Banish Winter Depression with 3 Dahn Yoga Exercises

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The winter season -- with cold, dark days and confining pressures -- is a breeding ground for depression. Common signs are sadness, fatigue, grumpiness, general malaise and Seasonal Affective Disorder. From the healing tradition of South Korea's Dahn Yoga, founded by Ilchi Lee (http://www.ilchi.com), comes a powerful antidote to depression: Hold-for-Strength exercises. They release negative emotions and other energy blockages from the body, invigorate physical energy and build stamina, leaving one strong, refreshed and peaceful. Lee describes three of these exercises, of varying difficulty levels, to prevent and relieve winter's depressive tendency.

Winter brings cold, dark days and reduced sunshine, and when combined with stress and problems, it can produce a depressed mood. This can show up as unexplained sadness, fatigue, grumpiness, general malaise and even full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Ilchi Lee (http://www.ilchi.com), president of the University of Brain Education (South Korea), advises, "Don't succumb to the impulse to hibernate during the winter months. Avoid the winter blues by staying active to circulate your energy, and building your vitality with a variety of Dahn Yoga's Hold-for-Strength exercises." These are effective postures for fending off winter depression, while keeping one's body fit and stress-free.

Founded by Lee, Dahn Yoga (http://www.dahnyoga.com) is a body-mind fitness training, which focuses on brain-enhancing, energy-flowing health. With their roots in ancient Asia, the Hold-for-Strength exercises in Korean are called "Yeon-dahn" postures. "Yeon" refers to strengthening a sword's steel blade by hammering it; "Dahn" means vital energy.

As Lee puts it, "Doing Hold-for-Strength circulates blood and energy throughout the entire body, opening the meridians [energy channels] and chakras [energy centers] to release stress, tension, pain, toxins and negative emotions that usually accumulate when one is less active."

In Hold-for-Strength, people keep a position from one minute to one hour, depending on the condition of their physical stamina and mental focus. This concentrates energy in the lower abdomen area, which in traditional Asian health theory represents the body's physical power center.

To develop the vigor and strength to dissipate winter's depression, Lee recommends these healing exercises, progressing from the easiest to the more-challenging postures. Play pleasant music and try to empty your mind to a relaxed, almost meditative state. In all postures, relax your chest and breathe comfortably.

1. Reaching the Stars. This posture opens the acupressure points in the palms of the hands and in the soles of the feet to help release stagnant energy. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed inward and knees bent slightly. Curl your tailbone up under you. Raise your arms above your head, palms facing the ceiling, with elbows slightly bent. With fingers pointing inward toward each other but not touching, your arms should be above your head. If you are full of emotions and thoughts, bring your hands farther behind your head. Breathe slowly and comfortably into your abdomen. Initially hold the position for 3 to 5 minutes, and increase it gradually over time.

2. Embracing the Earth. This posture circulates energy through the heart, restoring vigor to the upper body, and relieves fatigue from depression, stress and emotional trauma. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Curl your tailbone up under you. Bounce your knees up and down a few times to release tension from the shoulders. Raise your arms and hold them as though you are gently hugging a globe. Your palms should face your body, and your fingertips should be an inch apart. Bend your knees, as though riding a horse. Maintain this posture for 10 minutes, and work up to 30 minutes over time.

3. Sleeping Tiger. This exercise builds energy in the lower abdomen, the body's power center. It is good for fatigue originating in poor nutritional habits, chronic illness or sleeping problems. Lie on the floor with your arms to your side and your legs parted slightly. Relax your body completely. Now raise your arms straight up into the air, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Hold your wrists at right angles, so that your palms face the ceiling. Raise your legs to form a 90-degree angle at the knees and hips. Keep your knees parallel and shoulder-width apart. Hold this posture for 10 minutes, without dropping the legs. Work up to 30 minutes. After holding the posture, bring your hands to your abdomen. Slowly lower your legs into a comfortable cross-legged posture.

After completing a Hold-for-Strength exercise, people should shake their hands and feet and walk slowly around the room for around two minutes, breathing naturally.

It is best to select a posture that corresponds to their physical and mental condition at that moment. The aim is to increase people's stamina so that they can maintain the position for a longer period. Lee suggests, "Build up the time you hold the posture slowly and don't push too hard. Instead, relax, breathe, focus on your abdomen and smile."

While performing Hold-for-Strength, most people experience various sensations in their bodies, such as muscle fatigue, joint pain, heat or cold, shaking and vibrating. Within reason, it is best to endure these physical responses as long as possible. Lee affirms, "Try to enjoy these physical responses, as they are actually positive signs that the body is releasing toxic energy and becoming healthy and strong -- bringing you out of depression."

For more information on Dahn Yoga, visit http://www.dahnyoga.com, or phone 1-877-HSP-YOGA.

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Larry Rosenberg
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