Spring may be just around the corner, but this time of year still tends to be the toughest for many in terms of keeping their spirits up. The lack of sunlight early in the morning coupled with colder temperatures and rain keeping us all inside plus flu season can certainly put a damper on your mood.
No worries: Yoga to the rescue! Not only does practicing yoga give you a chance to quiet your mind and focus on yourself, it's also been shown in studies to raise levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric (GABA), low levels of which have been linked to depression.
This list of good-mood yoga poses includes a variety of inversions, backbends, and resting poses to help you expand your ribcage, increase circulation to the brain, and, in some cases, provide a literal change of perspective—all of which can help you become more flexible, less tense, and even happier. Pick three or more of your favorite to complete when you feel a little down, and you'll be feeling better in no time.
Reclined Hero's Pose: From a kneeling position, separate feet so that sitz bones can come to the ground between heels. (If this pose is uncomfortable on your knees, skip it.) Keeping knees relatively close together (not touching, but not widening), slowly crawl hands back until you are lying down on the mat, taking care to tuck your tailbone underneath you to mitigate the arch in your back. Reach arms overhead, grab opposite elbows, and breathe here for at least 10 deep breaths.
|Bow: Lying facedown on the ground, bend knees and take hold of the outside of your ankles. Keeping knees hip-distance apart, press feet into hands and lift chest off the ground. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. (If this is uncomfortable, locust pose is a great alternative.)|
|Wheel: Lie on back, knees bent and feet on the ground hip-width apart. Bend elbows and place hands on either side of head shoulder-width apart with fingers pointing toward shoulders. Pressing into feet and hands equally, lift hips and lengthen arms. Keep pressing into feet (especially through your big toes) and reaching chest away from your feet as you stay here for 5 deep breaths. Be sure to tuck your chin to your chest before you slowly come down.|
|Tree with a Back Arch: Standing tall with soft knees, bend left knee and open from hip out to the left. Keeping hip open, place left foot inside right thigh or shin (you can also place the ball of your left foot on the ground with your heel on the inside of your right calf). Clasp hands behind sacrum and use each inhale to lift chest a bit higher and each exhale to lengthen through tailbone and lean back a little bit. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.|
|Dancer: From a standing position, shift weight onto right leg. Bend left knee and grab the inside of your left calf with left hand. Gently press your foot into your hand to open your back. Reach right arm straight up. Stay here for 5 long, deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.|
|Shoulder Stand: Start in plow pose: Lie face-up with knees bent, feet on the floor, and arms on either side. Soften knees and press arms into the ground to reach feet up toward the ceiling and then back behind you any amount that feels good on your neck. From plow, put hands on lower back for support and try to keep elbows about shoulder-width apart. Soften through knees and, one at a time, reach feet toward the ceiling, lengthening legs when you feel comfortable. Breathe here for 5 deep breaths. To come out, soften knees back toward forehead, come back to plow, and, using arms as breaks, slowly lower back onto the mat one vertebrae at a time.|
|Fish: Bring hands, palms down, under butt, keeping forearms on the ground and parallel. Bend elbows and lean on forearms, pressing them into the floor. Lift chest up toward the ceiling so back is arched. Bring elbows toward each other so they are about shoulder-width apart. Allow your head to relax down toward the ground until it touches the mat. Breathe here for 5 deep breaths.|
|Headstand: Interlace fingers loosely and place them on the ground. Place top of your head on the ground so fingers hold the back of your head. Stay here for a few breaths to get comfortable. Tuck toes and straighten legs. Start to walk feet in toward body so hips line up over shoulders and back is straight up and down. If you are comfortable here, bend one knee in and bring heel to hip. Bring it back down and try the other leg. If you are steady with one leg, try both legs at the same time. When heels are pulled in toward hips, slowly extend legs straight up. Stay for 5 to 10 deep breaths if you can. When you are ready to come down, slowly lower one leg at a time and rest in child's pose for a few breaths. (If you have any neck issues, try a supported headstand on blocks or one at the wall, or feel free to skip this all together—do what is right for your body!)|
|Child's Pose: Kneel with knees slightly apart and crawl hands forward, arms long and in front of you, allowing forehead to rest on the ground. Breathe here for 5 or more deep breaths.|
|Legs Up Wall: Sit sideways next to a wall. Lie down on one side, facing away from the wall with butt touching it. Using arms, lift legs up the wall as you roll over onto your back. Allow arms to fall on either side of you. Palms can face up for openness or down for an extra level of grounding. Stay here for at least 5 breaths or as long as you like.|
Photos: Vera Boykewich