As a yoga teacher and naturalist, one of the most important questions I ask my students every winter is, “How often are you spending time outside?”
For those of us who enjoy hibernation, long winter hours of darkness aren’t so bad. Our nervous systems have an opportunity to rest and tired minds to recharge. But, for some, the dark can be hard to endure.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a term used to describe a feeling of depression that recurs regularly every fall and winter, though it can have other seasonal presentations. Symptoms can include extended fatigue, irritability, sadness and craving for sugars and starches that sometimes lead to weight gain. SAD affects about 10 million Americans, with notably higher incidents the further away from the equator one travels.
A relative of SAD, generally termed the “Winter Blues,” can have similar, though often less intense symptoms. The two conditions are often treated similarly.
The main cause of both conditions is widely stated to be lack of sunlight, possibly complicated by a Vitamin D deficiency and the presence of stress. Three of the most common treatments for both conditions are exposure to light, exercise and stress management techniques including yoga and meditation.
Venture Outside strives to create access to all of these through our Winter Wellness Retreats (http://venture-outside.com/portfolio/winter-wellness-retreat-in-western-maine/). We spend ample time outside, moving our bodies by cross-country skiing and hiking in the snow, enlivening our senses through listening, animal tracking, and practicing nature meditations. Each day begins with yoga practices to settle us into our own sense of present time and connect our inner instincts with the big pictures of our lives. We’ll help you to develop practices that you can take home with you and apply daily to maintain that connection to nature and self.
It’s important to remember that these benefits aren’t exclusively available to you on a retreat or through a specially designed program. You can begin right now with a few minutes of walking. As you go, see what it feels like to adjust your breathing so the inhales and exhales are of equal length. Play with your stride length or pace. Try a walking meditation by feeling how lightly you can place each step upon the ground. Clasp your hands together behind you and bend forward, drawing your arms toward the back of your head, releasing winter tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back in a pose called standing yoga mudra.
May your winter be pristine and inspiring!