Depression affects women at twice the rate of men. In my younger years, I used to face powerful depression as the sunlight waned in late fall and early winter. Thankfully, Yoga has brought me greater joy overall, as well as new tools for integrating the difficult emotions that can arise as we approach Winter Solstice.
At the same time, I find that I and my clients need specific practices for staying balanced at this time. I like to think of the darkest time of the year as a time of composting, of letting everything in our experience fall back into the earth and rest there, fallow with Mother Earth.
The following tips will strengthen your resilience so you travel this time grounded and rested, and emerge next spring with new energy and freshness like those bright green buds!
- Go to bed earlier, and take more naps! Wrap yourself in the nourishment of sleep, and let your soul speak to you in your dreams. Once November arrives, I pull out my dream incubation goddess, a replica from the ancient Hypogeum cave in Malta, and put her near my bed as a reminder of the sanctity of sleep. She stays there with me until the flowers begin to blossom in February.
- Put up extra lights around your home. It’s no accident that the major celebrations of this time of year–Diwali, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and even Kwanzaa–all feature candles or lamps! So go for it. Embrace whichever festival best suits you, or put up extra lights just for the fun of it. I like to put out a thick beeswax candle from November – March, and light it every night for several hours. Give yourself some time to gaze gently at the flickering flame, a meditative Yoga practice known as “tratak.”
- Revel in the night sky! When the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and there’s more time to enjoy the Moon and stars. Wrap up in a cozy scarf and hat, and get outside to take in the vastness of space. Allow yourself to be nourished by the awe and wonder of the cosmos!
- Let Goddess Durga out if that’s what wants to happen! Set a boundary, say no when you mean it, claim your power, and stick up for what you believe. Often, depression stems from anger turned inwards, and the dark time of year may be what brings this to the surface. Get the support you need to clarify what is churning within. A circle of women, a close friend or a therapist, can provide space for you to honor and express your feelings. If Durga wants to take form through you as the powerful warrior Goddess, celebrate that, even if privately! Taking on the strength and empowerment of Durga is healing, both for you, and for the larger community
- Do less. As we approach Winter Solstice, many people become more and more frenzied with social activities and travel. This is actually a great time to do the opposite, and to cocoon at home. Choose your activities judiciously, and feel free to snuggle up with a good book or movie. Give yourself a winter retreat for some extra down time!
- Enjoy more. At the same time as you give yourself permission to say no to over-activity, make sure you plan in something special that you will really enjoy. Fit in connect time with one or two of your favorite friends. And if you choose to say no to family gatherings — an important choice for some women — plan an alternative that will bring genuine pleasure to your soul. Pleasure is not a luxury — it’s a Divine Feminine necessity!
- Keep up your regular Yoga practice, and add in extra restorative poses as needed. Exercise, and Yoga postures in particular, provide excellent prevention against depression, so maintain your practice fully during the winter. If you are tired or resistant to begin your practice, start with one or two restful poses accompanied by slow, deep breathing. This will energize you so that you can move into the more vigorous postures next.
- Go for walks when the Sun is high. Walking is fun and safe exercise. It strengthens the legs and bringing joy and empowerment, and, depending on where you walk, can connect you with the soulfulness of nature. In the winter, plan your walks at a time when you are most likely to get direct sunlight in your eyes. Natural sunlight regulates the hormone melatonin, which supports sleep and relaxation. So go outside for movement and fresh air, and take a few moments to look directly towards the Sun, thanking it for warming the earth, and for providing the energy that feeds us. If you work indoors, even getting a five or ten minute break outside at lunch helps.
- Give yourself longer meditation time. Meditation supports the spiritual “composting” process that goes on at this time of year, and also connects you with the light of your soul within. This will get you through winter with wisdom and gentleness, and provide strength for the year to come. If meditation is difficult for you, find a friend or a community to practice with.
- Manage your eating with planning and accountability. The dark time of the year can be a time when we are most tempted to abandon healthy eating. This only accentuates any downward spiral which led to the food craving or binge in the first place! So plan to keep healthy snacks on hand, and take alternate foods with you to any events where you are likely to want to eat food that isn’t good for you. Talk in advance with an accountability buddy about your plans for holiday eating.