September 21, 2014
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9 ways to warm up this winter

When it comes to winter, bears get it right - all that fur and fat as natural insulation against the frigid cold. And the idea of hibernation is certainly tempting. Imagine not having to emerge from your warm, snuggly bed every morning. Imagine looking out at the snowy skies from your cave and grumbling in response, "Nah, not today."

Well, you're no bear, but you can be a yogi! Practicing yoga is just one of the many ways you can warm up your winter. Snuggle up to these 9 ways to thaw, melt, warm, or otherwise heat up the cold, cold months of winter.

Warm up like a yogi bear. Ashtanga is a form of yoga that heats you up from within. But this isn't the so-called "hot" or Bikram yoga you may have heard of. In Ashtanga yoga, you do a series of flowing asanas (poses) connected by special breathing techniques, all intended to create internal body heat. You may feel cold and stiff when you first walk into a yoga studio, but you'll soon feel your body warming up and becoming more flexible and strong. By the end of an Ashtanga class, you're bound to shake off the chill and walk out into the cold all wrapped up in new, warm, and blissed-out energy.

Switch on the slow cooker. Fog up the kitchen windows with slow-cooking foods. Catch-all crock pots give you a chance to cook up a variety of vitamin-rich vegetables. Choose winter fresh veggies, such as potatoes, parsnips, squash, or pumpkin to create hearty, healthy stews and soups. You could add in cuts of chicken, turkey, or pork for a lean source of protein.

Set the kettle to boil. Crock pots also come in handy when you're longing for the warm, winter scent of hot apple cider. Cider, hot cocoa, a steaming cup of coffee or tea - they're the sorts of sips we crave more often when the temperature dips. There's something so comforting about folding cold fingers around a steaming cup of something warm - like coffee. Thankfully, research has proven that coffee will not kill you. And black tea, green tea, red wine, and cocoa are high in antioxidants, which can help protect the body from the damaging effects of reactions in the body involving oxygen. Marshmallows, on the other hand, should be plopped into your cocoa with moderation.

Get steamed. Could hot cocoa benefit your skin, too? Some spas in Japan actually offer hot baths in... chocolate! With or without extra flavour, hot soaks, steam baths, and saunas have been enjoyed by people around the world for centuries. Each can stoke your internal furnace and warm you into a state of relaxation.

If you take a steamy escape, just be cautious. While steam may relax you and relieve overworked or sore muscles, extreme heat can lead to hyperthermia (heat stroke) or dehydration. Should you feel faint or ill, take a break from the steam. A leisurely bath infused with lavender essential oil is another calming, warm-up option. Keep baths brief, since the hot water can dry out your skin. People with certain medical conditions (e.g., heart disease) should stay away from the steam all together or seek advice from their doctor before trying it out.

Apply some heat. Heat can soothe sore, tight muscles and comfort stressed-out nerves. Drape a heating pad around tired feet or stiff wrists. You could fill a clean sock with uncooked rice and pop it into the microwave, creating a flexible heating pad to wrap around aching necks or shoulders. An old fashioned hot water bottle could ease a headache and raise your skin temperature. Heat could also come from body rubs made from warming ingredients like eucalyptus, mint, ginger, or cinnamon.

Huddle with friends. You rarely hear people talking about loneliness as warm. We talk about the chill of rejection, an icy stare, or being "left out in the cold." A couple of University of Toronto psychologists wondered about the origins of the "cold and lonely" link. One group of test subjects was asked to remember and talk about a time when they felt socially alone. The other group were prompted to recall a time when they felt socially accepted and included. After the groups had reminisced awhile, the researchers got sneaky. They asked everyone what they thought the temperature of the room was, pretending that building maintenance needed to know for repairs. Those who recalled lonely times perceived the room to be colder than those summoning up happy memories. Loneliness actually makes us feel cold!

Bundle up. Obviously, you don't want your body heat escaping, right? But unless you're a ski bunny or a winter weather pro, you may not think of some of the less-obvious bundle-up clothing and accessories. Sure, scarves shield our necks from the cold and hats keep us from losing 30% of our body heat out of our heads. But have you tried wearing a belly warmer? These tummy-toasters are based on haramaki, a protective wrap worn by 16th-century samurai in Japan. The modern version wraps around your midsection and can be worn under other layers. They provide coverage for shirts that may be a little too short and cause that draughty peek-a-boo thing to happen when you stretch or reach.

And don't forget leg warmers, that '80s fashion staple. Or balaclavas: those full ski masks work just as well for people who are not ninjas, paratroopers, or planning on robbing a bank! There are also faux-turtleneck neck warmers and always-precious earmuffs. And don't forget the magic word for winter warmth: layers.

To thaw a cold body, get close. It's a strong instinct across the animal kingdom - to snuggle up to someone when you're cold. But it's also just good physics. When a cool body comes into contact with a hot body, some of the warmth will get transferred from the warmer to the colder body. A snuggle can be innocent and comforting - or a bit more intimate.

Sexual intercourse, with all of the increased blood flow and movement, will obviously generate some body heat. And weird as it sounds, keeping your socks on while you do the deed could make things even steamier - and not just because your feet will be warmer! In a Dutch study, researchers found that couples who had cozy toes were more likely to reach orgasm than those with bare feet. Now you have a good excuse for wearing those big woolly socks to bed.

Wear those woolly socks to bed. Sleeping your way through the long, cold nights makes sense, but what do you do if you're awakened in the night by fitful sleep? Put on some socks - and warmer pajamas maybe. Turns out that warming the skin may improve the quality of sleep. One study has shown that if you increase your skin temperature by only 0.4 degrees Celsius, you may experience deeper, more satisfying sleep with fewer wake-ups through the night.

Amy Toffelmire


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