Start within. One of the life lessons to take off the mat is acceptance. By surrendering to and accepting the world as it is, we open up to the possibility of moving through our days with ease and a sense of harmony. Sure, sleet and ice and a whole lot of darkness is not particularly conducive neither to ease nor harmony. But if we do like good Norwegians do and wrap ourselves up in knitted jumpers and general coziness, it does make the dark days more enjoyable. Bring on the cat, cocoa, chai and cuddles!
Here are a few other tips on how to stay warm, healthy and happy:
Abhyanga – self massage. This is an ayurvedic massage technique. In India you might get it from two massage therapists using a whole lot of warm oil. But it can also be done by yourself at home as a nice way of increasing circulation, taking care of stiff, cold muscles (anyone say hips?) and dry skin. Plus it has a lot of other great benefits, such as better sleep and digestion. Here’s a nice and simple example of how to it:
Jala Neti is another helpful practice. It’s great to prevent a stuffy nose and painful sinuses. This is one of the Shatkarmas (or -kriyas) in Hatha Yoga. Basically it’s the simple practice of rinsing out the nose. It’s done with a small pot (called lota) that you can easily find the pharmacy, at yoga studios selling yoga equipment or online. You prepare luke warm (body temperature) water with 1 ts salt per liter. This gives it the right salinity to become isotonic, and thus non-irritating for the sensitive nasal membranes. With the chin drawn a bit in tilt the head to the side and pour water through one nostril and then switch to the other one. If it feels uncomfortable or painful, stop and try adding more salt. Having the right amount of salt really makes all the difference. Make sure you blow your nose thoroughly with the head bent forward over the sink until all the water is out. I’d also recommend doing sun salutations, downward dog, standing forward bend or any inverted pose afterwards to completely clear the nose. I personally do this practice every morning, right after brushing my teeth, flossing and scraping my tongue. It may sound gross, but it’s the perfect way to prepare the body for deep, balanced breathing.
Warming spices. This is the season for comforting soups and stews, and for drinks like masala chai, cocoa or herbal teas. Feel free to add warming spices like cardamon, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg to your food and drinks. Remember that warming doesn’t necessarily mean hot. Use your ayurvedic dosha (constitution) as a guideline. Very hot or pungent spices can irritate your digestive system if you’re a vata type person and aggravate pitta related conditions. Kapha might need some hot spices, and no matter your dosha a little bit of chili can help on a cold winter’s day. Just don’t go overboard with it. Remember that most of us are a combination of doshas, and that we nead some heat in winter. I recommend trying out some South Indian food like masala dosa or paratha if you have any places nearby serving it. In Oslo I know of one good place called Palmyra Café in Motzfeldts gate.
Warming pranayama. There are several breathing techniques, like Ujjayi (whispering/ocean breath), Kapalbhati (one of the cleansing shatkarmas), Bhastrika (bellows breath) and the one I love: Bhramari (humming bee breath).
Get some sleep! Bears hibernate during winter for good reason. It’s dark and cold out there. Being tired just makes you more prone to feeling chilly all day, and to catching whatever goes around. Try to ditch that last episode of whatever it is you’re watching or that email you know can wait until morning and give yourself some time to wind down before hitting the hay. And please hit it before Cinderella time. Starting the day right requires ending it right. Getting to bed early gives you the luxury of more rest and more time in the morning. Say, time for neti, tea and a little bit of yoga, pranayama and meditation before breakfast. Difficulty sleeping? I’m a notoriously light sleeper myself and I also get cold on hands and feet in the evening, making it hard to fall asleep. My best sleeping aid so far is the abhyanga self-massage above followed by a nice, warm shower!
Escapism. Ok, so you’ve reached the edge of acceptance and can’t really take it anymore. If you have a bath tub or know someone with one, you can always get in for a nice, warm soak. I love eating ice cream in the bath, closing my eyes and retreating to my own imaginary summer, just for a few minutes. Call it a meditation on warmth, if you like. If you’re a member of a gym, do take advantage of their saunas. I feel very lonely in the spa at Elixia sometimes, and it really surprises me that many pass on this opportunity to really zap some stress and feel warm to the core.
A real escape. Go somewhere warm. Take a yoga vacation. I’ve previously arranged trips to Morocco for a week of yoga and surfing. Lying on the beach or by the pool is like charging a solar panel. We absorb the sunlight and get some vitamin D in our system at just the right moment. So if you have the chance to go somewhere, do it!
Happy warm winter!