Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Yoga Your Way Thru Winter Blahs

We sometimes call it cabin fever - this time of year when there are no holiday activities and general busy-ness to keep our minds occupied.  We get tired.  We get moody.  We get SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is just the lack of energy, motivation, and happiness that comes with this time of year.  It might be difficult to get out of bed, to cope with challenges, and/or to keep up with an active social life.  You feel more like staying home with a movie and some kind of carb-laden snack! Women are particularly vulnerable to SAD due to hormonal fluctuations that come with menstruation.  It is often treated, not very successfully, with a good dose of vitamin D and some light therapy.  But what about yoga?

No studies on yoga and SAD are out there, but there are studies on yoga and depression and anxiety.  Yoga has shown that it helps to modulate the stress response in the body.  For some a stress response will look more like anxiety.  For others, it looks like depression.  In the case of depression, there is an over-reaction in the stress response that shuts us down or turns us off as far as motivation, energy and emotion.  The response is to turn everything off in order to avoid feeling the stress.  Not all of us do this.  Some of us move in the direction of panic, fear or even rage in response.  Yoga helps either way.  In another study, yoga helped, after just 3 months of practice, to improve depression scores by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being by 65%.

The breathwork practiced in class is repeatedly shown to have benefits - mindful breathing, breathing with control, and other methods teach us to control the stress responses in the body.  Yoga has shown to have great effect on those diagnosed with PTSD.  Symptoms range from depression, anxiety, sleep issues, hyper-vigilance, outbursts of rage and fear, etc.  All have shown improvements with yoga.

I would highly recommend doing some research into the yoga classes in your community before jumping into a practice.  Yoga varies greatly by teacher and studio.  There are very athletic and difficult classes, to very therapeutic and gentle classes.  If you are looking to improve your SAD symptoms or general cabin fever, look for a class that has breathwork, meditative techniques, active asanas that flow and move at your fitness level, and a relaxation period at the end of the class.  Search for someone who offers yoga therapy that can help you create a home practice perfect and unique for you!

How will you practice yoga and get yourself through the rest of this winter?

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