This winter has seemed pretty mild to me. Little less snow, not as cold. I thought I was cruising through pretty unscathed until it hit. The winter doldrums.
During the winter, I try to allow myself to relax more, do some reflection, meditate more, and generally be quieter or stiller. It seems to match what is going on outside anyway. Over the last week, I started to question if my stillness was turning to stagnation and then something happened on Sunday that reminded me of the power of movement during times of stagnation. On Sunday evening, I had plans to meet a friend at a yoga class. Had been looking forward to it all week, but when the time came to leave for class I was feeling anxious, bummed out and generally did not want to leave the house. For anything! Off I went to yoga class, wondering if I should have just stayed home. Within the 90 minute yoga class, my mood flipped from anxious and bummed out to grounded, calm and clear. It was truly a transformation. Over the next couple days, I kept thinking about how stark the difference in my mood and physical state were before and after the class. Since I practice bodywork, I also started to think about how yoga and bodywork are really similar in their ability to dramatically transform our physical and emotional states.
Both yoga and bodywork create physical movement. During a yoga practice, you are placing your body in different poses to open up different areas of the body and using breath to direct energy throughout the body. A well sequenced class can focus on a specific area of the body or intention like easing anxiety or stress and leaves the whole body feeling balanced as a whole. During a bodywork session the therapist is moving your body with manual techniques to free up areas of tension and pain, release stuck energy and stretch joints. Bodywork increases circulation and lymph and can aid in the detoxification process.
Yoga and bodywork have both been clinically researched to prove their efficacy in working with depression and anxiety. Massage has been proven to decrease cortisol levels on average 31% and increase serotonin on average 28% and dopamine on average 31% (1). Yoga has also been proven to decrease cortisol levels (2). Cortisol levels tend to be high during times of stress. Increased serotonin and dopamine make you feel better.
Yoga and bodywork both can be used as self care tools to reconnect to the body and breath. One of the things that I appreciate about doing yoga or getting bodywork is that focuses my awareness on what is going on in each part of my body. Is there pain, feelings of stuckness, restriction in my breath? The expertise of the therapist or yoga instructor facilitates this tour of the body and holds a nurturing space for healing. Both yoga and bodywork remind us of the container that is our body and the boundary of the physical body. A super bonus for those of us that tend to walk around in our heads for most of the day.
All of this is to say that if you are starting to feel the winter doldrums it may be time to shake things up a bit with a bodywork session or a yoga class or some other activity that can create a shift. I also like to go for walks or use aromatherapy when movement or a mood shift is needed. Movement breaks up stillness and it's always helpful to have a healthy balance of both.
1. Hou, W.H., Chiang, P.T., Hsu, T.Y., Chiu, S.Y., Yen, Y.C. (2010). Treatment effects of massage therapy in depressed people: a meta-analysis. J Clin Psychiatry. 71(7):894-901.
2. J. Thirthalli, G. H. Naveen, M. G. Rao, S. Varambally, R. Christopher,1 and B. N. Gangadhar. (2013). Cortisol and antidepressant effects of yoga. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 55(Suppl2): S405-S408.
Amy Daws is a trained Therapeutic Massage, Shiatsu, and Chi Nei Tsang therapist. She is interested in the way that these modalities can bring healing and joy to people's lives.