Beat the Winter Blues
by Justine Glenton
An Ashtanga & Zen Yoga Teacher
With the focus of the Festive Season behind us we have entered 2012 full of positive hopes, enthusiasm and good intentions.
And yet sometimes, within a few days, we can find ourselves in what is known as: The Winter Blues or: The crying, eating, sleeping season.
The waning daylight and cold gloomy weather is of little help and depression and anxiety may remove our interest and pleasure from things. From a yogic perspective there is a connection between posture and mood, you can alter your mood using postures, breathing, mudras, diet, chanting, and meditation. Here are a few things that may help you.
Backbends and twists are great for combating lethargy, because they affect the spine and activate the nervous system, releasing energy. Supported backbends are a wonderful option if you're feeling depleted; it can be as simple as lying down with a bolster supporting your middle back, and placing a rolled blanket under the shoulders. An open chest from Camel pose for example, lifts the heart and lungs and allows us to breathe more easily. An inversion, such as a headstand or shoulderstand will change our perspective. But I've found that simply 'moving' the body will make the energy start to flow. A challenging practice encourages our body and mind to go beyond it's previous limits, allowing us to discover strengths that the individual may not have known existed. If you haven't yet developed a home yoga practice, get yourself to class! (If you find classes too expensive, find out if your local studio has a free community class, or buy yourself a yoga dvd, download a class from the Internet or pick from a plethora of classes on youtube. If none of these options appeal then gather a group of friends together and hire in your own yoga teacher at minimal cost per person into your own space and have a great regular socialising event too) Or simply go outside and take a brisk walk around the block. Just make sure you do it when the sun is out, so you can soak up its energising rays.
The breath is considered the life force in yoga. It follows that if you breathe deeply, you'll bring more life force into the body and you feel less lethargic. When feeling depleted, do a positive breathing exercise, Kapalabhati - or combat anxiety with calming breathing - Nadi sodhana. Most pranayamas will be taught in your class. A type of breathing that requires no special training is smooth, even, diaphragmatic breathing through the nose. You may do this breathing anywhere, at any time. Initially, try it on your back, while in savasana, placing your hands on the belly and chest and noticing the movement of the breath. Make sure the inhale is as long as the exhale and that the belly is moving. Adding ujjayi , or victorious, breath by making a gentle snoring or hissing sound in the back of the throat draws the mind's attention to the breath and automatically has a calming effect. As the Chandogya Upanishad says, "He who has control of his breath also has control over his mind."
The ancient yogis discovered that sound vibrations have a profound effect on the mind, and there is a mantra for every situation. The simplest mantra of course is "OM ," or "Aum." The first part, "AH," is pronounced with an open mouth, as in "father." The second sound is "U," as in "who," with an O-shaped mouth. The third part is "M," which is pronounced with the lips together. After chanting Aum, sit still for a moment and feel the vibration. Then start again. You may do this for several minutes. OM or Aum is considered an anahata nada , or an "unstruck sound." The Katha Upanishad states that Om is "the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma." Whether you believe this or not, the sound creates a gentle, soothing vibration that stimulates the pituitary gland and restores a sense of well-being.
If you are not inclined to chant, simply opening the mouth and singing along to your favourite songs enlivens, brings joy and has a positive effect.
If you come from a spiritual tradition, open one of your holy books to any page, read a few paragraphs and reflect on it. If you don't have a spiritual tradition, open any book that inspires and uplifts you, such as poetry or philosophy or a favourite work of fiction. If you don't like to read, try looking at an inspiring piece of art, or listen to a favourite piece of music.
Relaxation the greatest antidote to impurities. When you feel too tired to get up and move, try taking a long savasana. Light a candle or incense. Turn down the lights, or cover your eyes. Lie on your back with the palms up near the hips, and the feet flopping out to the sides. Systematically, release every muscle in the body, starting with the feet and moving up to the crown of the head. (If you find this difficult, I recommend listening to Chandra Om's excellent Yoga Nidra CD.) Remain in savasana for at least 12 minutes, the minimum to induce a state of deep relaxation. Sometimes, taking time for relaxation can heal the body and mind like nothing else in the world. And if you fall asleep, well, it's probably because you're not getting enough sleep!
Finally, fresh flowers in your home. Burn scents to ignite dormant energy: peppermint, eucalyptus, cinnamon and ginger. Vibrant colours to stimulate the senses: deep blue, green, orange, yellow, red, and white. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain more life force: Prana. Incorporate spices into your diet: ginger,cumin and cinnamon.
And a Very Happy 2012 it shall be!