Seasonal Affective Disorder and Yoga

seasonal-affective-disorder-sadDuring winter months, days are shorter and the weather is colder and darker. Many of us experience the “winter blues” as we spend more time indoors, away from the sun. You may even be one of the many people affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

 SAD is a serious disorder characterized by dramatic mood shifts and measurable changes toward depressive thinking patterns; feeling drained, withdrawn, and depressed. It is often accompanied by excessive sleep, poor food choices and poor eating habits. Some are impacted to the point of suicidal thoughts or tendencies. SAD was first documented as a medical, chemical condition in the 1980s. It is more common in women and those who live far from the equator (where winter daylight hours are notably shorter).

 SAD is thought to be caused by a lack of sunlight that upsets our biological clock. This can effects our sleeping and waking patterns as well as other circadian rhythms. It also can cause the brain to produce less serotonin, which affects our moods and more melatonin, making us tired. It has also been linked with vitamin D deficiency which is also essential for brain function. It is important to practice awareness and pay attention to changes in mood so you can make changes and adjust. Please seek help if needed.

Here are 7 tips to help ease the winter blues: 

  1. Balance and regulate your sleep. Even we may desire to sleep longer, we still need the same amount of sleep. Too much sleep can aggravate the situation by making you more sluggish. If possible try to stick to a consistent sleep/wake schedule. It is always good to give yourself some time to wind down before bed. Keep the bedroom conducive for sleep by keeping it cozy, quiet (turn off the TV), and clutter free.
  2. Wise Food Choices and Eating Habits. During this time we may crave comfort foods that are harmful to the body and aggravate the situation. Stay away from sugary foods and too many carbohydrates. They give a quick energy boost but are followed by tiredness and a desire for more of the same. Stick to vegetables, fruits, and proteins. Find some good nutritious recipes that satisfy your taste buds. Eat foods rich in vitamins and nutrients. Take supplements especially vitamin D. Also, keep portions fairly light, leaving some space (2-3 hours) between meals to keep from grazing all day.
  3. More Light. Open the curtains and allow as much natural light in as possible. Turn on more lights. Try therapeutic light boxes that are made for SAD. I have heard they really can help. Get yourself outside. Bundle up and take a short walk. Just do it! Bring light within with Trataka meditation. It involves gazing at a particular object, especially a candle flame. 
  4. Dancer Pose

    Exercise boosts our energy levels and releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that make us feel happier. Yoga is very helpful for those with SAD or winter blues. It can be done indoors for as little or as long as desired. Consistent daily yoga practice can actually been an affective antidepressant. The many aspects of yoga makes us more physically fit, as well as emotionally aware and healthy. Some particularly helpful yoga postures to battle depression are found here.

  5. Breathing Exercises (Pranayama) When we are depressed or listless we tend to take short shallow breaths. Deep breathing provides much needed oxygen for optimal brain function. Our breath also accounts for a large part of the body’s detoxification process. It does not take long to feel positive effects from some simple breath work. Try the Three-Part-Breath or Alternate Nostril Breathing. In Yoga, we see the breath as carrying prana (our life force.) As you focus on the breath and control the breath, you are making a conscious connection to your life force.
  6. Change Perspective. Knowing the winter months can be difficult, try to prepare by planning ways to deal with it. Try to see this time as a time to go within, journal, meditate and create consistency in your personal yoga practice. When negative thoughts come in, replace them with positive, loving thoughts. Use affirmations and place them where you can see them and possibly share them with others. Extend compassion towards yourself. Also, extend compassion towards others. Many suffer in more ways we can imagine. Spread love and feel it return.
  7. solar plexus chakra quotesTry Meditative Visualization. Visualization is incredibly effective in changing how we feel and see things. Try this: Sit or lay comfortably. Focus on the area just above the navel, and place your hands here. This is the solar plexus chakra, a place of energy and confidence. It is symbolized by the sun and the correlating color is a vibrant yellow. Breath in deeply and imagine the healing energy of the sun energizing this chakra, allowing it to spin naturally and bring balance to the body. See if you can emotionally connect with a sense of energetic healing in this space. See it as a warm yellow ball of healing light that radiates out to all areas of your body and each cell inside of you with every deep, life-giving breath. As you exhale deeply, visualize the toxins and stale energy leaving the body, causing you to be renewed and refreshed. This really does make a difference!

Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity. ~ Carl Jung