There are two general ways to get warm: either you bring in heat from an outside source or you generate it from inside. (Extra clothing just keeps the inside heat from escaping.) So you could stand next to a stove or do some exercise. Pretty straight forward and not very interesting.
But now how do those yogi types manage to sit in the snow and melt a circle around themselves? No movement, no stove. That sounds totally cool. What is their secret? Some of you esoterica seekers may know of the Tummo method and I’m not sure how Wim Hoff the Iceman does it.
Well, while I can’t actually melt ice I have learned to generate some heat and can tell you a few ways it’s done. Whatever the methods, they can all be described rather simply, but their implementation is quite another matter.
Again there are two main ways, internal and external and I’ll start with the inside one which is easier.
Internal. The process is essentially a Yang one where you make the blood go to the surface of your body and heat up your outer layers. The maxim goes, “The mind moves the energy, the energy moves the blood.” So you use your mind to expand the blood flow, inflating the body as it were. But it’s not enough to say it’s only your mind; there are always some critical physical components.
The main one is called “ding” or “press”. Start by placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and pressing lightly, just a few ounces, toward the top of your head. Put your hand on the top of your head and see if you can detect a pressure change in your scalp caused by your tongue. Turn it on, turn it off until it’s obvious to you, or better yet, to someone else. It sounds physically impossible and maybe it is. The change is not directly physical but energetic which then creates physical movement.
Once you can make that happen the next step is to make another part of your head expand a little and then your whole head (not too much now.) From there you direct the energy into your body, down your arms, torso and legs. Choose where you want the energy to go and consciously send it there.
I find it also helps to do the yoga trick of relaxing the soft palate and letting it drift upward toward the top of your head.
If you’re one who needs to know why the soft palate and “ding” works my best guess is that you are contacting the main energy center in the brain, the upper tantien, the third eye, which disperses energy in any direction quite naturally (as do the middle and lower ones.)
As a regular winter practice I use this method almost exclusively and it works well enough at least in my climate which doesn’t freeze much. I do it in the context of San Ti, the main Yang standing posture, which amplifies it considerably. You can read about that here. San Ti in turn is the energy work, the nei gung, of Xing I, the most Yang of the internal martial arts.
Coincidentally or not, I’m finding that all that Yang energy keeps the winter microbe invaders at bay. The colds can’t get in because they’re kept out by all that heat radiation, is my theory.
The lower tantien also has the capacity to radiate pressure and heat and it’s in more convenient proximity to inflating the pelvis and legs. The only sensible physical component here that I know of is compressing your belly when you inhale and letting it expand as you exhale. But that discussion’s gonna get real complicated real soon and deserves more screen space.
External. You can also bring in heat in from the outside. These exercises are more Yin.
1. Situate yourself near a source of heat such as the sun or a fire. Feel it radiating on your skin. Then very consciously do what you can to absorb and pull it deeply into your body. This alone will get you warmer than just being in the presence of the heat. Next try to pull it into your lower tantien, the energy center in your belly, and store it there.
2. Now move away from the heat to where you can no longer feel it but still see it. Again do what you can to pull it in from a distance. Of course this skill is more difficult to develop. And again try to pull it in with your lower tantien. When you feel it stored in your belly allow it to radiate out into the rest of your body. If some place is colder, such as your feet, send it there.
3. Let’s say you have some success there and want a more challenging task, something on the order of psychic abilities. The center of the earth as far as we know is molten iron which is very hot. That can also be tapped into. Let your mind sink deep down until you feel the heavy density, the stronger pull, and the slightly higher temperature. Then pull it into your energy center just as you did with the visible source of heat and let it disperse throughout your body. Obviously the degree of difficulty here is greater but so is the reward; my own teacher says had to learn this in order to survive a winter in the Himalayas.
All these tricks are both as simple and as complex as they sound. As always Practice is the key but I can offer a few more tips.
—Don’t try to learn this when you’re freezing cold shivering. The tension in your body will make it much more difficult for your blood vessels to open up. Start when your temperature is relatively comfortable. Also, read #4 of this yoga post.
—You will need to experiment with the active/passive, yin/yang balance. How much effort v. how much relaxation you only learn through trial and error. Too much pull or push will reduce your effectiveness. Yin or Yang, you should not strain yourself in any way.
—About going deep inside the earth, the advice I got here was to approach it like a living being and ask politely of Gaia’s abundance. Don’t act like your Mother Earth owes you something or you may get nothing at all.
So, as simply as possible, you develop two skills:
First you learn to radiate heat from your energy centers to your whole body. That’s Yang.
Then you learn to bring it in from outside, even from a very faint source. That’s Yin.
Okay three, Then you mix it up. That’s Yin Yang.
Finally, we’ve mentioned the gathering/dispersing capabilities of the upper and lower tantiens, so what about the middle, the heart center? It certainly makes perfect sense because your heart pumps your blood. Indeed it is associated with Fire in Chinese medicine (and the West) and there are practices focusing on just that. My experience here is limited to other heart practices, (there are only so many hours in a lifetime) but I welcome any observations any of you may have.