Yoga for the Winter Doldrums
Gray winter skies and freezing cold temperatures can leave you feeling sad and lethargic. Winter is typically the time of year during which the dark, heavy energy of Kapha prevails. For some, this time of year results in symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Practicing poses that bring a lightness and openness to the chest and upper body, such as backbends, can help to balance this heaviness and reduce depressive symptoms.
Below is a short, five-pose sequence of simple backbends and gentle inversions you can do when the dark days of winter start to get you down:
Child’s pose is deeply relaxing. It calms the mind, reducing both anxiety and fatigue.
Start by allowing your body relax to relax in Child’s Pose. From all fours, sink your hips back toward your heels and lower your body towards your thighs. For added comfort, place a yoga bolster or two bed pillows under your head and chest. Reach your arms out in front of you and rest here for 5-8 breaths. If you experience knee or hip discomfort, try lying on your back instead and hugging your knees into your chest.
This breath-synchronized pose is beneficial for both body and mind. This simple pose powers up your brain and improves focus, coordination and mental stability. It also brings blood circulation between the vertebrae of the spine, helping to allieviate back pain and stress.
Lift up onto hands and knees into Tabletop pose. As you inhale, let the belly drop towards the floor, lifting your face. Then as you exhale, slowly arch your back, like a Halloween cat, dropping your chin towards your chest. Continue moving with your breath between these two positions 4-5x more.
Sphinx stretches and opens the chest, lungs, and shoulders for deeper breathing. It is invigorating while simultaneously soothing the nervous system and easing fatigue.
Lie face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, hip-width apart. Press the tops of your feet into the mat and spread your toes. Bring your arms up and rest your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms on the floor, parallel to each other.
On an inhalation, press your forearms into the floor and lift your head and chest off the floor. Press your pubic bone into the floor. Strongly engage your legs, rolling your outer thighs slightly toward the floor to help lengthen your low back. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides. Drop your shoulder blades down your back and draw your chest forward. Continue to lengthen your tailbone toward your heels as you stay for 3-5 breaths. Rest with your arms cushioning your forehead for 1-2 breaths.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog is an inversion which encourages better blood flow throughout the body and relieves neck and back tension. Increased blood flow to the brain is particularly beneficial in relieving headaches, mental fogginess, and mild depression.
Press up into tabletop, curling your toes under. On an inhale, press into your hands and feet to lift your hips skyward, coming into an inverted V. Take a few breaths to pedal your feet and open up the backs of the legs. Then stay in the pose, taking 3-5 slow, full breaths. Return to child’s pose for a few breaths to notice any sensations.
Like Sphinx pose, this simple lunge and backbend opens up the front body and helps to boost energy.
Step your right foot forward between your hands. Place a folded blanket under your left knee for added cushioning. Bring your hands to the top of the right thigh. Then inhale both arms overhead. Stay for 2-3 full breaths, allowing your chest to expand in all directions.
Release your hands to the floor and step back into downward dog, staying for 2-3 breaths before repeating on the left.
Finish your practice by resting on your back in Savasana for 1-2 minutes.
To learn more about seasonal affective disorder as well as practices for lifting your spirits when winter gets you down, be sure to read, “6 Strategies for Combating the Winter Blues.” Be well!