If cold weather is your catalyst for freezing feet and stiff legs, you’ll know all too well how difficult it can be to deal with poor circulation. Whilst layering up and wearing socks and slippers is indeed one of the many habits your grandparents would have nagged you to pick up, there are a few other practices that can help maintain warm and toasty toes, legs, and even hands. Keep reading to find out how to enhance circulation and warmth when it’s most needed:
One of the kindest things to do for your body each day is to massage it – even just for a few minutes. Doing this first thing in the morning is a quick way to instantly enhance circulation around the whole body, relieve overnight stiff muscles, and prepare for movement. Not only does it help physically – but it also encourages a better connection with ourselves and better body awareness (i.e. awareness of posture, breathing, sensation etc.).
When you wake up, gently massage the feet with your thumbs – firm circular movements on the soles of the feet works well for ‘breaking up’ adhesions in the plantar fascia, and can go a long way towards more flexible legs, hips and back. Massage towards the heart, squeezing the muscles gently to boost circulation. Using an oil with warming qualities such as sesame or mustard can add to the warming effect, and be sure to pay special attention to any areas you hold tension.
Shake it Up
Animals do it as a natural way to stay warm, and we do it when we’re feeling cold. Shaking is the practice to begin in order to truly wake the body and mind up in the mornings (or throughout the day if you’re feeling lethargic), and to also relieve stress and tension. When our minds are holding on to tension, our bodies are too, and shaking can help lessen any subconsciously held stress, promoting more relaxed muscles, better circulation, warmer limbs, a brighter outlook and a more positive mind.
The ‘hack’ to staying warm is really knowing which parts of your body will give the most noticeable effect without having to wrap yourself up in thick itchy jumpers and giant scarves. The feet, ankles, wrists, neck and head are the five most important places to keep warm when you’re feeling a chill – so invest in some thermal socks and slippers, leg warmers or longer socks, gloves that cover the wrists, a warm scarf or ‘snood’, and a hat. If you have relatives eager to knit you a gift for Christmas, this is the time to say yes!
The Hot / Cold Paradox
Stepping into a cold shower is probably the last thing on your mind during Winter, however adding a blast of ice-cold water could be the key to maintaining warmth after a hot shower or bath.
Different traditions give different advice when it comes to health, but one thing the ancient Eastern health and wellbeing systems agree on, is that cold immersion can be very beneficial for both the body and mind.
In the Spring or Summer, a cold shower may be best for invigorating the senses and removing any feelings of heaviness, but in Autumn and Winter, it’s important to maintain a degree of comfort and warmth. Try taking your usual warm bath or shower, but ending it with a burst of cold water. With the blood vessels already open and the body warm, the cold water will encourage the body to respond by enabling more blood flow towards the temperature receptors, as it thinks it needs to work to maintain heat. Although you may feel a little cold at first, the body will begin to heat up and you’ll stay warmer for longer, as well as feeling more energised and awake after the cold burst.
Fire Up Your Digestion
If your digestion is a little ‘off’, the whole body suffers. Most of us know by now about the connection that runs between the gut and the brain, and that if the balance of gut bacteria is slightly altered in the wrong direction, it can cause anything from bloating to depression.
In order to feel energised, increase circulation, and allow the body to work properly, we need to enkindle digestive ‘fire’, also known as Agni in traditional Yogic terms. You could think of maintaining digestive fire a little like throwing logs onto a real fire. If the logs are damp or made out of something that won’t burn efficiently, the fire will eventually go out. If the logs are thrown on gradually and they’re made of exactly the right material, the fire will keep burning brightly for a long time.
Cold, frozen, raw or ‘damp’ foods are usually best to avoid at this time of year, as they can slow down and prevent digestion, and raw foods especially can be difficult to digest, causing bloating and gas. Warm, cooked and easy to digest foods such as soups, stews, dahl and curries are some of the best foods for colder months, and adding spices such as cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cardamom, mustard seeds, cayenne, chilli pepper and cumin can all work to enhance digestion and warm the body up.
Get Moving + Keep Going
Even though heading outside or to the gym on cold, dark Winter mornings and evenings can seem like a mammoth task, the benefits are valuable on both a physical and mental level. Movement of course boosts circulation, it warms the body up and can release muscular tension from cold environments, but it also releases a plethora of hormones that raise mood and motivation levels, and can literally help us deal with the ups and downs of Winter more easily. Some of the chemicals released help improve sleep, stress, anxiety and depression, and the enhance circulation benefits brain power too – helping you think more clearly.
The way we breathe effects not only how we feel emotionally, but also how cold or warm we physically feel. Breathing through the nose allows air to be warmed up by the blood vessels and tiny hairs that line the inside of the nose, meaning the air we breathe in is a little warmer when it reaches the body. Certain breathing techniques can also be utilised in order to warm up, such as Ujjayi breath, often used in Ashtanga Yoga.
To practice Ujjayi breath, place your palm in front of your face and ‘huff’ out the breath, as though you were trying to fog up a mirror. Then try the same way of breathing, but with the mouth closed. When you’ve got the hang of this, try breathing in with the same technique (a little like trying to yawn with your mouth closed). Breathing like this constricts the back of the throat slightly, narrowing air passages, and warming the air up as it travels through the body. Adding this breathing technique to a Yoga practice such as Surya Namaskar or ‘sun salutations’ is another wonderful way to warm up in the mornings and greet the day.