August 30, 2017
I don’t know how I would have endured this past winter without yoga.
I’ve been susceptible to the winter blues my entire life (10-20 percent of us are), but this year the SADness intensified, especially post-inauguration. Outside, the cold air was discernibly more bitter. Inside, the dry heat sapped my already dwindling energy. As my mood plummeted, my muscles tensed and soreness set in.
The despair took a real physical toll on me, so I sought solace on my yoga mat. Slowly, as my body began to unwind, so did my mind, if only for a few seconds at a time. That was enough to keep me hooked.
By springtime I had enough strength to drag myself to a hot yoga class, where I truly learned to breathe. The balmy air became my salve. “This is how I’ll survive every winter,” I swore to myself in savasana.
A truly wonderful thing about yoga is that you do not have to be the most skilled to reap the most benefits. The mind-body rewards of a regular yoga practice begin from the inside out, starting with your breath. A Boston University study published in March in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine revealed that both medicated and unmedicated people with clinical depression could reduce their depressive symptoms by at least 50 percent with a regular yoga practice.
Dr. Chris Streeter, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, told Time that yoga may work better than antidepressants, because deep yogic breathing helps regulate the autonomic nervous system.
This new scientific evidence supports what yoga teachers have anecdotally known for centuries. One such renowned yoga teacher, Adriene Mishler, who’s amassed more than 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube, has even designed specific yoga flows that anyone can do to combat a whole host of emotional and psychological ailments, from depression, to stress and anxiety, to the infamous winter blues.
I spoke with Mishler about her quest to spread the healing and heartening essence of yoga this fall on her cross-country Find What Feels Good Roadshow, which stops in Philadelphia on September 11, when she’ll teach an all-levels yoga class at 8 a.m. at The Fillmore in Fishtown. (Tickets are $40.)
“The goal of the FWFG Roadshow is to take what people think they know about yoga and very politely, playfully, and lovingly turn it on its side,” Mishler said. She hopes even those who’ve never practiced yoga or don’t see themselves as the “yogi type” will be attracted to the event and motivated to return to their mat every day thereafter, especially through the colder months.
“I believe yoga is the ideal remedy for care and preventative care as the seasons change, which can have an effect on our moods. Yoga offers us a myriad of tools to tend to our health without even leaving the house, which is particularly healing during the winter, when we get restless and even blue.”
Mishler’s experience mirrors the Boston University study. “A little goes a long way,” she said. Deep controlled breathing paired with movement, no matter how beginner or advanced, is the foundation you need to create a healing response in your mind and body. Mishler explained that especially new yogis shouldn’t feel pressure to embark on an intense practice in a hot studio – at least not right away.
“Hot yoga has its benefits and I think it’s OK to want a good sweat. But I personally believe generating that heat (or tapas) on your own can be more beneficial than heated yoga.”
Mishler says anyone can create a deep, meaningful, effective yoga session in a warm room in the comfort of their own home. She suggests lighting a candle and rolling out your mat anywhere you’re comfortable. There is a plethora of free yoga classes on YouTube. You can choose any that suits your mood, from a more vigorous vinyasa flow, to get your blood pumping, to a more restorative yin practice, to soothe your mind.
Mishler says her favorite mood-boosting pose is Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana). But if you’re too sick or too tired to practice yoga as a moving meditation, simply taking a moment to be mindful and focus on your breath can be enough.
“I like to brew a nice warm cup of tea and make a mental list of the things I am grateful for while the water boils. It works every time. Sometimes, yoga is just getting down on the mat to move your spine. Don’t worry about ‘doing yoga.’ Just move, breathe, give thanks, and enjoy your cup of tea.”
Mishler emphasized that “all levels, all types, and all shapes are welcome” at the 90-minute class at The Fillmore, and that attendees shouldn’t be intimidated by the length of the class. “We offer a lot of time to ease in, rest, and hold space with one another in a fun and hopefully meaningful way.
"This class is going to be so much more than a yoga flow. It’s a celebration of community and self love. All you have to do is show up, ready to love yourself, and rock and roll.”