Bring the Sunshine Back Into Your Life

by Deborah Metzger

The Courier News and Home News Tribune, February 10, 2010

Seasons change, and many of us change with them. During fall and winter, many people experience a lack of energy, mood swings, a change in eating or social habits, and the desire to sleep excessively.

Feeling “blue” or even more seriously depressed, can happen for many reasons during the winter: shorter days and a decrease in sunlight, the confinement of colder weather, unrealistic expectations during the holidays, unpleasant holiday memories or even post-holiday letdown.

These factors can contribute to feeling mentally and physically drained, leading to the “winter blues” or “seasonal depression” and lost connections to our own needs, feelings and emotions.

Yoga offers some fabulous tools that can help you reconnect, including breathing exercises, postures and meditation.

There’s a great breathing exercise I like to share with my students who are experiencing feelings of depression or simple lethargy. It’s called “Breath of Joy.”

This simple, energizing breathing practice encourages deep inhalations and exhalations, which are detoxifying and energizing. And as you do this exercise, you force yourself to focus on coordinating your breathing with the movement of your body, which doesn’t allow for distracting thoughts. Here’s what you do:

Start with your feet hip-width apart with a gentle bend in your knees.

Each inhalation is done through the nose and in three parts: Inhale, gently swing your arms up in front of you. Inhale, swing your arms open to your sides (think T-formation). Inhale, swing your arms overhead.

As you exhale, swing your arms toward the ground letting your torso fold forward as you let out a “ha” sound. You don’t have to be quiet, and it’s OK to laugh as you do this — it is the Breath of Joy, after all.

Simply put, the arm movements are front, side, up, down as the breath movement is in, in, in, out.

According to Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga, breathing exercise can sweep away cobwebs of lethargy and bring more energy into your life.

Princeton Center for Yoga & Health offers a number of yoga classes, workshops and programs for people experiencing stress and depression in their lives, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression.

Yoga is not a tool that will cure depression for everyone, but rather a tool to help relieve symptoms of depression and help you learn about your body and mind. If you feel depressed or express any symptoms of depression, please seek medical attention from a trained professional.

But I encourage you to take back your winter. Don’t hibernate. You are the one with the power to bring the “sunshine” back into your life.

Deborah Metzger is the founder and director of Princeton Center for Yoga & Health