This past week I observed many people starting to emotionally crash, myself included! Getting ready for work I received the 10th call of the season came from the superintendent of my kids’ school announcing yet another snow day. I admit I spent several minutes in tears on my closet floor feeling exhausted, frustrated, limited, and certainly not wanting to deal with the change of schedule once again facing me.
Feelings of heaviness, lethargy, dullness, and frustration are part of the natural course of this season according to Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga. Ayurveda is based on the principles of the three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) that make up every individual as well as nature. Late winter into early Spring is called Kapha season. Cold and prevailing wetness defines Kapha season and our tendency toward depression increases during this time. Western psychological research suggests something similar. There are more mental health hospital admissions and higher suicide rates in the Spring.
My tendency has always been to beat myself up when feeling hard emotions like sadness, anger, or anxiety. Perhaps one of the most helpful things I learned in my yoga studies is how certain mood states are connected to seasons of the year, and that there are specific practices that can help. Since learning about seasonal mood shifts I get less worked up by my change in mood and less driven to analyze and “fix” it. I realize it is just par for the course this time of year, and will ease up with time.
Despite the challenges of this time of year on our mood, there are certain lifestyle choices and practices that may help. Here are my 9 recommendations for overcoming the heaviness in mind and body that can occur this time of year.
1) Wake up before the sunrise. Currently our sunrise in the midwest is around 7AM, so aim to get up a bit earlier.
2) Incorporate a more vigorous daily yoga practice. Our tendency in winter is hibernation, so now is the time to lift the energy of the system. Surya namaskar (salutations to the sun), back bends, and spinal twists, with more focused awareness at the heart center, is ideal. Challenge yourself to stay in poses longer than you think and keep you gaze lifted upward.
3) Reconnect to the heart, via heart opening yoga poses as suggested above, meditations that connect you to your heart, and simply asking yourself repeatedly throughout the day, “is this what my heart wants/needs?”
4) Breath techniques are one of the quickest and most efficient ways to shift mood. Bhastrika and Kapalabhati pranayama are especially helpful this time of year at lightening our heaviness.
5) Meditate with an uplifting mantra. A great mantra for Spring is Om Bhavum Namah (I am a field of possibility).
6) Experiment with mudras, or specific yogic hand positions that shift subtle energy. A great mudra for depression is Vajrapradama Mudra, which directs breath and awareness into the heart space and chest, cultivating a sense of openness and trust in ourselves and in life. It is thought to “reawaken us to the joy of living”. To make this mudra, open fingers and interlace them so left little finger is on bottom, and both thumbs are extended upward. Use this mudra while sitting in meditation or at any other time during the day to reawaken the opening of the heart.
7) Find aliveness and seek stimulation. Since Kapha season is inherently cold, heavy, and dense, the key to balancing Kapha is stimulation. Rather than clinging to your old routine, shake it up and engage in new sights, sounds, and experiences. What activities make you feel most alive?
8) Clear your space. There is something invigorating about clearing closets and making literal space in your living space. If you need extra motivation, watch the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Tidying Up” by New York Times Best Seller Marie Kondo, who has a specific method called the KonMari method. After this series aired, Goodwill and thrift stores were inundated with donations. It feels great to clean house!
9) Reach out and CONNECT. The season of winter draws us inward and we often get more socially isolated due to the cold and harsh weather. Engaging more with others and being out in the world rather than cooped up at home can do wonders for our mood. And doing yoga with others can be especially helpful. Research suggests that as yoga students breathe and move together, our bodies and brains synch up, so we begin to feel a part of something larger than ourselves. The connection you to feel to others after yoga is the real deal.