Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD) is a common issue that many face as we head into the winter months. The symptoms include a decreased sense of energy (especially in the afternoon), craving for carbohydrates, depression, increased appetite, loss of interest in daily activities, social withdraw and increased need for sleep.
Also known as the "winter depression", it is classified as a depression caused by a lack of sunlight. It is believed that it is caused by an overproduction of melatonin in the body, setting the body into an imbalance. SAD has been debated for years by many as to whether or not it is "real". It rose in popularity as a diagnosis for many workers during the 90's.
Regardless of what others think, if you are one of the 10% of people in the US diagnosed with SAD, it is very real to you. SAD can make you irritable and make life overall very difficult. Common treatments for SAD are antidepressants or sitting in front of a UV light for several hours of the day.
Another treatment for SAD is QiGong. As with anything medical, I am not a doctor so please consult your medical practitioner before beginning.
QiGong is a set of ancient Chinese breathing exercises. Among other benefits, it helps the body come back into balance and regulate the hormones. The appealing thing about QiGong is it can be practiced anywhere and at almost any time. It is slowly and gradually improving the body, but the effects can be felt almost immediately.
Basic QiGong Exercise
This basic QiGong exercise is one that I teach to new students to introduce them to the concepts of QiGong. Though basic, it is one of the fundamental exercises and even the most advanced students find time to practice this.
Step 1: Locate your Dan Tien.
According to Chinese practices, your Dan Tien is the powerhouse of the body. It is located approximately 2 finger-lengths below your bellybutton.
Step 2: Place your hand on your Dan Tien.
You want to place the middle of your palm (where the energy of the hand flows out of the most) directly over the spot you've identified as your Dan Tien. The idea here is to help you recycle your body's energy and help you keep your focus during the exercise on this part of the body.
This particular QiGong exercise is gender dependent. So if you are female, you want to use your left hand on your Dan Tien. If you are male, you want to use your right hand.
Step 3: Complete the circuit.
Place your other hand directly over the one on your Dan Tien such that the two palms of your hand are directly over one another.
Step 4: Breathe properly
When you breathe for this exercise, you want to bring in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each breath in you want to focus and push down so that it enters your body and goes directly to the Dan Tien. Use the pressure of your hands against your body to direct the flow.
You'll know if you're breathing correctly or not by your shoulders. If you find your shoulders are moving up and down, causing your hands to move position, you are breathing into your upper chest, not your Dan Tien.
Step 5: Create a rhythm.
Take time here to find a nice easy rhythm. Breathe continuously, never holding your breathe. It should be a nice easy flow of in and out.
Slow down your breathing as much as possible. Try to focus on making the length of time you breathe in just as long as the length of time you breathe out. Make it longer and longer with each breathe to the point you feel completely full on each intake and completely empty on each out.
Step 6: Relax.
Now that you have the basic mechanics going, close your eyes.
Focus your mind on the breathing and feeling each breathe come in and leave your body. Visualize clean air coming in and pushing out any negativity with each breath. Your mind will try to wander to the worries or issues around you. Gently bring those thoughts back to your breathing. Create a safe space for you to relax and come back to center.
Step 7: Finish the exercise.
There is no limit or minimal set of time to do this exercise (hence why I say QiGong is a perfect exercise to do just about anywhere). If you only have 1-minutes or 30-minutes, you can do this exercise.
When you first start doing this exercise, you may want to spend a bit longer so you can get familiar with your body and get the breathing correct. But once you've mastered this exercise, you can move quickly through the steps and reach optimal benefit within a breathe or two.
As you finish the exercise, reverse the steps performed. So, first open your eyes. Return your breathing to normal. Then remove your top and your lower hand.
After you've finished the exercise, if you've done it correctly, you should feel revived and filled with more energy. You shouldn't have a strong a craving for certain foods and your body will feel warm and alive.
Through regular practice of QiGong exercises, you can help bring your body back to center and combat some of the symptoms of SAD.