2 Dec 2012

Warm for Winter Practice

I often jokingly say I live in a paper house, yet it's not too far a stretch from the truth.  Old Japanese houses certainly keep one close to nature.  In summer all the windows and ducts allow any wind there might be to pass through.  The light construction, wooden frame and walls shake well in earthquakes.

But in winter we have to be pretty tough, and learn how to keep warm. Especially here in the North, in what is called the 'Snow Country'

OK so it's not that cold, only gets a few degrees below freezing, it's just that when I wake up in the morning, there is really only a couple of degrees difference between inside and outside. There is no insulation in the walls or roof, so we heat the room up as needed.

The room I practice in, in fact all the rooms in this house, open on at  least three walls.  We cannot, as such, say walls in the truest sense of the word, as every wall has either a window (no double glazing in rented accommodation), complete with paper screens, or cardboard like sliding screen doors.

It is cold.    We use kerosene stoves, I have one with an exhaust which makes me feel a little better about possible fumes, but it's a dry wind and I don't like to overheat the room with it when practicing.  All the deep breathing makes one very conscious of what one is inhaling.

So I have taken a new tactic in keeping warm in general and for practice.  Keep my body temperature high. I am learning the art of bathing.  This is a new experiment, shall report on bathing techniques in another post. But my theory is to keep myself warm from the inside as well as the out.

In winter I practice in merino wool snowboarding base layers.  Wonderful fabric, stretches, super soft on the skin, feels nice to sweat in, and best of all it is natural and environmentally ethical.  I've always tried to avoid synthetic fabrics.  They are just not nice for you, or for the environment, like wearing plastic.

The biggest problem us Snow Country Yogis have in winter though, is dragging ourselves out of bed into the cold.  Best way to solve this is to sleep in the lovely wool baselayer, wearing silk five finger socks and cotton and silk leg warmers.  This all keeps me seriously warm.  Warm enough to get out of bed, slip on another layer and then a down vest.  Into the kitchen for my warm water with lemon juice, then up to the icy yoga room, turn on the heater, and out for a brisk brisk warm/jog/run to get the blood flowing and warm.  Then am reading for practice.

All this seems to be working.  Am practicing, and not feeling the cold too badly yet.  I also think the bathing is helping.

Finally, the BEST bit about winter practice is the sleeping bag for Savasana.  The ONLY way to achieve total relaxation is to have a warm body, and this is the coziest end to a practice.  I have to set my alarm as security as it's very conducive to nodding off again.

How does everyone else cope with cold climate practice? I guess if one is lucky enough to have double glazing and a little insulation things don't get so chilly indoors, or do they?


  1. I'm impressed by your preparations! I lived for a year in Japan myself, although further south, in Osaka, and I remember being miserably cold all winter, especially at school, where there was no heating I we weren't allowed to wear tights under our school uniforms...

    I wonder, though, what do you do about ice cold toes during practice? I live in a warmer place now, but my toes still stay uncomfortably cold throughout the practice in winter, making it easy to stub them against the mat when jumping through (since they are stiff with cold). It's so unpleasant, I wish I could wear socks!

  2. Wow! No heating at all and no tights, that's tough.

    As for cold toes, I find if I keep my leg warmers on, kinda pulled down over my heels through standing, my toes aren't so bad. Trying to focus on getting my core temperature up and blood circulating well. The leg warmers I have are just gorgeous, silk knit on the inside and cotton on the out. I wear them constantly. Nice because, unlike long underwear, you can slip them off when entering warm buildings.

    Good luck, yoga in winter does truly feel like an ascetic practice doesn't it.

  3. oh my, I'm so cold-shamed right now!! ;-)

    When I wake up in the morning in our old stone farmhouse, and the temps outside have dipped down below zero here in the mountains, it's hovering somewhere around 4 or 5 degrees celsius here in the house. I shake, shiver, curse our wood-stove heating system (there are some radiators distributed around the house, and the kids' bedrooms are heated through the woodstove), because it burns out overnight. I've never figured out how to stay warm enough in this house, and I'm naturally chilly anyway. The French call it "frileuse", which I like 'cos it sounds a bit girly and frilly, non? ;-) A fire has to be built, and some tea or coffee drunk, and the children woken up for school (they get up early--our farm is remote and they've got a long commute to school)... I shiver and creak all through the morning, in winter. I wait until I've arrived at our "yoga studio" (a wonderful little community center where we've got no competition for morning Mysore practice group), then I crank the heat up HIGH and get it done! The mayor keeps the heat always at at least 15 celsius in that room, so it feels blissful when I walk in, first thing...

    I've been meaning for years to get some real silk long underwear, but I never have yet. I dress like a hobo at home and strap a hot water bottle to my body with a long scarf! Paul has finally taken pity on me (or grown tired of seeing me shiver and whimper), and we're putting in some very environmentally-friendly geo thermal heating this winter! Thank god. Srsly, thank god.

    You are a badass! A paper house... I couldn't make it. Respect!

  4. Hey. Not feeling so badass right now, more like a bad lady. So busy getting ready for a trip home, practice has been short, if at all...

    Go for the silk underwear. I too have been eyeing some up, but figured wool might be longer lasting. If you find some good stuff do let me know. Merino wool leggings are great for practice and keeping warm anytime of day. Really makes a difference. My favourites are Icebreaker and Smartwool. Both ecologically sound companies. Little pricey, but last : )

    Oh to cold houses eh! Made me laugh, hearing you dress like a hobo in the house. That's me through most of winter!! Am trying to, gradually, collect nicer warm clothes. This morning was a refreshing 2 degrees when we woke up. Thing with these little rooms is they do heat up quickly, just don't hold the heat in.

    Your yoga studio sounds lovely. 15 when you walk in, that is warm! Enjoy your new heating. xxx