Cold Hands and Feet? Try These 3 Tips to Improve Circulation

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Has winter affected your circulation—and not in a good way? If so, you're not alone; many people near and dear to me suffer from poor circulation, and winter tends to bring out the worst of it. Constantly feeling cold, mentally sluggish, and lethargic—all side effects of poor circulation—can drain the winter season of joy and productivity. Fortunately, there are a few remedies I can recommend!

To reverse poor circulation, it can be helpful to understand why it occurs. There can be many reasons behind poor circulation, but a common pathology in Chinese medicine is referred to as Liver Qi stagnation. If you've been following me on my blog, you may remember that Qi (pronounced chee) is the invisible energy or lifeforce that makes everything function. All of your blood and lymph flow and metabolic processes are initiated by this invisible substance.

Qi is found everywhere, not only in your body. It can be divided into Yin and Yang types—Yin Qi being the cooling, dark, wet, and heavy Qi, while Yang Qi is the fire or the heat.  In the winter, the Yin Qi is on the earth's surface. This is exhibited in weather patterns; winter is much more cold, dark, and wet in comparison to the summer months. In the winter, the body has to rely on its own stored-up Yang Qi within to warm up. In Chinese medicine, the Liver is seen as the main force in the circulation of this Yang Qi. Therefore, if the Liver functions properly and moves the Qi proficiently, then the extremities will be as warm as the torso, if it doesn't then a resulting issue is cold hands and feet.

The following are 3 super easy tips to promote movement of Yang Qi throughout the body.

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1. Try Bathing your Feet

Soaking the feet has been a key aspect of Chinese medicine for many, many years. In the ancient classic texts, soaking the feet was absolutely mandatory for those with cold extremities. It was said that the hot water improved the circulation of Blood and Qi throughout the body. In addition, different herbs were added to these baths, because the actions of the herbs were absorbed through the feet into the rest of the body.

One simple combination I'll recommend here allows you to get started on your foot bath today with ingredients found in your own home or local grocery store.

  • First, find a large pail or bowl that allows you to soak your feet and a good part of your calves (there are many acupuncture points on the feet and lower limbs that will also benefit from the introduction of warmth). 
  • Next, heat up enough water for your foot bath on the stove. I like to also get my tea kettle going so that when the water cools I can freshen it up a little. 
  • While that's going, cut up a few slices of fresh ginger (about 1-inch piece), add 1 cinnamon stick and boil in a tiny saucepan with about a cup of water—like you were making a soup or a tea. 
  • When the water is ready, pour it into the foot bath adding the "ginger-cinnamon soup" 
  • Next, add 1/2 cup of Epsom salts and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar to the mix. Make sure to check the water before putting your feet in! You should soak for at least 15-20 minutes, if you start to sweat then you know you've had enough. This is best done right before bed, as it is also calming to the mind. 

Following is a brief breakdown of the benefits of each of the ingredients:

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Ginger- A strongly warming herb that helps to unblock energy channels. It dispels cold (Yin), and reinforces warm (Yang).

Cinnamon- One specific function of cinnamon as seen in the Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica is that it warms the extremities. Physicians have also determined cinnamon can positively affect memory.

ACV- "softens the Liver" Recall that the Liver is the organ in charge of circulating the energy in the body. The Liver is prone to anger and stagnation which is why it requires softening. In order for the Qi to flow smoothly, we need the Liver to function correctly and efficiently. ACV also detoxifies and has strong anti-fungal, moisturizing, and softening (for your actual feet this time) effects, so it is a nice addition to any foot bath.

Epsom salts- Contain magnesium and sulfate, together they powerfully help to improve circulatory health, eliminate toxins, relax sore muscles and relieve stress.

Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend, Upavistha Konasana   Begin by sitting on a small pillow or blanket with your legs straight out in front of you. Slowly begin to open your legs out wide to the side as seen above. When you begin to feel a stretch in your inner thighs, stop. Try and straighten out your legs and pull up on your toes. Place your hands behind your back to help elongate your spine. If you need more of a stretch, you can place your hands in front of you and begin to lean forward. If you noticed that when you do this your back starts to round or your legs/groin feel too tight, stick with the position above. Hold for approximately 8 deep breaths.

Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend, Upavistha Konasana
Begin by sitting on a small pillow or blanket with your legs straight out in front of you. Slowly begin to open your legs out wide to the side as seen above. When you begin to feel a stretch in your inner thighs, stop. Try and straighten out your legs and pull up on your toes. Place your hands behind your back to help elongate your spine. If you need more of a stretch, you can place your hands in front of you and begin to lean forward. If you noticed that when you do this your back starts to round or your legs/groin feel too tight, stick with the position above.
Hold for approximately 8 deep breaths.

2. Exercise/stretch AKA—Move your Qi! 

I know, I know. Everyone always talks about how important exercise is, but in this case, it is absolutely necessary. In order to get your Qi circulating at an optimal level, movement and stretching must (I repeat: must) be included in your daily routine. If you don't have a regular exercise program, there is no time like the present to start one; try starting small by incorporating gentle walks and stretching. It can be especially helpful to stretch your Liver meridian which runs along the inside of your legs, your inner thighs. It may not surprise you that this is a common area of extreme tightness in adults. By combining gentle exercises such as walking and stretching, your Qi will start moving in no time. See below for two staple stretches that access the part of the Liver meridian that flows through the inner leg. Bonus: stretching this meridian will help with things such as irritability, depression, and anger as well!

Bound Angle Pose, Baddha Konasana   Begin by sitting on a small pillow or blanket with your legs straight out in front of you. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale bend through your knees and start to bring your feet in towards your pelvis, as pictured. The real stretch of the Liver meridian happens when your feet are pulled further in towards your body vs. further out which ends up being more of an outer thigh stretch. If this is too difficult, pillows can be placed under your knees or you can do this stretch lying down as explained in a previous post:  Breathe Easy During the Holidays  .  Try to keep your spine long and tall. If you need more of a stretch, follow the same guidelines as above, start to lean forward cautiously paying attention to when your back, knees, or groin start speaking to you. Hold for approximately 8 deep breaths.

Bound Angle Pose, Baddha Konasana
Begin by sitting on a small pillow or blanket with your legs straight out in front of you. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale bend through your knees and start to bring your feet in towards your pelvis, as pictured. The real stretch of the Liver meridian happens when your feet are pulled further in towards your body vs. further out which ends up being more of an outer thigh stretch. If this is too difficult, pillows can be placed under your knees or you can do this stretch lying down as explained in a previous post: Breathe Easy During the Holidays .  Try to keep your spine long and tall. If you need more of a stretch, follow the same guidelines as above, start to lean forward cautiously paying attention to when your back, knees, or groin start speaking to you.
Hold for approximately 8 deep breaths.

3. Apply topical creams/lotions that are warming

As a long time sufferer of cold hands and feet, I was willing to try anything (and just about did). Some of my favorite "fixes" that have worked for me are mentioned in this post. This last one I like to pair with the foot bath. It has become a nice little nightly ritual for me to soak my feet and then massage both my hands and feet with a warming herbal based salve. I tried to make my own for a while and didn't have much success (but that doesn't mean I'm not still working on a recipe). When I was introduced to Hand and Foot salve created and manufactured by Dr. Guo in Attleboro, MA. it quickly became my all-time favorite. It contains essential oils and herbs that warm and promote circulation such as turmeric and cinnamon. By rubbing it onto your hands and feet you will create a friction that also helps to increase the warming capacity; you also activate a ton of acupuncture points that will continue to help improve your circulation. If you're interested in Hand and Foot salve, more information can be found here. 

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Lastly, make sure to keep your hands and feet covered at all times when out in the cold. This protects the Yang Qi of the body and therefore makes it easier for the body to warm the extremities.

Stay Warm. XOXOXOX,

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