Here on the wet West Coast, where winter closes in with endless clouds, rain, and steadily diminishing daylight, we take seasonal depression seriously.
I have a “happy light” glowing on my desk as I write this.
So there’s nothing I’d like to recommend more than doing a backbend over a chair, (more properly two-footed inverted staff pose in a chair), whenever the weather turns your mood sombre.
There are other poses that can help with depression, it’s true.
Vigorous standing poses and handstands can lift your mood, especially if dark winter days leave you feeling like staying in bed, with the covers pulled over your head.
Mind you, if that’s your kind of depression, standing poses and handstands are probably the last things you feel like doing. And if you’re not a strong practitioner, a few wobbly warrior poses or failed kick-ups into arm balance could leave you feeling worse than when you started.
It doesn’t take much energy to drape your upper back over the edge of a chair. And you don’t need to be strong, or even experienced. If you have an existing back or neck injury, you might need the help of a teacher, but fixes can be found.
And best of all, given the right support and a bit of practice, almost anyone can hold the pose for a long time – say three to 10 minutes – which is long enough for it to have a profound and lasting effect.
Need more convincing? Here’s an outline of the benefits from Lois Steinberg’s indispensable book, Geeta S. Iyengar’s Guide to a Woman’s Yoga Practice, Vol. 1: (link)
“While in this pose, tensions are completely rolled away by the lengthening and releasing that occurs. The abdominal and pelvic organs are decompressed, and toxins are expunged. The diaphragm releases its grip on the abdomen. The front body rests to the back body. The chest remains fully opened and benefits the heart, liver, stomach, spleen, gall bladder, and pancreas. Optimal breathing also occurs with the opening of the chest. Toxins expelled through the respiratory system are exchanged for fresh nutrition to the lungs. This pose is excellent for those suffering from depression, especially when the head is back.”
But here’s the issue: you can’t just go to a store and buy a yoga chair – a metal chair with the back cut out – although there are some solutions available.
And even if you could, metal chairs are, as we say, “one size fits some.” If you’re petite, you could probably do this pose in a chair with the back left in. If you’re large, you might not be able to do it with the back cut out.
The simple solution – use two chairs, seat to seat – is almost as good as using a yoga chair.
You can, of course, use just about any two matching chairs.
I think it’s worth buying a couple of metal chairs: they’re inexpensive; they have the hard surface you need; and the way they’re built makes them suitable props, even with the back left in, for most yoga poses, including, most importantly, chair shoulder stand.
Besides, they fold, so they don’t take up much space, and with the backs left in, they’re more comfortable when they’re pressed into service as extra chairs.
Unless your floor is carpeted, roll out a sticky mat with its long side toward the wall. Put the chairs, seat to seat, as close as you can get them, on the sticky mat.
Fold a second sticky mat in four, and place it across the gap between the two chair seats.
Stand two wood bricks on their tall sides at the wall.
Then do a test run.
Lie down on the chair with the bottom edges of your shoulder blades hooked over the side that’s away from the wall, and straighten your legs.
You want your legs to be completely straight with your heels both touching the bricks and pressing into the wall.
Make whatever adjustments you need, then sit on the edge of the chair that’s closest to the wall.
Supporting yourself with your hands, take your buttocks over the edge of the chair on the wall side.
Lie back, then move toward your head until the bottom edges of your shoulder blades hook over the edge of the chair.
You won’t be able to reach under the chair to hold the legs as you might when you’re using just one chair.
Instead, experiment with holding your elbows, or holding the back of your head in your hands, as though you were doing headstand. Be sure to change the cross of your hands.
Then, as in the photo above, extend your arms long, either with or without support under the back of your head.
To come out, wiggle your buttocks back toward the middle of the chairs. Hold the back rungs of the chairs, and pull down as you swing out, leading with your chest.
If your lower back feels tight or pinched, come out and put more height under your feet.
If that doesn’t make the pinching go away, bend your knees and put your feet on the floor.
If you have tight shoulders, your arms might begin to tingle as you hold the pose. If this happens, clasp your hands and rest them on your belly.
Do you have a favorite yoga technique for weathering dark days? Do tell.
Photos by Mary Balomenos
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