Thoughts on staying healthy this winter
Autumn and winter bring cold weather for many of us (unless, of course, you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case, happy almost summer!), and this change can leave our bodies vulnerable to illness and injury. You might notice your muscles tightening and your flexibility waning. If you have sensitive joints, they might be more achy than usual. As dancers we must take extra care of our bodies, particularly those of over 30. Our muscles and joints just aren’t as resilient anymore, and old injuries from our teens and 20s start creeping back into our practice with a vengeance. (I have scar tissue in my left hip—my landing leg—from over a decade of figure skating. I stopped skating regularly when I was 18. That stuff just doesn’t go away.)
This winter, I’m making a concerted effort to keep my body happy and healthy. Apart from the usual “remember to wash your hands” advice, here are some little reminders as we head into the chilly holiday season.
- Take more time to warm up before a show. Performing cold is perhaps one of the most dangerous things a dancer can do. Bring extra socks, gloves, and sweaters (zip or button-up) to keep toasty in those cold back-stage areas. I also always have a pair of “gig sandals” in my bag to keep my bare feet away from cold floors. And remember that warming up does not mean just stretching. Squats, Sun Salutations (A and B), alternating plies and releves in 1st and 2nd position, and good ol’ crunches and push-ups will help you generate heat from inside your body. Bring a yoga mat with you if you suspect the floor will be dirty (I love my foldable Gaiam travel mat).
- When you’re not dancing, stay warm on the outside. Indulge in cozy robes and slippers at home, and hats and gloves for going out. Keep your pulse points covered (throat, wrists, and ankles), as well as your head. Break out those leg warmers for class and while running errands. Own at least one wool sweater.
- Stay warm on the inside. What we eat has a dramatic effect on our health (understatement of the century, right?) I’m an advocate for eating a plant-based diet, but I do crave a bit of meat in the winter, as it has warming properties (according to Chinese medicine). If you’re a strict vegetarian, spicy foods can keep us warm internally. My favorite winter foods include hearty lentil stews and Chinese-inspired noodle soups. I also love vegetarian Indian dishes. Our cabinet is also full of teas and herbal infusions that contain a healthy dose of ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamom (think “chai” or “pumpkin” spice). I also prefer to have warm breakfasts; even instant oatmeal with cinnamon, ginger, and honey does the trick. If you’re prone to getting cold, even in mild weather, pay extra attention to what you consume. Personally, I avoid cold milk (which isn’t very good for you anyway), soy milk, and wheat. (Personal aside: when I cut wheat out of my diet in 2007, I was the only woman in my office who didn’t complain about it being too cold.)
- Find a good bodyworker. And I don’t mean just massage. Find someone who can identify the physical and anatomical imbalances in your body and work out old scar tissue. An experienced bodyworker will help you avoid injury by keeping your body open and aligned. Also, when your muscles are loose, you might see an improvement in your overall circulation, which will keep you warmer.
- Bring clean clothes to change into after a sweaty dance class. You might be hot in the studio, but when you step outside, those damp clothes will feel freezing! This seems like a no-brainer, but even I forget.
- Don’t force your stretches. Even if you feel warm. You might be able to get all the way into that forward fold during the summer, but when winter rolls around, your mobility might be more limited. Acknowledge those changes, and be kind to yourself.
- Allow yourself to rest. This is also a bit of a no-brainer, but in our fast-paced culture, it’s easy to forget. We feel guilty when we take time for ourselves, but we really shouldn’t. All throughout the natural world, animals and plants are winding down for the winter, finding ways to conserve food, resources, and energy. We humans need to remember that we are animals, too, and require a bit of winding down ourselves.
I hope you find this list useful, particularly if your body, like mine, tends to “run cold”. Here’s to a healthy and happy autumn and winter!