How Yoga Can Help You Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Nov 11, 2014Yoga0 comments

Tonight we had dinner guests who recently moved to town from a warm, sunny clime, and I was reminded about how gloomy it’s about to get here. In Upstate New York the sun disappears for a few months during winter, leaving people vulnerable to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Studies indicate as many as 1 in 6 people get SAD in the winter.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.”

Yoga has long since been used as a way to calm the mind and increase energy and happiness. Studies indicate yoga increases the levels of GABA in your brain, which functions as a neurotransmitter. Low levels of GABA have been linked to depression. Increasing your levels of GABA during winter months can reduce your SADness, or Winter Blues.

You don’t need to do a specific type of yoga to reap the mental rewards. Yoga asanas (poses) and pranayama exercises (breathwork) all help calm the mind, activate the brain’s Default Mode Network, and increase the levels of GABA.

Ujjayi breath is my favourite breathing technique that both energizes me, and cheers me up. Ujjayi breath is done in yoga, Buddhist, and Taoist traditions, and a variation is done in Qi Gong.

When you do Ujjayi breath, you breath into your abdomen, ribs, and chest activating the first, second, third, and fourth chakras. When done properly, Ujjayi breath has a noise that comes from the back of the mouth, as if you’re pulling on the breath when you inhale, and pushing it out when you exhale. This noise comes from the glottis.

How To do Ujjayi Breath

  1. Begin by sitting cross legged with your back tall.
  2. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  3. Exhale completely through your nose.
  4. Imagine your body is a vessel being filled with water, and inhale again; inhaling first into your abdomen, second into your ribs, and third into your chest.
  5. On your exhalation constrict the back of your throat. You’ll hear a rushing noise in the back of your mouth like the ocean waves are rushing in.
  6. On your next inhalation, try to constrict the back of your throat while you’re breathing into your abdomen, ribs, and chest.
  7. Try to concentrate on the feeling of your inhalations and exhalations. Notice if you are constricting your throat or not. If not, don’t get mad at yourself. Just acknowledge on the next breath to try to constrict your throat.

Try to practice Ujjayi Breath for 2-3 minutes, working your way up to 5 minutes over the next couple days. It takes a bit of practice to make sure you breath into your abdomen, ribs, and chest, let alone control your glottis and make the ocean rushing noise. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right away. It’s taken me a long time. The act of concentrating on your breath will help clear your mind while the deep breaths will activate your first, second, third, and fourth chakras, energizing you.

Try Some Uplifting Yoga Flows

Another way to combat SADness with yoga are yoga flows. Yoga flows are a great way to boost your energy. Yoga flows get your blood moving, and focusing on your movements can help take you out of your head. To really boost your energy and happiness levels, I recommend putting on some uplifting music in the background, something that cheers you up. It doesn’t have to be yoga music specifically, just music that makes you feel good. I personally like to put on Michael Franti or Bob Marley.

Here are my favourite energizing, mood-balancing, and happiness-enducing yoga videos.

1. 30 Minute Restorative Yoga and Meditation with Candace

30 Minute Restorative Yoga and Meditation

2. Manifestation Flow with Dashama

Manifestation Yoga with Dashama

3. 45 Minute Vinyasa with Lesley Fightmaster

45 Minute Vinyasa Flow

4. 20 Minute Energy Boost Yoga with Colleen Saidman Yee

20 Minute Energy Boost Yoga

5. Sun Salutation A with Adriene

Sun Salutation A with Adriene

6. Energy Boost Yoga with Tara Carpino

Energy Boost Yoga

7. Creative Cardio Vinyasa with Becca Pati

Creative Cardio with Becca Patti

8. Energizing Morning Yoga with Patrick Beach

Energizing Morning Yoga with Patrick Beach

9. Grounding Afternoon Practice with Dagmar Spremberg

Grounding Afternoon Practice

10. Heart Opening Flow with Esther Ekhart

Heart Opening Flow with Esther Ekhart

Combining energizing pranayama techniques with energizing or grounding asana flows can make a big difference in your mood, and that can be very important in the winter when SADness is at an all time high. Add some breathwork and some yoga flows to your day, and see how you feel. You’ve got nothing but SADness to lose and happiness to gain.

Which of these videos left you feeling energised and happy? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. For an extra energy boost this winter, take Vitamin D in the morning. Vitamin D can help boost serotonin levels.

Edit: This post was edited to reflect the number 2 comes after 1 and not the number 6. Because apparently when I’m tired I can’t count. 🙂

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