Winters in the Midwest are rough even without extra snowfall and subzero temperatures. But this winter, I’m sure we can all agree, has been more brutal than usual. As Snowpocalypse 2014 rolled in even before January, and negative temps and bitter cold wind chills soon followed, most of us were ready for warmer weather weeks ago. As the countdown to spring begins and most of us are wondering how to survive the final four weeks in the polar vortex, there are some things we can do to keep our bodies warm.
The first step in staying warm is to assist our own body’s internal temperature control, otherwise known as circulation. We have amazing ways of maintaining homeostasis, or a state of balance or equilibrium. In other words, when something is out of whack in our body due to environmental stressors such as diet or external temperature, we have internal mechanisms which direct our bodies back into balance. This winter, our main environmental stressor is the cold, so our body is constantly trying to maintain our normal internal temperature. Increasing blood circulation is actually very simple, and uses just one natural resource: water! One method I recommend for keeping warm is taking alternating hot/cold showers on a regular basis. This may sound chilling, but if you do this it makes a world of difference!
How: While taking your daily shower, run comfortably hot water over your body for a few minutes, and then switch to tolerably cold (not ice cold) water for 1-2 minutes. Let the cold run over your neck, chest, abdomen, and back. (This will drive blood deep into the thyroid gland, lungs, digestive organs, and kidneys, promoting natural healing there…a bonus to this water therapy.) Do this for at least 2-3 cycles throughout your shower daily, and always end on cold.
Why: This simple therapy is based on the physics of water. Hot applications dilate (open) the blood vessels, bringing blood flow to the surface of the body. Cold water applications constrict (close) blood vessels, pushing blood deeper into the internal organs and tissues. When we alternate hot and cold applications, we then increase circulation by continually opening and closing blood vessels, bringing blood to the surface, then to the internal organs, then back to the surface again, and so on. We always end with a cool or cold rinse because this brings the blood flow deep inside the body, where we want to maintain a comfortable internal body temperature. In other words, we want to keep the heat inside for as long as possible. The opposite would be true on a hot summer day. As we are out in the heat, our blood vessels dilate to let heat out so that we can enjoy outdoor activities while maintaining a normal internal body temperature.
For some, alternating hot and cold showers does not sound pleasant. However, I can tell you from personal experience that I am able to stay much warmer in winter when I do this at least 5 days a week. Sometimes, in order to be comfortable, we have to take a chance and try something new that may not feel so comfortable. Some additional benefits of hot/cold water therapy: increase deep healing and detoxification of internal organs and tissues, calming the nervous system, better sleep quality.
If the idea of cold showers is not your cup of tea, another great way to increase blood flow for the next four weeks is to add herbs such as cayenne pepper and ginger to your daily regimen. Add a pinch of either or both to your smoothies, spice up your dinner with some cayenne, or have a hot cup of ginger tea at night before bedtime. Cayenne regulates blood flow, as it equalizes and strengthens the heart, arteries, capillaries, and nerves. If you often have cold hands and feet, cayenne is great for increasing peripheral circulation. Ginger is often used as a stimulant of peripheral circulation as well. These herbs can be spicy to some, so they must be used cautiously and in moderation. Some additional benefits of cayenne and ginger: 1) Cayenne is antiseptic; it can help with stomach pains or cramps. 2) Ginger can help settle digestive upset and flatulence; we can also soothe sore throats by gargling with a ginger tea.
Another great way of keeping warm is exercise. Most of us minimize our physical activity in the winter, or even cease altogether. However, the best way to keep your body snuggly warm is to move! Whether it is slow movement like tai chi or yoga, or more active such as jogging, swimming, or biking, exercise is essential for strengthening and toning our circulatory system, and keeping our blood flowing efficiently. Some additional benefits of exercise: Helps strengthen the immune system; helps regulate digestion; helps with mental clarity;
helps with mental & emotional well being; better sleep quality.
Wishing you all a warm, snuggly, final four weeks in the polar vortex! Namaste
Contributor: Andrea MacLaughlin
One Salon Hair Designer / Health Advocate