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Beat Winter Depression With Yoga

by Kate O'Connor with Swamiji

The winter can be a very depressing time of year for many people. Freezing temperatures and fewer daylight hours can lead to sadness, fatigue and decreased energy levels. Stress and anxiety caused by economic uncertainty will make this year even harder for many people. According to the annual survey conducted by the American Psychological Assoc-iation, 80 percent of Americans are stressed about their personal finances and the economy this year.

Feeling sad is a normal reaction to life’s struggles. Depression is an extended period of sadness that affects not only how we feel, but the way that we think and behave. While depression can arise from hormonal disturbances or imbalances, this winter many people will experience reactive depression. This kind of depression arises from environmental stresses and anxiety in one’s life, such as the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, home foreclosure, bankruptcy, or serious illness.

It is very important to seek the care of a physician or mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. However, there are many studies that suggest meditation is just as good as medication for treating depression, especially depression triggered by environmental stresses.

Paramhans Swami Maheshwara-nanda (Swamiji), internationally renowned yoga guru, spiritual leader and founder of Yoga in Daily Life, recommends incorporating Yoga into your daily routine to balance mind, body and spirit. According to Swamiji, "Yoga emphasizes relaxation through breathing, Asanas and meditation, which makes it an extremely effective method for reducing stress, calming anxiety and developing inner peace, which assists us in coping with everyday demands, problems and worries."

Physical exercise is important to combat the fatigue and low energy associated with depression. Swamiji tells us to bring the body to life with Asanas that have a flowing rhythmic movement, such as Khatu Pranam. These types of exercises aid the functioning of all systems of the body and have a strong calming effect on the mind.

Khatu Pranam

Khatu Pranam is a sequence of Asanas developed by Paramhans Swami Mahesh-warananda and dedicated to Sri Deep Narayan Mahaprabhuji. Khatu Pranam is beneficial to the whole body, balancing the chakras and stretching and toning the muscles.

Sit in Vajrasana (buttocks on heels). The upper body and head are straight and in line. The hands rest on thighs.

1. Raise both arms above the head. Place palms together and look towards hands.

2. Keeping the back straight, turn the palms to the front and bend forward from the hips, until the arms and forehead touch the floor.

3. Bring the body forward until the shoulders are between the hands. The toes are tucked under and the hips are raised from the floor.

4. Lower hips to the floor and raise upper body with the help of hands, but only to the degree that the hips remain in contact with the floor. Look upward and ensure the spine is evenly arched.

5. Keeping legs straight, raise the buttocks. The upper body and arms form a line. The soles of feet should be flat on the floor. The head hangs relaxed between the straight arms.

6. Bring the right foot forward between the hands and place the left knee on the floor. The palms or the fingers touch the floor. Raise the head and look to the front.

7. Raise the arms above the head and bring the palms together. Look towards the hands. Press the hips forward slightly and lift the body up.

8. Return to posture 6.

9. Place the left foot beside the right and straighten the knees. Allow the upper body to hang relaxed.

10. Keeping the upper body and arms in a straight line, lift up from hips. Bring palms together and look towards the hands. Be sure not to over extend the lower back.

11. Bend forward again and allow the upper body to hang, as in position 9.

12. Bring the right foot back and place the right knee on the floor as in position 8.

13. Raise the arms as in position 7.

14. Lower the arms and place the hands beside the foot on the floor as in position 6 or 12.

15. Bring the left foot back beside the right foot and raise the buttocks high, as in position 5.

16. Lower the hips and raise the upper body with the help of hands, as in position 4.

17. Bring the chin and chest to the floor raising the hips slightly, as in Position 3.

18. Bring the upper body back and come into Position 2.

19. Lower the arms and return to the starting position.

Repeat 3-4 times.

Pranayama regulates the nervous system, alleviates stress, quiets thoughts, increases vitality and brings inner balance. It is conscious and deliberate control of the breath. With each breath we absorb not only oxygen, but also Prana. Prana is cosmic energy. It is the power in the Universe that creates, preserves and changes. It is the basic element of life and consciousness.

1. Block the right nostril and breathe through the left nostril 20 times

2. Block the left nostril and breathe through the right 20 times

3. Repeat 3 or 4 times

Swamiji teaches that an important tool in self-investigation and self-knowledge is the technique of "Self-Inquiry Meditation". In this meditation practice we come in contact with our subconscious, the source of our desires, complexes and behavioral patterns and prejudices. The practice guides us to become acquainted with our true nature – as we are and why we are so – and then beyond self-acceptance to Self-Realization. This technique enables us to overcome negative qualities and habits and helps us to better manage life’s problems.

If you are feeling blue this winter, try to keep things in perspective and remember that decisions regarding your health and wellbeing are in your hands. Practice Khatu Pranam, Pranayama and Self-Inquiry Meditation regularly, with firm determination, and you will find inner peace and contentment.

For more information about Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda or Yoga in Daily Life visit www.yoga indailylife.org.

Kate O’Connor lives in New York City. She practices yoga and meditation regularly, and received mantra initiation from Paramhans Swami Maheshwaranda.

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