I am a native Australian. I was born in Sydney and spent the first 22 years of my life there.
Moving to Berlin in the height of winter I experienced for the first time a physical and emotional coldness as well as a darkness I had never known was possible. The coldest it gets in winter in Sydney is around 5 degrees (usually overnight or early hours of the morning). And even in winter it would be light outside until at least 7pm in the evening. Before moving to Berlin I had never seen or touched snow!
Berlin winters can sometimes drop to -20. It can snow and it is pitch black by 4pm. It can be harsh. In fact, it is not uncommon to wake in darkness and to come home in darkness.
Like a bird flying south, the past few winters I have flown to warmer countries or back home to ‘escape the winter’. However, this year we will be staying in Berlin and so I have a plan to get me through and to fight fatigue and winter depression through yoga practice and specifically inversions. (I’ve talked in greater detail about inversions here if you would like to read more).
Research on the use of yoga for depression, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included studies with a total of 3,515 participants. Findings highlighted that just 30 minutes daily meditation can improve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain. Furthermore, when the researchers compared the magnitude of the gains with those taking medications the effectiveness was similar but with no side effect.
A Swedish study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry and which was built on previous research from 47 clinical trials, also discovered that group mindfulness training proved as effective as the established psychological treatment for depression, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
As mindfulness and the meditative state can be a vital part of yoga practice it stands to reason that incorporating yoga into your routine can thus have a therapeutic effectiveness in beating back the blues.
Yoga asana builds confidence and strength in the physical body and helps to calm the mind. By balancing the hormonal endocrine system, strengthening the balance between our para-sympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system, asana practice maximizes our opportunity to allow the body to function at optimum by producing the right hormones to keep us balanced and feeling in control.
I believe the yoga mat is a monitored environment to work under the controlled stresses that we apply in varying degrees to body and mind, an environment where we can develop effective coping mechanisms. When I am feeling unbalanced or depressed yoga has become a useful go-to-tool for moving through it.
During winter time when we have less exposure to Vitamin D (i.e. less hours in sunlight) and have less opportunities to exercise due to extreme coldness and darkness yoga asana takes on even greater importance.
Here are some instant mood and depression boosters:
Yogic breathing clears and maintains healthy internal organs. Pranayama such as Agni Sara connects the mind to the core of the body, actively pumps fresh blood around the body and creates internal Agni (fire) that heats us from the inside out.
- Flowing Asana Practice ( such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga)
This type of practice keeps the joints supple and lubricated, which is great for when coldness causes crunchiness and stiffness. Asana where we sweat detoxes us and flushes our system. This works to boost our immune system which is also essential at this time of year when we are more susceptible to colds and flu.
Going upside down is a great way to chase depression from cell tissue as it offers an instant mood-shifter and energy boost. The key in mastering this is to take baby steps to build your core and upper body strength. This journey itself can be deeply healing and gratifying – seeing something build and build to the point where you exceed your preconceived limits of what you thought or imagined was possible on a physical and mental level.
Entry level / Intermediate Inversion Practice
- Downward Facing Dog – Adho mukha śvānāsana
After some time and when ready to up-level you can move downward dog onto the wall. Press your feet into the wall with legs at a 90 degree angle. Hold here for up to 10 breaths, come down and pause in child’s pose, then move up again for a round of 10 breaths, building up stamina and confidence. Explore transitions with one leg straightened, and then the other.
This asana is ideal for those with tweaky wrists or sensitive people who also cannot do downward facing dog.
Again, after some time when you’re feeling more confident, you can move dolphin on to the wall. Keep legs at 90 degrees to the wall, straightened if possible, bent legs if new to the pose)
Intermediate/ Advanced Inversion Practice
All of the asana listed below can be built up to variations such as straddle, lotus or baddha konasana:
- Headstand – Shirshasana
- Handstand – Vrikshasana
- Forearm Balance – Pincha mayurasana
Do remember that when trying for the first time, only attempt the mentioned asana under the guidance of an advanced teacher, and be sure that you do not have any contraindications to inverting the body or going upside before attempting them.
If you would like any further advice or guidance with anything mentioned in the post also feel free to contact me here.
Australian-born Angela Collins is a yoga teacher based in Berlin. RYS Certified, trained in Vinyasa Flow Yoga, and a graduate of Advanced Teacher Training in Forrest Yoga, Angela is committed to nourishing mind and body both off and on the mat. She has had the privilege of teaching Yoga across the globe in Australia, Thailand, Germany, UK, France and with people of all differing ages, nationalities, and needs. Having trained alongside Mark Stephens, Kathryn Budig, Kino McGregor and Ana. T Forrest, Angela now teaches a number of different Yoga disciplines including Pregnancy Yoga, Yoga for Addicts, Yoga for Athletes, and child Yoga.
Connect with her here on Muuyu.com or on her own website www.endorphinyoga.eu as well as on Twitter.
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