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Depressed or Anxious? Go Outside With Yoga

I've been hearing a lot lately about people who suffer from sadness and a lack of inspiration in the summer! Now, winter, yes, that's common, especially with holidays and lack of light. But to hear about the summer blues, well, I was dumbfounded.

It's true that the summer brings really hot temperatures and humidity to many places, which creates kind of a physical inertia if you aren't in air conditioning all the time. And it's true that summer busyness--especially if you have kids--can feel crazy, when all you want to do is kick off shoes and lie in the grass. And, I've heard from one summer blues sufferer, that when you already are feeling lonely or down, the fact that everyone else is out there having fun, taking holidays, or enjoying summer romance makes your own sadness even worse (kind of like how the holidays affect folks in winter).

Yoga can be a great antidote for mild depression any time of year. But summer warmth means you can practice outside in nature, or with a window open to hear the birds and feel the breeze.

Nature by itself is calming and combining that with yoga is a double dose of soothing! Practice these poses in the park, on the beach, or on a mat on your patio or balcony.  If you feel overwhelmed by summer buzz, lonely, or melancholy, the following poses gently open your heart and quiet your mind.

While you enjoy practicing outside, remember to be aware of uneven ground, sharp objects, and other hazards (dog poop!).

If You Feel Anxious/Overhwelmed ...

Buzzy overhwelm or anxious, nervous energy need a way to disperse. Honor the sun and your outdoor setting with a few sun salutations. If you are exhausted too, don't push yourself through a full salutation, but try dynamic half-salutations: inhaling your arms up and slightly back, then exhaling on the bending forward. Hang for a breath in a forward bend, bending the knees. On another inhalation, roll up to standing. Exhale hands to heart, and begin again. Another option to full salutations is to begin with downward dog, flowing through to upward dog.

Follow your salutations with Warrior II or Side Angle. From there move into mild backbends, such as half cobra, reclining easy pose, or bridge. Take the time to focus on exhalations, which calm the mind. If you can find a tree with fairly flat ground,  wall, or other structure, take a few minutes for legs-up-the-wall pose to bring ease to back and relaxation. Take your Savasana with your eyes open, allowing a soft focus on clouds or leaves overhead.

If You Feel Depressed or Sad ...

 If inertia or summer blues are getting you down, you need to gently build energy and gather it in. Starting with sitting cross-legged, twist gently on each side. Then practice some easy pranayama such as the 3-part breath, which draws breath fully into the belly, lungs, and chest (including the back body). Inhale, first inflating the belly, then the lungs, then the chest area. Exhale slowly in the opposite order, pushing all the breath out of the belly in the end. Be curious about following your breath through your body rather than trying to be perfect.

A series that includes downward dog and sleeping pigeon create movement in the blood and gentle backbending, as well as creating ease in the hips where we hold so much tension.

Half-cobra works to open your heart, followed by child's pose to rest and snuggle into yourself. Depending on your energy you can do more gentle back bends and forward bends, remembering to focus on breath. If you are outside, do take the time to just notice the smells, sounds, and feel of the sun, wind, or grass on your skin.

As you ease into Savasana, focus on your heart chakra. If you can, just visualize it spinning clockwise, as if you were behind the clock. Allow yourself to feel grateful for one thing--your practice, the blooming lilacs, your cat. Rest in your open heart and gratitude.

Know Thyself

We all get overwhelmed and sad at times, no matter the time of year. Yoga allows us more presence in the moment and a greater awareness of our bodies and minds. Although yoga is a tremendous tool, it is not a replacement for medical care. If you are having panic attacks, depression that lasts more than a few days, or debilitating emotional states, seek the help of a professional counselor, healer, or doctor.

 For more resources, check out Dr. McCall's Yoga as Medicine or Patricia Walden's Women's Book of Yoga and Health.


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