Use Yoga to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder


Have you ever felt fatigued and moodier than usual once fall hits?


Most people who have spent a season or two in the northern part of the U.S. know about SAD – seasonal affective disorder. SAD is a type of depression disorder that is connected to the seasons, but you don’t have to live in the north to experience it. When the low light levels of fall and winter bring shorter days and more clouds, it has a tangible effect on people’s mental well-being.


Most individuals who suffer from this condition – about 5 percent of the population – feel a mood shift with season change. Lethargy and sadness continue and often worsen until it is a full depression. It usually strikes people between the ages of 20 and 30. For every five people who suffer from this disorder, four are women.


There are a few ways to combat SAD – taking extra vitamin D, phototherapy and exercising are a few. One of the best methods for exercising to combat SAD is yoga.


Treating Symptoms as a Method for Recovery


The symptoms of SAD are more than feeling blue because it’s cold out and the sky is cloudy. The lack of sunlight may affect melatonin levels in the brain. These fluctuating levels, along with the lack of exposure to sunlight, can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms. The best treatment is sometimes the most impossible to get – healthy doses of sunshine from time outdoors.


Yoga is a kind of sideways treatment of SAD. When natural light is unavailable, sufferers must treat their depression symptoms. On the top of the list of ways to combat depression is exercise. It increases blood flow to the brain and helps get circadian rhythms back on track. One of the most effective forms of exercise is yoga. No matter your skill level or athletic ability, anyone can do it.


How Yoga Blasts Symptoms of SAD


It’s impossible to delineate all the ways yoga improves the mind and body. Because yoga is a form of exercise that engages the entire body, all the body’s muscles become active during practice. This means less risk of injury to a specific, overworked area. It can be as active or passive as a participant wants – from power yoga to yin yoga. There is a method for every body type.


Another reason yoga can conquer SAD is that, unlike other forms of exercise, there is a large mental component. Through yoga, those who are suffering from SAD can move their body and practice mindfulness in a way that heals the depression and anxiety. Yoga is often a component of mindfulness, but mindfulness alone has been proven to combat depression and stress.


Yoga Poses to Counter SAD


Though any flow is a step in the right direction, there are some specific poses that can help combat the symptoms of SAD. If you are feeling blue this winter, try these yoga poses for a healthier mind:


  • Standing Forward Fold: Inversions in yoga are common. Whether they are as challenging as a headstand or as simple as a forward fold, the goal is to get your head below your heart. Forward folds are a natural way to soothe the nervous system. When your head is below your heart, it organically calms the mind, reducing anxiety and depression. When you stand, you engage your core, making it a strengthening pose, too.


  • Bridge Pose: Great for beginners and long-time practitioners. The bridge pose strengthens the spine, opens the heart and improves concentration. For new yogis, it can be held halfway up with less holding time. The longer the holds, the more time the mind can refocus its energies. Maintaining bridge pose for extended periods of time is a great challenge that will help the body grow strong and keep the mind healthier.


  • Camel Pose: Backbends can be tough for some people, but camel pose works regardless of flexibility. If you are a beginner, blocks at the back of your heels may be a good start. Camel pose and other backbends open the muscles near your heart, allowing space to enter an area most of us scrunch under the weight of cold, compressing the lungs. Proper breathing that is practiced in yoga decreases depression.


  • Legs up the Wall: Legs up the wall is an asana that should be performed after the more demanding aspects of a practice. When you scoot your butt to a wall and use it to hold up your legs, you are reversing the blood flow, which is extremely beneficial. In addition to combating depression, some have found this pose helps with insomnia, backaches, and headaches.


A Well-Balanced Practice Means a Healthy Mind


These poses work to transform the traditional path blood, oxygen and other life-giving components flow through your body, making them great at battling SAD symptoms. Yoga teaches a physical and mental practice. It also teaches those who practice how to take what they’ve learned on the mat and use it in daily life.


Sometimes, what people learn is how to transform their thinking – it can’t cure depression, but it can make someone’s outlook more positive so that depression has a harder time taking hold. Other times, what people learn is physical – the challenges they face when holding a pose or practicing an advanced one is something they can use to battle stressors in their life, one breath at a time.


Physical and Psychological Response Offers Hope


It’s important to remember that like other forms of depression, SAD isn’t something you can snap out of – it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. Treating depression is like treating a wound. It takes time and care. Be patient with your loved one who may suffer the effects from changing seasons, and if you are suffering from SAD, be patient with yourself. Fight the urge to curl up in a ball until the sun shines again.


Keep your vitamin D levels up by taking supplements, go for a walk in the sun when it’s out and practice yoga daily. It helps ensure both the body and mind stay healthy, no matter what season it is.


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Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, writer, and blogger at Mindfulness Mama. She enjoys drinking tea, dark chocolate, and rainy day snuggles with her daughter. She enjoys sunny days, too, but finds they are less conducive for snuggles. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.

2 thoughts on “Use Yoga to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

  1. My ex-boyfriend is from the mid-west, and he experienced SAD pretty regularly. Living in Northern California I had no idea what SAD was, but now I’m very well-versed in this depression disorder. I didn’t realize 4 out of 5 sufferers are women, that’s very disappointing but not surprising. I used to do yoga 2-3 times a week, it was impossible to feel bad after class. I can totally see how Yoga blasts the symptoms of SAD right now of the water.

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