Short days. Long, cold nights. No festive holidays in sight for months. While the temperature fails to rise, so does your smile. Your shoulders feel droopy, your chest is sunken, and your steps are sluggish.
Winter blues are setting in.
There’s less light during the winter, which affects your mood, partly because of how sunlight, vitamin D and the mood-boosting hormone serotonin work together. You're also likely to get sick in the winter, and, let's face it, it's just not fun feeling frigid every time you step outside.
The good news is that you don't have to surrender to this sad state of affairs. Those blues, clinically called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at their most intense, usually look like depression and a lack of energy in the winter. A stimulating yoga sequence can get you out of this funk.
Many studies show that yoga helps with psychological health, including mood and feelings of peace. One reason for this is probably because the practice lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to depression. Yoga also helps your posture, and when you stand taller, you feel empowered. Even better, good posture creates space in your torso, which lets you breathe more deeply.
Yoga practices can be energizing or calming. The point of picking one or the other is to bring yourself into balance. To quash cold-weather blahs, let’s rev things up:
1. Cat-Cow Pose
Come onto your hands and knees, stacking your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. As you inhale, lift your head, broaden your chest and send your tailbone up and back behind you. As you exhale, round your back to bring your chin to your chest and drop your tailbone. Take 5 to 10 rounds.
2. Plank to Downward Dog
Stay on your hands then move your feet back, lifting your knees, until you form a straight line from your shoulders to your heels (like the top of a push-up). If your belly sags, release your knees to the ground, and then firm your belly toward your spine. Inhale. On your exhale lift your hips high, so you look like an inverted “V.” If your lower back rounds bend your knees a little, but keep lifting your hips. Move with your breath, inhaling to the plank and exhaling to the inverted V, also called downward dog. Take 5 to 10 rounds.
3. Crescent Lunge with Variation
From downward dog, step your right foot forward and place it between your hands, close to your right hand. Bend your left knee a little. On an inhale, lift your torso until it comes over your hips. Exhale and lean your torso forward as you straighten your back knee, engaging your core muscles. Inhale, bend the back knee a little and lift your torso back over your hips. Take 5 rounds. Return to downward dog, and repeat with the left foot forward for 5 rounds.
Keep in mind that depression sometimes shows itself as anxiety instead of inertia. So, if you're feeling agitated as the winter months set in, make your exhales twice as long as your inhales during the sequence. Also, wind down with 1 to 5 minutes in a seated forward fold or lying on your back with your legs raised and resting on a wall.
It's also worth noting that a study released early last year concluded that folks aren't likely to feel more depressed in the winter than during other seasons. Still, the National Institutes of Health recognizes SAD and many researchers have studied it.
Either way, the yoga practices here are natural stimulants – and that's nothing to feel down about.
Learn more about journalist Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.