Monday, November 9, 2009

Improving your mood with yoga poses

This past weekend was gorgeous here in Ann Arbor -- sunny and in the 60's - a real gift for this time of year!   Many of us along our street were taking advantage of the sun and warmth, getting outside to finish our last bit of raking and yard work, and chatting with each other about jobs, kids, and the neighborhood.   People were happy and vibrant-looking.     

Soon the colder weather will set in though, and for many of us Michiganders it becomes harder to get outside.   I, for one, too easily start to feel sluggish and blue....unless I keep up my yoga practice.

We all know what it feels like to be sad or "blue", or "down".   Our bodies show it with an overall lack of muscle tone.   We slouch, our shoulders roll forward, we look down when we walk or talk, our voice may become lifeless.   Our body droops.   Our facial expression droops.   Our breathing may become shallow and ineffectual.

On the other hand, when we feel happy and confident, our body lifts up.   We keep the head up, the shoulders back, and the chest up and open. 

Our feelings are reflected in our body.     But changing our body posture can also affect our feelings.    

When we practice the yoga poses, we almost always practice keeping the body "lifted" and open -- we lift the chest and look forward or even slightly upward, we practice keeping our shoulders back, we even lift the knee-caps and the arches of the feet.   We open the chest to create more space for the lungs and the heart, and we create more space in the joints.   There is no pose where we allow ourselves to "droop".   How can we feel sad when we're in these uplifting poses?    We can't!

Standing poses can quickly get us out of our sluggish feeling, and bring more energy and more vibrancy back to our body and mind.     They refresh the body and the mind, especially if done somewhat quickly, but still maintaining the mindfulness to extend well through the limbs and spine,  and to keep the chest well open.

Backbends exaggerate the opening of the chest, and can create even more of a sense of buoyancy and joy.    Imagine yourself standing out in a meadow under sunny skies, arms thrown wide, chest lifted, and head back (didn't Julie Andrews do this in "The Sound of Music"?)   That's the feeling that backbends can give us!    Backbends are often given in yoga therapy to ease low-level to moderate depression.

The next time you feel sluggish or down-in-the-dumps, try a few easy yoga poses;  stretch your arms over head, lift and open the chest and look up; maybe do a few sun salutations, maybe a few standing poses like triangle pose, lateral angle pose, or any of the warrior poses.   Maybe lie over a rolled blanket or two and stretch your arms beyond the head.   Or if you know the back-bending poses, do some of those.   Don't worry too much about the alignment (worrying too much about alignment when you're already feeling "down" can be counter-productive, in my opinion...) but do the poses safely for your own body.   I guarantee you'll feel better than when you started!

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