Updated: Apr 30
The days have got much colder and shorter here in the UK and without doubt, it now feels like winter!
With the sun not rising long before 8 am and setting at 4 pm, this reduction in daylight hours can start to take its toll resulting in less energy, lack of motivation and feelings of fatigue and sadness.
These symptoms commonly known as ‘winter blues’ are actually a real and well known medical disorder known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Symptoms of SAD can also include body aches, decreased levels of social engagement, trouble maintaining focus, irritability and negative thoughts.
What causes SAD?
Research shows that SAD is caused by lack of sunlight, which decreases our levels of vitamin D as well as lowers our levels of serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters which control our mood and work to keep us feeling positive).
Moreover, the lack of daylight creates a rise in melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness. As winter days become darker, melatonin production increases and, in response, those with SAD feel sleepy and lethargic.
SAD typically begins in Autumn and continues into the winter. It is most likely to affect us during December and January, around the winter solstice, when the days are shortest. Statistically, women are 4 times more likely to suffer from SAD than men.
So how can yoga help if we are suffering from SAD and winter blues?
A research study shows that consistent yoga practise improves depression and can lead to significant increases in serotonin levels. Yoga asanas can directly increase the firing rates of serotonin neurons, resulting in increased production and release of serotonin.
It also states that “yogic practices inhibit the areas responsible for fear, aggressiveness and rage, and stimulate the rewarding pleasure centres in the median forebrain and other areas leading to a state of bliss and pleasure”. This is because meditation and yoga can teach us how to deal with dark feelings that otherwise might overwhelm us.
Strong, standing postures that emphasize the lift of the spine such as the warrior poses, are energising and heat building which circulates fresh oxygen and blood throughout the body and helps to release any negativity we are holding onto.
Backbends, which open the heart and chest area also help improve circulation as well as releasing stress and tension which helps to re-balance brain chemistry reducing symptoms of SAD.
Practising specific pranayama (breathing) techniques teach us how to breathe more deeply, which means our blood receives waves of fresh oxygen which increases energy levels and revitalises our whole system.
Clinical research from the J. F. K. Institute in Denmark found that Yoga Nidra - a guided meditation that induces deep relaxation, increases the level of dopamine in the brain by 65 % on average.
In addition, incorporating mantras and affirmations into our practice can help us to focus on the positive and in turn, reduce negative thoughts we may be having.
Check out my recent blog post on ‘How Yoga Increases Happiness & Positivity’ for more on which yoga postures to incorporate into your practice to reduce symptoms of SAD.
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