Last week here in Wilmington, Delaware it was really cold. Maybe not as cold as in some parts of the country, but the high was below freezing for a couple of days. Even though the reported high Wednesday was 30°F, according to Weather.com it never “felt like” more than 20°F even at the “warmest” part of the day.
I mention this because I like to walk outside every day, usually for about 45 minutes. I do this partly for the exercise, but I also crave that time outside in the open air moving my body. For me exercising inside (which I sometimes do also, but not on a daily basis) doesn’t give me this satisfaction.
As I mostly walk alone I often like to use this time to specifically work with the Alexander Technique as a way to be aware of my body, my thoughts and my surroundings, and as a way of redirecting my thoughts consciously to prevent unnecessary tensions.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday I took my walk in the afternoon at the “warmest” time of day. Even so, despite my layers of clothing, I was still cold. I noticed that my habit was to respond to the cold by tensing up my body and contracting in on myself. I think this is very common. Imagine miming to someone the feeling of cold – you’d probably hunch your shoulders in, scrunch your neck, hold your arms real tight to yourself, and so on. Having practiced the Alexander Technique for years now, I was able to notice this very quickly and consciously prevent myself from allowing those unwelcome tensions. After all, I could let my clothes keep me warm (not the tension!).
More of a challenge, however, came as my finger tips started to throb from the cold. I noticed when I balled my hands up into more of a fist, to keep my finger tips more protected and to warm them up, it was very hard not to also tense my arms and tense my neck. I also put my hands in my pockets for a while (something I never normally do when walking, as I like to let them swing naturally), so the challenge was to not stiffen and tighten my shoulders, even though my arms weren’t moving as much as usual. Using Alexander Technique thinking I was able to consciously help myself not tighten or stiffen up. I was also able to allow my hands to curl softly around without them being tense and rigid, which in turn was much nicer for my arms and neck.
This made me wonder, when we complain of having a sore neck after sitting in a cold draft, for instance, could it be that sometimes it’s not actually the draft that caused it? Rather, it’s our response to the cold – the tensing and tightening up – that is the culprit.
Do you know if you tense up when you’re cold? Next time you have to be outside in the cold (or inside for that matter) see if you notice how your body responds to the cold. If you have scrunched yourself up in some way, ask yourself if it is necessary? Are you able to let it go?