Overcoming Those Winter Blues continued
Mind-body techniques such as qi gong, t'ai chi, and yoga may all be effective in helping you beat the winter blues. Qi gong and t'ai chi (a form of qi gong) have been practiced for more than 2,000 years and promote both physical and emotional health through a series of slow, fluid gestures that are paired with visualizations, breathing patterns, and subtle shifts of weight.
Qi gong author and qi gong video instructor John Du Cane says that qi gong can help you relax by bringing more oxygen into your body through deep breathing techniques. "When you're indoors in the winter, you're taking in less good air, and you end up feeling sluggish," says Du Cane.
Proponents of qi gong say that the practice can help you increase peace of mind, improve mental clarity, and increase energy and vitality, in addition to boosting metabolism, lowering blood pressure, flushing the lymph system, improving balance and fluidity of movement, and oxygenating tissues.
T'ai chi also offers physical benefits as well as mental relaxation, says t'ai chi and qi gong instructor Phil Bonifonte, author of T'ai Chi for Seniors: How to Gain Flexibility, Strength, and Inner Peace. "The practice of T'ai Chi can lift you above the depressing winter-time blues by showing you how to relax and enjoy the season," says Bonifonte. Movements (known as forms) with names such as "Wave Hands Like Clouds," and "Scoop the Sea and Look to the Sky," will help you learn to move more efficiently, while also teaching you how to concentrate on the moment instead of on the past or the future.
Yoga, which literally means union in Sanskrit, is also a restorative practice that can help invigorate as well as relax you, says Thomas Claire, MA, MBA, assistant professor in the healing arts program of Queensborough Community College, City University of New York, and author of Yoga for Men: Postures for Healthy, Stress-Free Living.
"Some people experience the winter blues because the cold and the dark make them feel less like getting physical exercise," says Claire. "Doing the physical practices of yoga can be a great way to get physical exercise at a time when you might feel more like becoming a couch potato.
"It's also important to remember that yoga is about an entire way of living, not just the physical exercises," Claire explains. Yogic principles of diet, for example, which often favor simple, vegetarian meals, can help you overcome the lethargy and fatigue that often accompany overeating; especially of the "heavy" foods we tend to eat during the winter months.
Also known as guided imagery or visualization, auto-hypnosis gives you the opportunity to "escape," says stress-reduction specialist Debbie Mandel, MA, a lecturer at Southampton College in Long Island, N.Y., and author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul.
Begin breathing to your natural rhythm. Then close your eyes and visit a "happy place." "Give yourself a loving affirmation,'" says Mandel. "Say to yourself, for example, 'I am completely relaxed sitting on this beach.' In three minutes you will feel like you have been away on vacation," says Mandel.
Mandel has a few other suggestions to help lift your mood:
- Bring a new plant into the house to create a spring-like atmosphere.
- Look at the color orange, the color of cheerfulness. No need to repaint the house; just place an orange on your desk.
- Crank up the music. Play whatever makes you feel happy and brings back memories of good times.
- Stay connected to other people. We tend to be more isolated in the winter. If you can't get out, rely on phone or email.