Strategies for Spring Rejuvenation

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I can see it in my students, clients, and even in myself this time of year: spring slugishness. This trend is also reflected in the natural world, as flora and fauna begin to reawaken from their hibernation, just beginning to peek their heads out from the soil and from their shelters. Perhaps it is the change in seasons and times, perhaps it is the timeline of our work projects, or the season for lots of social happenings. Whatever the cause, you might be feeling a little tired, foggy, and even depleted these days. You are not alone. 

Below you will find some helpful strategies to rejuvenate and reset your body and mind. Beyond these steps, I recommend also giving your body time and space to adapt to changes in the environment. We are only human! Sometimes the demands that we place on ourselves can be downright unrealistic. Give yourself time and space to rest as needed.

  • Take a Vacation/Staycation. Too many people wait until they are long overdue, often totally frayed and burned out, before they give themselves permission to take a holiday. Don't let this be you! Take just one day this month to go and visit your favorite pool or beach, take a weekend excursion to a new city, go explore a new museum and eat a delicious meal, or gift yourself a spa day.
  • Pay attention. Often when we are faced with symptoms like fatigue or depressed mood, we tend to chase the symptoms away with caffeine or substances, or we try to ignore them and get lost in distraction. But, if we can listen closely, we find that our symptoms tell important stories. Interoception is a human sensory ability to pick up on subtle changes in the body, which includes a basic awareness of changes to breathing, heart rate, or body temperature [1-3].  Few people are aware of their own interoceptive ability, and fewer people consciously use this sense to moderate their psychological and emotional experience. It is an ability that we all possess, but we can all use a little training in strengthening this skill.  Next time you are feeling the spring sluggishness, see if you can pay attention to what you are experiencing. Maybe you can write a list of the physiological characteristics. How do these moments feel in your body? Research finds that another great way to sharpen this sensitivity is through the practice of mindfulness meditation [4]. By tuning into the subtle changes that naturally take place in the body during emotional arousal, you can detect early signs of distress and discomfort, thereby allowing for a mindful pause before forming a reaction.
  • Breathe. Research finds an undeniable connection between our psychological/emotional states and the way we breathe [5-6]. When you find out that your project deadline was a week earlier than you anticipated, you might feel your breath become rapid and shallow. In times of fatigue or depressed mood, your breath becomes shallow and slow. When you feel calm, you might feel your breath becoming slow and deep. Your breath is not just a byproduct of how you are feeling; it's also a form of communication between body and mind. What is the emotional state you wish to cultivate? How can you begin to change your breath to reflect your desired emotional state?
  • Circadian reset. Humans, just like all living beings, coordinate bodily functions via circadian rhythms, Circadian rhythms can be thought of as the body’s internal clock, which functions on a 24-hour scale and correspond to cycles of sleep/wake, light/darkness, temperature, activity, and consumption. This internal clock is endogenous, meaning that it originates in the body. One pathway runs from your eyes to the suprachiasmatic nuclei in the brain, which explains why light plays such an important role in setting our internal clocks. But, our circadian rhythms are also affected by our behaviors. Some of our behaviors and lifestyles can sustain healthy circadian rhythms, while others can disrupt them, thereby increasing susceptibility to disease. It’s a great reminder that we as human beings are not beyond the rules and rhythms of the natural world, and when we choose to live in harmony with these rhythms, we can live healthier lives. If you are experiencing fatigue, sluggishness, or difficulty losing weight, it is possible that your body could benefit from a circadian reset. This includes eating on a set schedule during the hours of natural light and highest activity (usually early midday), avoiding eating and high intensity activities later on at night [7].  We can also train our bodies to be more attuned to naturally occurring signals in the environment (like light) [8]. One trick is to soak in natural morning light right when you wake up, sending a signal to your brain that you are entering a wakeful state. As much as possible, you can also try to avoid exposure to bright light in the evening (i.e., cell phones, computers, t.v. screens), thereby prompting your body to prepare for sleep.
  • Turn it upside down. Sometimes the only tool we have when we're super tired and overwhelmed is to just deal with life moment by moment. A quick fix for me and many of my fellow yogis is to spend some time upside down. An inversion is any posture where you raise your heart above your head. This can be a simple ragdoll pose, where you take a forward fold, bending into the knees and let your head dangle. Or a more advanced inversion, like a shoulder stand, headstand, or handstand. It's really surprising how refreshing it can be to spend just a few minutes in a new perspective. When all else fails, try turning the situation (and your physical body) upside down!

 


 

1.     Craig, A. D. (2002). How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 655-666.

2.     Wiens, S. (2005). Interoception in emotional experience. Current Opinion in Neurology, 442-447.

3.     Dunn, B. D., Galton, H. C., Morgan, R., Evans, D., Oliver, C., Meyer, M., ... & Dalgleish, T. (2010). Listening to your heart: How interoception shapes emotion experience and intuitive decision making. Psychological Science, 1835-1844.

4.     Farb, N. A., Segal, Z. V., & Anderson, A. K. (2012). Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 15-26.

5.     Philippot, P. & Chapelle, G. & Blairy, S. (2010). Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion. Cognition & Emotion, 605-627.

6.     Seppälä, E,  Nitschke, J.,  Tudorascu, D.,  Hayes, A.,  Goldstein, M. & Nguyen, D., Perlman, D., & Davidson, R. (2014). Breathing-Based Meditation Decreases Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in U.S. Military Veterans: A Randomized Controlled Longitudinal Study. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 397-405.

7.     Manoogian, E. N., & Panda, S. (2017). Circadian rhythms, time-restricted feeding, and healthy aging. Ageing Research Reviews39, 59-67.

8.     Wright Jr, K. P., McHill, A. W., Birks, B. R., Griffin, B. R., Rusterholz, T., & Chinoy, E. D. (2013). Entrainment of the human circadian clock to the natural light-dark cycle. Current Biology23, 1554-1558.