Now that it's cold
Everyone has their own way. Cold weather is definitely my way! I’m more likely to be ill during the oppressive heat and humidity of summer. And I’ve just started to come alive as the grass begins to twinkle with morning frost.
However, I understand it’s not everyone’s way. So, I wanted to send a bonus email this week with tips on managing the cold in hopes it encourages you to continue being active and well this coming winter.
Warmth is energy. The best way to create warmth when you’re cold is to expend energy. Here are some Qigong practices that will warm you up:
- Do a longer standing meditation. Find a sunny spot where you won’t be distracted, align your posture and strike a pose that you can hold for a period of time, like Hug a Tree pose, or something a little more challenging like Hold up the Heavens. Relax, let the warmth build in your arms, relax more, and enjoy the heat! I personally like to set a music playlist to help me relax through the meditation while also challenging me to hold the pose longer than I normally would.
- Use controlled muscle tension in your flows. Pick your favorite flow. On the inhale, imagine that you are working against the Universal force (GRAVITY), and on the exhale relax and float “gravity-free” back into position. For example, if you were practicing Begin Flow (inhale, arms float up in front of you to shoulder height; exhale, arms float down to your sides), when you inhale, it’s like you have heavy weights or tension bands on your arms trying to keep them down so you have to really press with your muscles. As you exhale, relax everything and let the arms float down easily. Repeat and you will soon find yourself sweating! (not to mention creating great arm muscle definition!)
- Practice energizing breathing. In our Qigong sessions, we’ve practiced a lot of calming breathing. But there are breathing techniques focused on energizing, and most of these will warm you up — and pep you up!
- My favorite warming (and energizing) breathing technique is called Breath of Fire, of coffee breathing (or Kundalini breathing). Here’s a tutorial I recommend for learning about breath of fire. This technique is advanced level breathing that requires starting slowly and practicing, but the benefits are immense — plus you’ll be sweating within moments of starting this technique. NOTE: It is not recommended for people with certain health issues, as stated in video tutorial.
- Another favorite is Kidney Breathing. Put your hands on your kidneys (just below your rib cage on your back). Bend forward slightly. Inhale and direct your breath to expand your back under your hands. As you practice this technique, you may feel your kidneys puff up into your hands. I love that feeling! I also love that this stretches my lower back, heats me up and makes me feel like I’m giving myself a little extra love.
- Another breathing technique guaranteed to warm you up (and energize you) is what I call Abdominal Movement Breathing. I learned this technique personally from Master Yang Jwing-Ming after I suffered a gallbladder attack at his retreat house. He told me the best way to take care of my “uncaged” internal organs (everything NOT in the rib cage) was to move it…with the breath. To do this exercise, place your hands on your abdomen and breathe while circling your abdomen vertically, horizontally and perpendicularly (both ways for each). For example, circling horizontally: start at your belly button and as you inhale, imagine your breath moving along your belt line. As you breath along this line, the muscles stretch and expand along with the movement of the breath until it returns to the belly button. Then go the other way. You need to FEEL your abdomen moving in each circle with your breath. It requires some abdominal tension to ensure ALL your muscles are pitching in. For example, the muscles on my right abdomen are less active during horizontal circling than my left side, so I really have to focus to engage those muscles. (Another benefit of this breathing technique is it helps massage all the organs in the abdomen, and stimulate the large intestine and colon.) Start with four in each direction for each of the three circles. As you gain strength, increase up to 12 circles in each direction.
Remember, NO PAIN EVER! That also means if you start feeling badly during any of the breathing exercises, STOP!
I also wanted to share a few other ideas for warmth that I’ve learned in my studies and experience:
- Take extra care to keep your back (where your kidneys are located) warm. I’m an avid vest user for this specific purpose. During winter, when I’m working for extended periods of time, I will often use a heating pad on my lower back. And I always wear layers of shirts tucked in to make sure I keep my body warmth inside the clothes and not exposed to any cold air.
- Breathe through your nose as much as possible. As the weather gets colder here in Ohio, the humidity also lowers. Nose breathing helps add warmth and humidity to the air before it enters your lungs. This helps keep your entire body healthy. If you find the cold air bothers your nose, you can wear a scarf or gaiter losely over your nose and mouth while you breath. You can place a drop or two of high-quality organic oil (coconut, sesame, nasya, etc.) on a Q-tip and gently rub into your nostrils. Rest with your head tilted back on a pillow while the oil absorbs. This Ayurvedic practice (called Nasya) has many benefits not only for your breathing passageways, but also for mental health.
- Make your hot tea or coffee part of a warming ritual. Hold your cup with both hands pressed in so the heat enters the energy gates in your palms (Lao Gong points). Inhale the steam from the cup through your nose (another way to keep your nasal passages moist and healthy). When you aren’t sipping, hold the cup by your heart and give blessings to all the people who grew, tended, picked, dried, gound, packaged, transported, marketed, stocked, sold, and prepared the tea/coffee. Be warmed by the gratitude for the time, care, and energy of all the people who worked to bring this warmth to you.
- Wear wool liners in the bottoms of your shoes. Stop the cold from entering the energy gates on the bottoms of your feet (Bubbling Springs points) by blocking it with wool liners. In the Dayton area, you can purchase these at the Second Street Market Ohio Alpaca Textiles. Or you can purchase them through the magic of Amazon (be sure to use smile.amazon.com to donate a portion of your proceeds to your favorite charity!).
- Stay hydrated. Hydration is necessary for the healthy function of every cell in your body. Make sure you drink plenty of water and herbal teas. But also make sure you keep your skin hydrated. My favorite way to do this is called Abhyanga, and includes using lightly warmed body oil (I use organic sesame or coconut oil) to massage my skin in long strokes (preferably right after a shower and a light pat dry) from feet and hands toward the heart. This also acts a nice way to stimulate natural lymph drainage.
- Get up regularly and move! Walk up and down your stairs. Do some full-body shaking for 5 minutes. Lay down on the floor, engage your abdominal muscles and flutter your legs like you’re swimming for several minutes. Pump out 25 incline pushups against your kitchen counter. And (my favorite) dance around to just one upbeat song. Not only will this warm you up at the moment of your activity, doing this throughout the day will help your Qi and blood circulate more effectively all day long, keeping you warm.
I hope these tips help encourage you to keep moving and stay well as we head into winter.
But I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t also put in a good word for the health benefits of cold. Cold is an important factor in research on the health benefits of a natural circadian rhythm. However, on it’s own, cold is a relatively new area of study in Western health. Most of the research I’ve been exposed to comes from studying directly with Wim Hof (the “Iceman”). I admit there needs to be caution in cold exposure (not to mention a LOT of self knowledge and self awareness), but I personally have experienced SO MANY benefits from learning to be cold…as have many others.
I encourage you to be carefully curious about the cold and your health and wellness.