How to

22 June 2016

How to Use Mind Tricks to Keep Out the Cold

There are plenty of methods to keep the cold at bay, from heating to insulating to exercising to skydiving into an active volcano, but sometimes, no matter what you do, the discomfort still finds a way in. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in any danger of hypothermia or other medical complications, it might just mean that you’re feeling the cold, and you’d rather not be. Shy of throwing on an extra layer or five and sweating to the extreme, what can you do?

Well, you might think the phrase ‘mind over matter’ only belongs in bad kung-fu films and Criss Angel shows, but the principle can be applicable to many different kinds of discomfort, from lack of sleep to stress to addiction pangs, and cold is no different. At the most basic level, just thinking about warmer conditions can go some way towards willing away the chills, but you can do a lot better than that. Tibetan monks have developed meditative techniques so powerful that they can survive and even be comfortable in temperature conditions that would actually kill other people. We can’t go quite that far, but there’s still plenty that can be done without a lifetime of training, aligned chakras and access to inner peace.

Vase Breathing

Vase breathing, otherwise referred to as ‘g-tummo’, is a meditative technique developed in Tibet by Buddhist monks, and while you’re unlikely to be able to do it as well as they can, the rudiments are actually relatively easy to grasp.

Find somewhere comfortable to sit, and just take about 10 normal breaths to start with, to get a feel for the natural, relaxed rhythm of your inhalations and exhalations. Then, you place your hands over your lower abdomen in a triangle shape, with your thumbs touching tips just in front of your naval. This is called the ‘lower dantain’, a meditative position used for several different breathing techniques.

With vase breathing, you let your lower belly expand out to meet your hands with each inhale, imagining that your torso and stomach make a vase, and the inhalations are clean, fresh water being poured in. To help with this, you release about 85% of the air when you exhale. As this is happening, you need visualise flames running up the length of your spine. Do this for long enough, and you should start to feel warmer.

Focus on ‘Warm’ Emotions

This might sound a tad ridiculous, but emotions do actually have a direct effect on body temperature. Remember the first time you told your significant other that you loved them, and they said it back? Did you feel warm in that moment? I’ll bet, and that’s no accident. Studies have shown that perceptions of temperature can be directly affected by personality attributes, but they don’t even have to be yours, necessarily.

Have you ever noticed that there seem to be a lot more romantic comedies and other similarly gooey fare in the cinemas and on TV during the winter? It has long been known that viewer demand for that kind of material goes up in the winter, as romance has become more and more associated with psychological warmth.

This is a complete trick, of course, you’re not actually getting any warmer, it’s just an association being drawn between a particular feeling and a particular physical state, but it does work. So, the next time you’re bemoaning the fact that Love, Actually is being shown for the 5th evening in a row, remember that it might actually come in handy if the heating packs up.

Cast Your Mind Back to Warmer (or Happier) Times

Memory is a powerful thing, powerful enough even to keep you warm. In the same vein as positive empathy, the psychological comfort brought on by the recollection of happy memories can actually make you feel warmer by association. One particular experiment found that after reminiscing, people were actually able to keep their hand in icy water for longer, and thought a cold room was a higher temperature than it actually was.

As with the above, psychological warmth does actually trigger the same parts of the brain that relate to physical warmth, so although you aren’t actually getting any warmer, you will feel as if you are. There are a few different ways to help this process along, such as looking at old pictures, listening to music with a particularly personal significance or, if you can, filling the room with a smell which has the same effect. Smells are particularly evocative, so say if you were in a relationship with someone who used to light incense a lot, try that (provided it ended on good terms). 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.