seasonal affective disorderBy Sangeetha Saran 

Can Yoga training really help seasonal affective disorder?  Everyone has heard of the winter blues and most people associate the term with a longing for the sun to return, but for some people the winter blues are much more than that. For those with seasonal affective disorder, their longing for the sun is characterized by real, measurable changes in thinking patterns and dramatic shifts in mood. Individuals who were once warm and vibrant become cold, emotional or emotionless shells of the people they once were, with some impacted so severely that they begin to display suicidal tendencies. Seasonal affective disorder can be a serious issue, but yoga offers some valuable symptom relief for those suffering from this problem.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a fairly new disorder that was first documented in the early 1980’s. It is believed that SAD is triggered by a lack of essential light exposure on a daily basis during the cloudy, rainy months. This theory is further supported by the fact that there are more cases of SAD in cloudier regions of the world. It is likely that SAD has a strong link with vitamin D levels in the human body since the body needs exposure to sunlight in order to synthesize this essential nutrient. Vitamin D is critical to brain function and bone health, among many other things.

Yoga is a low impact exercise that may be done indoors during the doldrums of wintertime easily and effectively. Studies show that exercise has a positive impact on the health and function of the brain, leading to happier and more balanced thinking. Studies conducted specifically on SAD further support this theory with patients essentially countering their lack of sunlight by exercising liberally instead. Yogic exercise boosts blood flow to the brain and triggers the release of endorphins, which are the neurotransmitters associated with feelings of well being and happiness. Yoga essentially acts as an antidepressant for these individuals.

The most important thing for individuals with SAD will be to make the commitment to practice yoga everyday, whether they feel like it or not. The myriad side effects of SAD include fatigue, excessive sleepiness and lack of motivation; none of these are helpful when it comes to creating new habits. The benefits make the extra effort to drum up the motivation worthwhile since yoga alone has the power to ward off the worst of the SAD symptoms.

Practicing yoga will get individuals through the dark, dreary months of winter until the sun comes out again. A positive side effect of treating SAD with yoga is a fitter, trimmer body come summertime. It’s a perfect fit.

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