
Types of Yoga That Elevate the Mood
In the past, when I had worse bouts of winter depression, I would force myself to move. It would take a week or two for me to take that first step but I managed. I found that particular types of yoga worked for varying reasons. Vinyasa yoga always helped because the concept of movement with breath permits you to enter a state of “meditative motion”. Types of yoga that have more movement than holds may have the same effect such as Ashtanga, Power Yoga, Budokon, or Rocket Yoga. Aerial Yoga helped me focus on the present because my body was off the ground, and yoga sessions with peak poses to practice gave me a goal. You use movement to shift focus from your negative thoughts to something enriching. If you want a calming sensation to still your feelings, Then Yin, Hatha, with Yoga Nidra might be for you. Try different types of classes online or check out a local studio, there will always be a type of yoga for you.
Asanas That Aid in Depression
Now that we have established that movement helps in lifting your mood, Let’s answer the question, What moves should we do? Inversions have proven to elevate emotions as claimed by several occupational therapists, yoga teachers, and the like. Handstands and arm balances are the most effective asanas in perpetuating positive feelings. These asanas promote circulation and promote better sleep. In a study that was mentioned by the Putnam Chiropractic Center on Inversion therapy, “Inverting decreased muscle tension by over 35% within the first 10 sec! When muscle pain is gone, stress reduces. As a result, the person feels lighter and happier, ready to face the challenges in life.”
Other Methods to Fight SAD
In the first study mentioned, A lack of Vitamin D was seen in the participants. The loss of daylight and increase of cloudier weather in the colder months meant less sunlight, a natural source of the necessary nutrient. Vitamin D supplementation was suggested along with light therapy. I found that feeling the heat from a tanning bed mimicked light therapy as well, It feels great on the muscles as well because of the heat. I suggest a 6-minute session is enough so that the skin doesn’t dry too much. The diet also plays an important part in depression. Eating healthier meals with more fruits and vegetables can lift your state of mind. Lastly, talking helps. I don’t think we need a study to tell us that. Try to connect with friends or loved ones about what you’re going through. I know it’s hard. Maybe you don’t want to be a bother, or you just don’t have the energy for a heavy conversation but it does lift a weight off you should you decide to let it out. The first time I came out–more like exploded in tears about my depression was with my partner. It helped more than I could imagine. It also became easier to talk about it with other people in my life. They showed me Apps, took me out for walks, and showed me that they wanted to connect. I have taken a few choice persons up on their offers but I’m not ready to see more than 1 person at a time. I think I’ll get there though.
It’s different for everyone. SAD targets or triggers us from all directions. It could be light, or it might stem from something deeper. Whatever the case may be, do what you feel is right for you. Take that first step however you want. It could be a yoga session, it could be a conversation, it could even be a Vitamin D purchase, the smallest step is a big one. Once you have taken that step, take it a day at a time. You will have harder days and easier ones but the point is to take them as they come. Lastly, ask for help. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing and probably going through the same thing as you. I hope this article has served you well.
Good luck and take care Momoyogis!