The holiday season isn't always a joyous time for everyone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is one such condition that causes feelings of melancholy and sadness during the holidays. Implied by its name, SAD is a disorder that begins and ends around the same time each year, most commonly coinciding with the commencement of fall and the conclusion of winter.
According to Mayo Clinic, SAD may start off mildly and get progressively worse as the months go on. The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of SAD (regardless of whether it begins in the spring or fall) as feeling depressed most of the day, having low energy, having problems sleeping, poor concentration, and sluggishness or agitation as a few of the signs to look out for.
SAD affects more than three million people each year. It's also treatable in a multitude of ways. Specialists, medications, therapies (CBT, chronotherapy, and light therapy), and self-care are all options, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Restorative yoga is a great form of self-care and can be used to combat the symptoms of SAD. Designed to reset the body and allow you to fully relax in every pose, restorative yoga sequences are short, consisting of just five or six poses held for about 5 to 20 minutes each, but you can stay in them for as long as you feel comfortable. Using props, or in this case, pillows are a great way to get the most out of your restorative yoga sessions and can be done in the comfort of your own home.
For help with SAD this holiday season, try the restorative yoga sequence below. Combine that with mindful breathwork, something clinical psychologist and Integrative Yoga therapist Bo Forbes says “makes all the difference in their effect on the nervous system.”
“If you're feeling anxious and restless in your mind and body, as is typical of SAD during the fall and early spring, exhale for twice the count of your inhalation as you practice these poses. If you're feeling lethargic in your mind and body, make your exhalations and inhalations of equal length,” suggests Yoga Journal.
Practice this sequence before bed, when you wake up in the morning, or anytime you need a mental health boost. Focus on your breathing, letting go, and feeling every muscle in your body relax. With every exhale, picture releasing your anxiety or sadness and with every inhale, welcoming in a warm, peaceful light.
1. Child's Pose (Balasana)
Begin by sitting on your heels. Open knees and place them mat distance apart. Try to touch your big toes together. If you can't, that's okay. Put a bolster or stack of pillows between your legs before lying down. Allow your arms to relax as you place them on either side of the pillows.
2. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
Begin in staff pose. Place the stack of pillows in your lap, on top of outstretched legs. With a straight back, lead with your chest as you bend forward onto the pillows. If the stretch is too deep as-is, add more pillows to your thighs, or roll up a blanket and place it under your knees.
3. Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Begin by making a stack of pillows for your upper body. Lie down on these, with the front of your body facing up and your torso and head positioned above your hips. Add more pillows to increase the incline effect. Bend your knees, bring your feet together, and place your feet as close to your pelvis as possible. Open the knees out to the sides. Place rolled up blankets or towels underneath each knee for additional support.
4. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Begin by lying on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet hip distance apart. Place a pillow, or pillows, under your sacrum. Relax your arms and let them rest by your side. With props, this becomes a gentle, relaxing backbend.
5. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Begin by lying on your back. Scoot your rear close to the base of the wall. Raise your legs and place them up the wall, forming a 90-degree angle with your body. Put a pillow under your pelvis and allow your arms to relax. This is a gentle inversion that’s great for yogis of all levels.
6. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Begin by lying on your back. Your legs should be comfortably apart, feet and ankles relaxed. Place a pillow or rolled up blanket under your knees. Place your arms out by your sides, palms up, or wherever your “neutral” lies. This pose is all about total relaxation, so do what feels best. Incorporate more props if you’d like. Place a pillow under your head, rolled up hand towels under your wrists, or a sleep mask or warm compress over your eyes.
If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it's important that you reach out immediately, rather than attempt to treat yourself with yoga at home. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.