Oh, my goodness, it is frigid in this neck of the woods! We have had a week of temperatures ranging from -1 to 13 degrees (Fahrenheit). Like any card-carrying member of this region, I know all about layering and bundling; sometimes, however, a chill moves deep into the bones, and it is seemingly impossible to shift the body to warmth and balance.
Following are a few fun and fairly simple ways to remind your body that it needs to add some oomph to its inner furnace. First, however, a quick dose of physiology: The organ systems (from a Western standpoint) that are most directly associated with heating and cooling of the body are endocrine (glandular), circulatory, and digestion. The thyroid, pituitary, and pineal glands factor heavily in regulating the body’s metabolism and thermostat; the heart keeps blood pumping through the body; and the small intestine is particularly crucial to transform and assimilate food energy that the body uses to maintain thermal balance.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, these physiological pieces are found in the “organ” systems that correspond with the Fire element: Heart and Small Intestine, and Pericardium and Triple Warmer. Each meridian “team” is comprised of a yin and yang organ: Heart and Pericardium are yin; Small Intestine and Triple Warmer are yang. Inherently, then, working with these systems’ meridians elicits balance. These meridians run through the front and back of the arms.
The endocrine system is found throughout the body: The adrenals, for example, lie atop the kidneys; and the thymus is in the chest, situated between the lungs. Another gland, which many think of as an organ, is the pancreas. As it is connected to the small intestine, this gland also plays a role in today’s discussion.
The first way to combat chill is to ensure that your blood is circulating effectively, Any movement will help, but today I am going in the opposite direction; while it may seem counterintuitive to slow down and rely on stillness to generate circulation, a yin yoga posture that addresses the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium (or “Heart Protector”), and Triple Warmer meridians is a gentle, soothing way to restore balance to those organs.
On all fours, as if to practice cat/cow spinal flexes, slide one arm under your body, palm up, reaching along the ground through the “gate” created by the opposite arm and leg. Allow your shoulder to come to the ground as you slide and stretch the arm along the floor. Your head will rest on one side. Stay in this position for 2-4 minutes, and then rise up to repeat to the other side.
Tip: You can also practice the posture in a knees-wide baby (or child’s) pose.
Next, move to your thyroid. This technique employs a light self-massage in the form of myofascial release. Sitting comfortably, place your hands on your chest, fingers pointing toward each other. Apply slight pressure with your palms, and allow your hands to become dead weight. It will feel as if they are gently “dragging” your skin downward; however, with the pressure applied, you will access the myofascial tissue beneath the skin.
Now you will enact a series of head movements to open the throat and neck region in which the thyroid (and parathyroid) reside. First, look up and as you do, allow the jaw to drift open. Slowly return to neutral. Next, slowly turn your head to the left, and then right: pause briefly on each side. With the mysofascial release still at work, repeat the first upward tilt. Finish the series with very, very slow head circles.
Because you have now “prepped” your body with a bit of yoga and massage, it is fitting that the third and final technique is a meditative visualization. The pituitary gland is often called the “master gland,” as it controls other glands in the endocrine system, including the thyroid. The pituitary, however, receives instructions from the hypothalamus, an area in the brain, by way of neurohormones. If the body is out of whack in some way, the hypothalamus will signal the pituitary to check in with the other glands, and thus determine which one needs to get to work.
Although the pineal gland is not responsible for any element of the body’s heating system, it lies in such close proximity to the hypothalamus and pituitary, that to stimulate the pineal gland will reverberate energetic intention to its neighbors. Any time one focuses on the Third Eye (between your brows), the pineal gland is thought to be activated. So, sit quietly, and turn your closed eyes up to gaze at your Spiritual Eye. With each inhale, imagine warming flames rising from your root chakra, up through the energy vortexes, filling your body with warmth. As you exhale, send the warming energy out through your limbs, ending at and filling your hands and feet.