In some parts of the world, such as New Zealand, it is winter now, when most of the world is enjoying summer. I am coming across a fair amount of material that talks about winter depression and its debilitating effects on those who suffer it.
I am contributing to the discussion by suggesting that, perhaps, Yoga can help us fight this condition effectively.
Seasonal changes affect your mood. This is a simple fact. What goes on in our brains to create this seasonal change of mood and how it can be treated is a matter of science. Yoga can offer palliative therapy for this little understood, but well-known affliction.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise also known as SAD is a mood disorder that many people suffer during the winter months. According to studies, the onset of winter can seriously alter the behaviour of people suffering Winter Blues. This change in behaviour is characterised by mood swings, a complete lack of energy, excessive sleep and poor food choices and eating habits.
SAD is believed to be related to the lack of light during winter months. There is, however, a scientific theory that suggests the role of the pineal gland in the incidence of SAD. With age, the gland’s capacity to produce the hormone melatonin wanes, making it solely responsible for SAD.
The pineal gland is a pea-sized organ nestled in the center of the brain. It is responsible for the production of melatonin, which in turn is responsible for maintaining the body’s youthfulness. Some of the other attributes of this hormone are its implicit ability to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, its supposed anti-carcinogen properties and even its positive effect on the immune system. Melatonin regulates sleep and is produced in the night, during sleep.
As the body starts to mature and produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone, the pineal gland starts to decline. This naturally results in a decrease in melatonin production. However, In the winter months, the lack of light can prompt the body’s melatonin production to go awry, disrupting the body’s internal clock. This will lead to poor night time sleep, excessive sleepiness during the day and a vicious cycle of poorly regulated melatonin production, therefore.
SAD is frequently treated by administering miniscule amounts of melatonin to those affected. It is thought that this tiny dose of melatonin can prompt the body’s internal clock to start functioning normally once again.
Yoga and SAD
Yoga, an ancient science of living, it has now been medically accepted, just might have the answer. Yoga can and often does double up as a therapeutic modality which can be applied with maximum benefits. And so it could be in the case of SAD as well.
Scientific research suggests that the sustained practiced of Yoga can influence the body’s physiology significantly. Studies have reflected that there is a definite correlation between the practice of yogic techniques and psycho-neuro-physiological processes.
There are numerous techniques in Yoga that can be practiced to keep the pineal gland active longer. And an active pineal gland will have the ability to produce enough melatonin in a regulated fashion.
The Specific Yogic Techniques
Trataka is a technique (one of those lesser known meditation techniques) in Yoga that involves gazing at a particular object, especially a candle flame. In fact, the word trataka means steady and uninterrupted gaze. To this end, if practiced regularly, the technique can stimulate the pineal gland to produce melatonin.
Pranayama or the manipulation of breath can also increase the production of melatonin. Some of the breathing techniques, alternate nostril breathing in particular, send electrical impulses through the brain which in turn can alter physiological process for the better.
Yet another amazing technique in Yoga that uses the body and breath in tandem is Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar. This series of forward and backward bends done in tune with the breath, has the effect of regulating the functioning of the entire endocrine system. Other asana that can be practiced regularly include the fish pose, shoulder stand and spinal twist. Yoga nidra (or deep relaxation) and creative visualization techniques as well can be practiced for a few minutes daily. Yogic breathing and pranayama that use deep breathing techniques can be practiced too.
A few minutes a day spent on re-establishing the body’s innate ability to heal itself is well worth it. Speak to your doctor before you practice any of these methods and be sure to try them out with the help of an experienced Yoga instructor. You will see the real difference between managing mood swings and feeling genuinely happy, no matter what the weather.
This article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your doctor before attempting any of the practices discussed in this article.