I never thought I’d fall victim to the winter blues. But by the time February and March roll around in New England where I live, my excitement for the season has descended into malaise and dread over the many days of winter still ahead.
My physical and emotional feelings reflect the world around me. As we approach the winter solstice, our environment turns inward and we have this urge to hibernate and slow down. This instinct nourishes our inner reservoirs of energy during the colder months and staves off depletion and burn out.
But the months of limited daylight can contribute to feeling heavy, stagnant and uninspired. And, if we withdraw to an extreme, then isolation, depression, oversleeping, and lack of motivation can manifest as those winter blues.
Luckily yoga can help lighten our lives!
The best way to combat the dark mood surrounding you is to get up and move about! Yes, literally move your body. Physical exercise increases levels of serotonin (regulates mood) and boosts endorphins (relieve pain and augment pleasure). But the less active you are the more toxins build up: physically, mentally, and emotionally. So, don’t get stuck in that rut! Instead, get off that cozy couch and onto your yoga mat.
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) enliven us by moving us through what feels like physical or emotional sludge, resulting in a major energetic shift. These poses incorporate a full mind-breath-body experience that you can squeeze into only a few minutes if that’s all you have.
They’re also excellent precursors to the rest of your yoga routine. Sun Salutes are great to kickstart the morning or for an energetic boost later in the day. You can call on them any time you’re feeling dull or uninspired and need to move those melancholy energies out of your way.
How Sun Salutations work
Here are the four main reasons Sun Salutations give you a physical and emotional pick-me-up:
1. Reduce cold, stiffness and toxins.
Can’t warm up no matter how many layers you put on? Because this practice gets you up and moving, it generates heat and energy from within. As the movements stimulate circulation and get your blood pumping, your joints will be happily lubricated and less prone to stiffness. Soon enough you’ll create enough internal heat to break a sweat and start peeling off layers. Sweating is a great way to detoxify from any excess toxins that are congested within you.
2. Invigorate your breathing.
It’s so simple it’s almost silly! The more you move, the deeper you’ll breathe. Deeper breathing means more fresh oxygen enters your bloodstream. With oxygen and nutrients coursing to your cells and organs (particularly the brain and heart), the more motivated and exhilarated you’ll feel. Inhale! Invite fresh life into your system. Exhale! Release stagnation and fatigue.
3. Strengthen mental focus.
By directing your attention on the breath’s presence in each posture, the mind has less opportunity to wander, dwell, or be lazy. You are replacing lethargy of the mind and body with alertness, stamina, strength and rhythm. A previously lackadaisical or racing mind becomes focused and quiet.
4. Stimulate all your major systems and organs.
That’s right! Sun Salutations target your entire body. So this means the circulatory, digestive, respiratory, endocrine, exocrine, lymphatic, renal, nervous, reproductive, muscular and skeletal systems are all getting a massage, a stretch, a tonifying boost toward efficiency and health. No wonder they make us feel so much better!
9 basic poses to choose from
By taking an even closer look at the postures of saluting the sun, we can understand more clearly why this practice elevates our state of being.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana) requires involvement of the whole body and mind. To stand tall and well means the belly is engaged, the chest is open, both feet and legs are rooted, and all planes of the body are balanced. When we stand up straight we display a confident, open and bright version of ourselves.
Raised Hands Pose(Urdhva Hastasana) awakens the whole body-mind connection, just like Mountain Pose. Raising the arms, hands, and eyes up to the sun also lifts your energy and buoys the spirit.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) pacifies a nervous mind or belly and flushes out heaviness in the digestive system and brain.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) develops strength in the arms, legs and core, replacing sluggishness with power, warmth and vitality.
Cobra (Bhujangasana) gently cleanses the digestive system, moving the “sludge” that’s been accumulating inside you all season right out of your way. Similar to Upward Facing Dog, Cobra will open the lungs and heart, thereby circulating oxygen and energy and mitigating a languished spirit.
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) increases your lungs’ capacity, allowing for full deep breaths. This back bend not only raises energy but also opens the heart space and can help combat heaviness, collapse or depression in this area of the body.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) energizes the entire body while calming the mind. It can relieve depression, fatigue and stagnation while increasing circulation to the heart, lungs, and brain. As a mild inversion, Down Dog gets you upside down and moves things around when you feel stuck!
As you become more comfortable and energized in your Sun Salutes you may choose to add on these great poses:
Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana) makes you feel powerful and revived, grounded and stable. It can help you become a warrior who doesn’t let the winter blues stand in your way!
Chair Pose (Utkatasana) tones the core and back, strengthens the legs and feet, relieves stiffness in the arms and shoulders, and lifts and massages the heart. Want to feel strong? Want to build a little heat? Chair pose has you covered.
Sun Salutations steadily build heat and energy. They can also exemplify an intention that is invigorating, stimulating and energizing. Your approach may vary depending on the day and what your body’s calling for.
Remember that winter is a time when the Earth is reminding us to embrace the art of turning inward to replenish ourselves for more active times of year. It’s certainly okay to hibernate in a healthy way. But if we do find ourselves mired in the doldrums during the depths of winter, Sun Salutations will surely help lift us out of the blues.
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