This is the part of the winter season when my patience for cold, wind, rain and slushy snow (mostly what we get here in NYC) is totally spent. Right about now I’m longing for the warmth and sunshine that won’t be here for another few months or so…that is, well, depressing.
And it makes me feel blah.
Unless you are one of those rare creatures that loves the cold or you are reading this from below the Mason-Dixon line you know how it is, crunching into yourself to stay warm as you sprint from door to door, head down, eyes watering, cursing under your breath and wondering when that global warming thing we keep hearing about is really going to kick in…
We can’t escape it, the weather has an effect on our body, mind and thus our mood. In the winter that effect is mostly a downer on our energy, health and productivity (the medical/psychotherapeutic world calls it Seasonal Affective Disorder). Are you also suffering?
If so, the good news is that the mind/body practice—which I promote relentlessly throughout the year—contains plenty of ammo to combat the winter blahs. Here’s what I recommend:
Move, move, move the body. Resist the urge to hibernate. In yoga we talk about winter as the time we are dominated by heavy, dark and damp qualities. The remedy is a heart-pumping, sweat creating yoga practice, like ashtanga or vinyasa flow. I’m partial to yoga of course but other practices work just as well, like martial arts or African dancing. A great thing about yoga, though, is that you can get up and move through some mood boosting poses right near your desk (hint: stay tuned to Urban Practice for future video teachings on “urban office yoga”).
If you don’t know where to start and the desire to stay inside is overpowering you (like it does me so often in the winter), try taking a vigorous yoga class online at Yogis Anonymous.
Expand the chest. Stretching open the chest area is the most recommended posture for alleviating depression and other down moods. Makes sense doesn’t it? Think about how caved in your chest is throughout the winter months as you bundle into yourself trying to stay warm. Practicing chest expansion counters the experience of closed-ness in the body, and this has a countering effect on the mind as well leading to an uplifted mood.
Great chest expanding yoga poses include cobra, warrior I, upward facing dog and camel (if you aren’t familiar with these, email me and I can send you further instructions).
You can also try my new favorite chest expanding pose (which does not come from traditional yoga): the exercise ball backbend (see picture below). With your feet planted firmly on the floor, sit down on the edge of the ball and slowly lay back until your head dangles off the other side of the ball. Depending on your size, you may have to use your feet to slide your tailbone up or down the ball until you find a comfortable spot where you can relax . This stretch is divine and it is helping me cope with this winter!
Meditate on the blah. Instead of trying to be happy and energetic when you’re not feeling it, just notice what the winter blahs feel like. This is what we call “meditation in action.” After all, one of the goals of seated meditation practice is to cultivate the ability to experience all parts of your life more completely. That includes the uncomfortable parts as well as the pleasant ones.
So when the cold is overwhelming, try focusing on the feeling of the cold on your body. What is the quality of the feeling? Is it uniform all over? How deep does it go?
Likewise, when sadness, depression or tiredness arise, focus on how it feels in the body. Try to stay with it for just a few moments. It is in those moments—when the thinking mind takes a break—that a contented stillness appears. Of course it will be shattered by the next blast of cold wind, but alas, the core of the meditation practice is to return to our focus over and over again. So keep trying.
Take the sunshine pill. Also known as Vitamin D. We don’t get enough sunshine in the winter, as the days are short and we so often are bundled up inside or under lots of layers of clothing, so our Vitamin D store is depleted. Vitamin D is necessary to our bone and muscle strength, and when our bone and muscles feel weak our mood is affected. The mind and body are intricately connected, so help your body out by taking daily Vitamin D pills and your mind will thank you for it.
Have some fun. It might seem like you should spend all winter working overtime because it is too cold to do anything else (or because your productivity is lower due to the nastier symptoms of the blahs), but the cold fact is that you need a balance of work and pleasure in your life to maintain happiness at all times of year.
In my opinion the best way to have fun during the winter is to take a vacation to a warm sunny beach (if you haven’t already read my post on the way vacation improves your life click here).
But if that is not available to you this winter, then try my second favorite way: steam it up in a cozy hot sauna. The sauna heat will release tension from your muscles (like those shoulders that are often hunched up fighting back the cold) and banish all wintry feelings from your mind and body. It literally warms your soul.
Now I want to learn from you, what do you do to banish the winter blahs? Tell me about it in the Comment section below (I can use all the help I can get, really).
As always, if you are interested in learning more about breathing techniques, mindful movement/asana or meditation, email me at zara@yoginizara(dot)com.
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