yoga for SAD

Winter blue. On why I need a kapha practice.

(Scroll to the bottom for quick info on kapha balancing poses, diet, schedule, etc). An odd winter, really.  Last week friends in Chicago told me that temperatures had reached 70 degrees, and I walked the dog in a tee shirt wondering what December meant any more.  Perhaps it means volatility, rushing change, sudden dark.  I have no doubt that freakish weather is part of our environmental legacy and 'super storms' will continue ravishing whole cities - but I don't know what to expect of ordinary every day weather.  Yesterday, suddenly, snow.

Not snow.  SNOW.  As though we'd been brought back to that allegorical childhood we all had, where it pillowed and drifted and blew round the corners of houses until houses disappeared, laced and dusted trees until tree became wonderful.  I listened to the radio Saturday - in itself, not a thing I do any longer but remember from childhood - and watched as the traffic slowed, announcements were made of closings, predictions of school cancellations rolled in.  My sister and I drove many miles across country to the extended family Christmas.  There was fog and heavy air, there was miles and miles of white, disappeared fences, undulating fields.  The car slid in the parking lot as we arrived and feet made that squeaking on new snow noise.  It was warm, though: on the sidewalk a black water puddle and I paused, as the door opened and the riot sound of family and warmth and dozens of children I don't know rolled out the opened doorway; I paused and watched the lazy snowflake hit the puddle like some kind of haiku.

When I woke, Sunday morning, the world had vanished.  It continued to vanish, all day long.  There was no traffic, although I live on what I think is one of the busiest intersections in town.  The neighbor boy, drippy nosed and snowsuit clad, knocked on the door and offered to shovel.  I let him.  It snowed on and on, and he kept shoveling.  Every few hours I'd open the door and let my dog go out to join him - two black figures cavorting in on an immense canvas.  A world blanched of all sound.  A freezing of time and reality.  He'd knock again, I'd say he really didn't have to shovel til it ended, he'd sniff and go back to his self-imposed responsibility, the shovel and snowsuit outsizing him.  The winter outsizing both of us.

I sat at the table in the very quiet house and drank tea.  Ate oranges.  Put on more socks.

I watched a mood walk closer to me like a wall of fog approaching over a body of water.

Depression comes that way, some times.

Winter used to be my metaphor for it, depression.  A wall of blank.  A kind of dying.  A place where everything is isolated, nothing makes a sound, and you might lose limbs if you aren't careful.  The heart might freeze inside you.

This is the thing, though: I don't slide down to those depths the way that I used to.  I don't much want to die any more.

But I do notice: the moods in me like weather, like season.  How real they are and how they change the timbre of my voice, the appetite on my tongue, my ability or inability to remember.  I watch, too: how the smallest, dumbest things are the things that help me.  Cinnamon.  Light.  Taking off shoes and socks and getting bare feet, bare hands, on to the mat and moving until I sweat.

Look: the ancients understood seasons - night to day, fall to winter - and they understood characters - gregarious and earth motherish, or bookworms, clowns, family centered or rogue.  They understood that happiness and enlightenment come from a full on acceptance of who and where we are and living appropriately.

The practice of yoga is learning who you are and where you are (winter, family, mid west plains) and understanding.  Understand that this affects your basic experience of life and learning to dance, move, adapt, thrive within it.

The boy kept knocking on the door.  I gave him an orange and hot chocolate.  The dog first loved the snow, then shivered.  We hunkered down, and then I wrote this:

Hands and eyes and mind grow dry and numb, the fire all draws in.

Which is my poet brain striking on the truth of ayurveda of this season.

Winter begins dominated by vata and moves toward kapha.  To survive, we need to balance kapha energies with food, with self care and body movements, with kapha balancing yoga practices.

Winter's short days affect us, whether we are fully Seasonally Affective Disordered or simply hungry for more light and longer days - a greater sense of awakeness and time to live.  Further: holiday season will bring with it a sense of being frenzied, broke, over wrought, under appreciated, lonely and misunderstood no matter how fantastic your social and familial relationships are or whether or not you observe a holiday.  Even the fact of NOT observing a holiday can stir up deep rooted emotional connections.  The end of one year and the anxieties about a coming one contribute foreboding, a sense of shortness, or overwhelm.

Know this, and accept.  Accept, and then find wild joy, anyway.

Yoga teaches us survival, and then more than survival into joy.  There are things, yoga teaches, you can do.  Do them.  Perhaps there is a reason we humans have a hodge podge of celebrations - and all celebrations of light - in the darkest days of winter.

Celebrate ridiculously, for this is how human beings get through.  Celebration, commemorate, make holy, pray, observe, and practice.  Same things.

My niece has learned Christmas songs in the last few weeks.  From her carseat in the back during that long drive, she kept refraining, every now and again.  Let it snow let it snow.  Let it.  Snow.

Let it.  Accept, and find deep joy in the deep snow, deep joy in the deep body.


Mid to late winter tends to be dominated by kapha energies; the sky is low, often cloudy, gray and days are cold, damp and heavy.  Life - even in the busiest places, moves more slowly.  When in balance, kapha energy provides lubrication and structure.  This has to do with joints, mucus, the texture of our skin and our hair.  Kapha type people are often the strongest and have the most stamina.  Kapha has to do with strength, vigor, endurance, stability of both body and mind.  It is responsible for lubrication of joints, flowing of thought and emotion and ideas, moisturizing skin and fascia, maintaining immunity and lymphatic balance.  Out of balance, it leads to sluggishness, fatigue, ache, mucus related illness, excess weight, negative emotions such as attachment, envy, greed (and the loud relational negatives of loneliness, comparison, jealousy which can tip into over dependence or far too much isolation).  Too much kapha energy is earthiness, solidness, taken too far: a sense of being stuck in the mud, buried, dark, cold.

In general, we should follow a kapha - pacifying regimen in the winter. But dry, cold, windy weather can at times provoke vata, too, and can lead to arthritis, indigestion, etc.

FOOD - Appetite tends to become 'heaftier' during winter months - which can lead to weight gain if we answer with highly processed foods and corresponding lower excericse.  However, kapha in itself is the withdrawing of energy from the extremities to the organs, and many people may lose weight in winter if they don't add proteins and grains significantly.  We should not eat the same foods we ate in the summer seasons, and need bulk and warmth and spice.

Incorporate whole grains, buttermilks or cottage cheeses if you do dairy, steamed vegetables, warm soup, and spicy food into your meals. Because your appetite is heartier in the winter, eat more protein- beans, tofu, eggs- and if you’re not a strict vegetarian, chicken, turkey, and fish. Add warming spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper to promote digestion. Drinking sweet or dry wine with your meals will stoke your agni (digestive fire), improve your appetite, and increase circulation. Avoid cold drinks and opt for hot water, hot tea, hot cocoa or chai.

SCHEDULE - much like the cold wet autumnal season, a schudule can help get through the dark time of winter.  Think of softening the schedule, but keeping it moving.  If possible, allow yourself to wake up a little later.  Avoid naps (but know they can be healing, too; just don't fall into a rut as kapha tends to over sleep and the sleep makes us more tired).  Try to be active early in the day and include excercise; give yourself pleasurable activities for the late afternoon and evening - think joy and interest.  Schedule something to look forward to (big: a vacation or long awaited purchase or accomplishment, small: a movie you really want to see or book to read, a lunch date with a good friend, a self indulgant purchase that won't break you in anyway but feels good).  Try new things to keep your interest involved and yourself challenged.


Think circulation.  Massage, get a loofah, scrub and exfoliate.  Find an oil appropriate for your skin and stimulating (bergamot, rosemary, juniper, vertiver, melissa) and indulge in it.


Hard enough to sweat (ayurveda says on brow, armpits, joints and a feeling of dryness in the mouth is the point you need to get to) and challenging enough to break you out of 'stuckness' and stagnation.  Aim to counter Kapha's natural tendency to feel cold and sluggish.  Move through flow and sun saluations with as much a sense of speed and warmth as you can without losing connection and integrity.  This will lighten and warm you.

Most standing asana are invigorating, especially if you hold them for a longer time.  Try holding for 20 breath (that is much longer than you may have ever, ever done so).  Backbends are also heating, and getting extesion of arms and legs (up, over head) promotes the heart to push and the circulation to flow.  Open your chest and the front lines of the body as much as you can.

Kapha is said to be dominant 6- 10 am, so do some sort of asana or excercise then if at all possible.  Just a few minutes.  One salutation.  One stretch. Just do something.  Incorporate firey pranyama into the practice, especially at the beginning and close.  It cleanses that heaviness, mucus, and chest gunk, as well as energizing the digestive system and balancing energy levels throughout the day.


Kapha doshas are trustworthy, stabilizing, grounded people.  But they can tend to be too sentimental and nostalgic for how things were and unable to move forward.  As winter and it's Kaphic tendencies set in, make sure to watch your own proclivities toward others.  Keep yourself challenged and excited and avoid getting stuck in the past.  Realize not all relationships need to be ideal to be rewarding. Allow yourself to be given gifts and appreciated. Practice open hearted gestures of compassion, play, service.  Don't try to be oversimplistic about your feelings (guilt, depression, fear), but see them for what they are without letting them become everything.  It is possible to know you feel guilty but also know you ARE not a fundamentally guilty person.  Go for lightness and laughter.  Watch comedies.