Attending to Use in Cold Weather

walking in winter

by Claire Rechnitzer

— Brrr, humbug… There’s no shortage of cold-weather self-care tips meant to keep us healthy and happy during the short, frigid days of winter – but what about self-use? I’m asking because as a self-acknowledged weather wimp, I know that cold weather has the potential for inducing habits of misuse that are often unconscious, certainly unhelpful, and potentially harmful.  Of course, some folks find the cold (especially in the form of snow) inviting and invigorating, but still, there’s a reason it’s called bracing weather…  Whether you’re walking the dog, waiting for a bus, shoveling the driveway – see if any of the following behaviors seem familiar. If you think they may be impacting your Use in a negative manner – consider attending to them with a little awareness, aka CCC (Constructive, Conscious Control*).

Contracting: You know the look; retracting our heads into our necks, squeezing our armpits, hugging ourselves for dear life… It doesn’t actually make us any warmer, but it may put a crick in our neck and reinforce our winter-blues crankiness. Try loosening up a little – that usually lightens my mood and puts a spring in my step, which in turn encourages me to move a little faster. If that doesn’t warm me up – at least I reach my indoor-destination sooner!

Going into Tunnel Vision: Granted, our view may be framed by a [surely faux] fur-lined hood and a tightly wrapped scarf but compounding that by poking our heads out and down – into the tunnel so to speak, effectively makes us top heavy and more prone to falling and\or overexertion. Of course, we want to be on the lookout for slippery spots, but we can lower our gaze by moving our eyes or tilting our face instead of curving our necks and trunks. In fact, looking around, taking note of the horizon and being conscious of the space behind us can have a stabilizing and grounding effect – kind of like raising and staking a tents center pole.

Holding our Breath: A lungful of glacial air can feel like inhaling ice splinters but that’s no reason to stop breathing. Breathing in through the nose (or through a scarf or a mask, if you needed another reason to wear one😉) will warm the air just enough to allow for a fuller, deeper breath. Yoga practitioners say that the extra oxygen will stoke your internal fire, and Alexander would say that expanding your thorax is, generally, conducive to good use.

Shuffling: Waddling like a penguin is a behavior that many of us adopt even when the cold is not accompanied by frost. Shuffling across ice just makes us stiff (and potentially sore), and the side-to-side motion can make us swing out of control, making a fall faster and harder.  Instead, safety experts suggest marching with short, flat steps, lifting rather than locking the knees.  The dictionary defines marching as walking with a measured and regular tread … in a stately, deliberate manner. (For the record, penguins don’t march, catchy award-winning documentary title notwithstanding, even though, contrary to popular belief, they do have knees. However, they use them for swimming, not walking!)

Those of you who are well versed in their Alexander Technique practice may notice that antidotes to these common cold-weather-induced habits of misuse effectively correlate to the Technique’s four basic directions:

Stop Contracting\Let the Neck Be Free,
to Get Out of Tunnel Vision\to Let the Head Go Forward & Up, 
to Breathe Expansively\to Let the Back Lengthen & Widen,
to March with a little more grace than a penguin\to Let the Knees Go Forward & Away

Whether you need or wish to brave the cold, be chill about. And keep in mind that even indoors, winter can make us cocoon and kvetch. There’s a saying attributed to Scandinavians – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. So, put on another layer and hygge!

*Constructive Conscious Control of The Individual is the title of F. M Alexander’s second book (first published in 1923). The term Constructive Conscious Control deserves more of an explanation than a footnote allows for, but basically it describes an ideal where things that are within our control get managed in a conscious, constructive manner, as opposed to being subject to unconscious conditioning, suppression, repression, or wishful thinking**.

** Sorry kids, wearing your PJs inside out will not guarantee a snow day 😕.

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