As the days darken and the barometer drops, it can be hard to keep your mood upbeat. So we turned to YuMee Chung, a certified Jivamukti Yoga teacher and founder of Passport to Prana, for her tips on using yoga to stay positive and healthy through even the darkest days of winter.
Yoga is a mood booster
SheKnows.com: What are some of the health benefits of yoga?
YuMee Chung: You may have heard that yoga is a fabulous way to lengthen and strengthen muscles, tone the body and address common ailments like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes, but did you know yoga is also an effective mood-enhancer? That's right! A quick and easy yoga routine can reduce stress, improve sleep, restore calm and enhance feelings of well-being.
Yoga's deep breathing techniques bring balance to the nervous system while the poses themselves work to reduce stress hormones (like cortisol) and trigger the release of your body's natural feel-good chemicals (serotonin and endorphins). Practicing with a mindful and meditative attitude is also immensely grounding and it goes a long way toward reminding us of the inherent beauty of each moment, even during the darkest days of winter.
Brighten up your gray winter mood with sun salutations
SheKnows.com: What are some bust-the-winter-blues moves yogis (and aspiring yogis) can do?
YuMee Chung: Sun salutations are one of my favorite ways to dissipate the winter blues. They warm the body from the inside out, get the heart pumping and systematically stretch the muscles in a safe way. Sun salutations are literally designed to make you feel sunnier! You should know there are as many different sun salutations as there are styles of yoga -- ranging from gentle to vigorous -- so take time to explore and find the sun salutation that works best for you.
Here's one of my favorite sun salutations:
Stand tall and breathe. Begin by standing tall at the front of your mat. Feet are side-by-side and arms are down by your sides. Breathe a slow, deep and rhythmic breath through your nose; inhales and exhales are the same length and the breath flows smoothly without any holding or rushing.
Raise your arms high. Inhale the arms up like you're making a snow angel and touch the palms above your head in prayer while gazing up. Although the arms are lifting, keep the shoulders dropping down away from the ears.
Dive forward. Exhaling, swan dive over the legs and come to fold over straight legs. Hands can rest either on the floor (if your flexibility allows) or on your legs above or below the knees.
Lunge back. Placing hands on the ground shoulder-distance apart, inhale the right foot way back to a lunge. Back knee is lifted and the gaze is forward.
Downward dog. Exhale the left foot back as well (feet are hip-distance apart) and bring the body into the shape of an inverted V with the hips lifted high. This pose is called downward-facing dog. Feel the body engaged and bright as you surrender the weight of the head (and all your busy thoughts) down.
Plank. Inhale and come forward to plank position. Set the shoulders over the hands and bring the body into one straight line with the tummy lifted and the lower back strong.
Reverse push-up. Exhale to slowly lower the body straight down to the ground, bending the elbows back towards your sides rather than allowing them to splay out. This should feel like a reverse push-up.
Lift your head and shoulders. With the toes pointed and the tops of the feet on the ground, inhale to lift the head and shoulders 12 inches off the ground. Exhaling, float the hands off the ground a few inches so you are now lifting using only your back muscles. Take another deep breath in.
Child's pose. Place the hands down on the ground again as you exhale; then press the seat back to the heels to come into a child's pose. The forehead is releasing toward the earth and the arms are extended out in front at shoulder-distance apart. Inhale here.
Downward dog. Exhale to curl toes under, straighten the legs and lift the seat high into downward-facing dog.
Lunge forward. Inhale the right foot forward between the hands in a lunge.
Forward fold. Exhale left foot forward next to right, coming into a forward fold.
Stand tall. Inhale all the way up to stand, circling the arms around the body until the hands meet above in prayer. Exhale hands down by your sides. Repeat on the other side.
Complete three to five rounds of this sun salutation to feel the glow.
Hot yoga to warm your winter bones
SheKnows.com: Are there any other mood-boosting tricks you use over the winter?
YuMee Chung: Winter is a great time to check out your local hot yoga studios. Practicing in a heated room is very detoxifying and makes the skin look great. Another fun thing to do is check out your local yoga studios' winter retreats. There's nothing like yoga in paradise to lift the mood!
Passport to yoga
SheKnows.com: What are some of the ways people can get involved with yoga in their city?
YuMee Chung: If you live in New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, Portland or San Francisco, you can pick up a Passport to Prana for $30. The Passport to Prana is a unique multi-studio yoga passport that entitles you to one free yoga class at each of the participating yoga studios in your city. Think of it as a yoga crawl that allows you to explore the world of yoga for a fraction of the price of doing regular drop-in classes. Passports can be purchased online and at select participating studios. See the website for the start and stop dates in your city and a complete list of participating studios in your area.
Another way to get involved with yoga in your city is to sign up for community yogathons organized as charitable fundraisers. This is a great way to meet prominent yoga teachers while supporting a good cause. Google the name of your city and "yogathon" or "fundraiser" to see what's coming up.