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Nurturing Well-Being with Mother Nature’s Love
Boardwalk

We are in the midst of a winter like no other. For many of us who struggle with depression, especially at this time of year, the current circumstances only add to the severity of the experience.

I have found that Mother Nature, like any loving mother, has ways to nurture us even through these difficult times. Here are some ways in which I have found solace and comfort this winter and I hope you may, too.

"Look at Nature. Nature is a book from which we must learn. Each object in it is a page of that book."
- Amma

Sunlight

I have found exposure to sunlight makes a huge difference in my mental states. I have lived in the Northeast US for all of my adult life. During that time, I have lived in places where my bedroom window got direct morning light and in some apartments that got very little or no direct sunlight.

I have suffered from low-level depression for most of my life. When circumstances and karma brought on difficult situations, I sometimes had severe depression to the point where I could not get out of bed. At those times, I had to be on medication. One of the side effects or perhaps contributing factors of the depression was going to bed very late at night and waking up late in the mornings. During the winter months, with the very limited daylight, this meant that there were many days when I did not have any exposure to sunlight especially if my bedroom or apartment did not get any direct sunlight.

Recently, I moved to an apartment where my bedroom gets morning sunlight and I realized what a huge effect it has on me. I find it is easier to wake up with the sun streaming into my bedroom. It helps me feel optimistic. Based on this discovery, I decided to get out and be in the sunlight every day if possible. Even if it is cold, I bundle up and step outside for 10 minutes unless it is raining.

Some days, I get in my car and go for a drive just to be outside and exposed to sunlight. I drive to a local park or a body of water and always feel rejuvenated afterwards. And if I remain in my car for most of that time, I am not exposed to anyone else or the cold weather. I also happen to live close to a river and walk by there regularly. The sunlight reflecting off the water really lifts my spirits.

Modern construction designs create buildings where several apartments on one side of a building will only have North or North-westerly exposure, meaning that whomever lives there will never get any sunlight in those apartments. If you are deeply affected by depression and find that sunshine helps, consider moving to a home that has windows in the South, South-East and East.

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"In the olden days, people would wake up in the morning, bow down to mother Earth, and then, facing the sun, chant prayers and perform Surya Namaskarah. Today, in many countries, six or seven people out of ten have vitamin D deficiency from lack of exposure to sunlight. It is postulated that vitamin D deficiency may be one of the precipitating factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Some may argue that even people with normal vitamin D levels get Alzheimer’s disease. This is true, but studies have shown that a majority of people with this condition have a vitamin D deficiency. It is also thought to be a cause of depression, a higher incidence of which is found in countries that have less sunlight. "

"Yoga is beneficial for our health, physical beauty, and mental discipline. It helps reduce our cholesterol and maintain cardiac health. It increases our bone strength. This is especially important as the incidence of arthritis and osteoporosis is on a steep rise. It even helps improve our memory power."

"It is important to do balanced exercise for at least ten minutes a day. Along with this, we also need at least 10 minutes of sun exposure a day."

Excerpts from Amma’s Teachings compiled by Team Amrita Yoga, Amritapuri

Snow River

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Indoor Lighting

According to Psychology Today, "A new study reports that staring into an artificial source of bright light for 30 minutes every morning for eight weeks helped people with major depressive disorder (MDD) feel better."

Inside my apartment, as soon as it starts getting dark, I make sure to have bright lights on in rooms where I spend most of my time. While I understand that it is important to conserve electricity, I find that it is also important for my mental and emotional health to have good lighting.

"At dusk, the atmosphere is full of impure vibrations. This is the time when day and night meet and is the best time for sadhaks (spiritual aspirants) to meditate because good concentration can be attained. If sadhana is not done, more worldly thoughts rise up. That is why bhajan should be sung loudly at dusk. In this way, the atmosphere will also be purified. Children, at dusk sing bhajan while sitting in front of a burning oil lamp. The smoke produced by the wick burning in oil is a siddha oushadha (perfect medicine). We inhale the smoke and the atmosphere is also purified." - Amma

Amma with divya
"Amma has also said that the flame from the wick of the lamp represents pure consciousness that always rises up. Flames always point upward, even if you turn a candle upside down. When we focus on God, or our innate goodness at dusk, a time when the ambient atmospheric energy is more polluted, it is a balm to our psyche." - Swamini Ambikamrita Prana
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Trees, Birds and Animals

Isolation can have a catch-22 effect on depression. If we are isolated we may slip deeper into depression. And if we are depressed we may tend to withdraw and isolate ourselves further. During my walks along the river I found that Mother Nature is teeming with life and She shares it with me joyously. I get to see ducks, geese, other birds and sparrows. I listen to them singing, chirping, honking, and squawking loudly and festively as they talk to each other across the river.

Canadian Geese on the river

The Japanese practice of forest bathing (NPR) promotes spending time among trees with the aim to slow us down and immerse all of our senses in the natural environment. As the NPR article states, "There is a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress."

I talk to the trees I pass by and have seen many interesting tree stalks such as white birches and bushes with bright red stems. Some trees are full of bright red berries this time of year.

Jigsaw puzzle
When I cannot get outside to connect with life and Nature, I make efforts to bring that connection inside. I watch uplifting videos or documentaries of wildlife or pets. I have even started doing jigsaw puzzles with Nature themes to help me stay connected.

Having indoor plants is yet another way to connect with Nature during the winter months. I have a small pot of golden pothos which is easy to care for. It only needs to be watered every few days or when the soil is close to dry and does not require a lot of light to thrive. These two articles, The Healing Benefits of the Humble Houseplant and More Tips for Houseplant Care from the GFNA newsletter, provide more information on the benefits of having houseplants and tips for their care.

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Water

One area that can suffer when you are struggling with depression is self-care. On some days even taking a shower can be a challenge. I make an effort to take a shower or bath everyday. The warm water feels nurturing and is a gift from Mother Nature that we may take for granted. Using soaps and moisturizing lotions with natural ingredients also brings in Nature and nourishes my body and soul.

Drinking warm teas or soups helps us stay hydrated and feel nourished when the heat starts to make the air and our bodies feel dry.

I keep a spray bottle with distilled water and drops of some essential oils I like such as orange, cinnamon and clove. I spray my apartment regularly with this spray to make it smell nice and bring in scents from Nature .

Air and Temperature

As the temperature outside and inside gets colder, I tend to take fewer deep breaths. I find that shallow breathing has the effect of cutting me off from life force, further reinforcing the isolation and depression. In a study evaluating the effects of deep breathing exercises in subjects with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression), the results indicated that the deep breathing protocol was effective in reducing anxiety levels in patients with bipolar disorder.

To help me breathe more deeply, every morning, I make it a point to open the slider to my deck even if only a slight crack, stick my face out the door and take 3 deep breaths. This small step of getting even a little bit of fresh air helps to bring me back into my body and feel more connected. Even if you only have a window, you can try opening the window just a crack and taking a few deep breaths. I also practice Amma’s Ma-Om meditation on as many days as I can, sitting in bed before I start my day. Breathing deeply, connecting to Amma and to my heart are gifts I am learning to give myself as I continue to heal.

We do also need to protect ourselves from the cold during this time. Being cold all the time can make me feel depressed. While turning up the heat can be expensive, sometimes we can find other ways to make our homes warmer. We can look for and seal drafts in doors and windows. We can add insulation. We can buy warm clothing to keep our hands and feet warm. I use my winter jacket as a lap blanket to keep my feet warm. You may be able to knit or buy warm socks and mittens. Small steps can go a long way to making you comfortable through the winter months.

Crocuses

Before you know it, you will start to see signs of new life outside. The days are already getting longer and crocuses, tulips, hyacinth and daffodil shoots will  soon be sticking their heads out of  the ground.

"Life is filled with God’s light, but only through optimism will you experience that light. Look at the optimism of Nature. Nothing can stop it. Every aspect of Nature tirelessly contributes its share to life. The participation of a little bird, an animal, a tree, or a flower is always complete. No matter what the hardships, they continue to try, wholeheartedly." -Amma

No matter how difficult things may get, we can always count on the rhythm of Mother Nature to once again return warmer, sunnier and brighter days back to us. Until then, may you stay warm and uplifted with the help of Mother Nature and Amma’s ever present Grace.

- A devotee in the North East, USA

Read about houseplant care tips from the Q1 2021 newsletter >>

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