Sunday, December 29, 2013

Some Tips for Keeping Warm this Winter!

As 95% of my close friends flee home for the holidays, I have begun to notice the cold a little more here in Armenia because I am sentimental apparently. The weather itself is not much different than in Canada, and considering the horrible-sounding ice-storm that hit Toronto, it seems that Armenia isn't a bad place to be right now.

However, that doesn't stop my fingers and toes from freezing when I need to walk anywhere for more than 5 minutes, so I became inspired to share a tip for those trying to stay warmer this winter:

Sesame oil. BAM. Mind blown, I know.

For most moisturizing purposes, I tend to use either coconut oil or shea butter. They work great, are natural options, and I like their scents. However, coconut oil, according to Ayurveda, is considered to be a "cooling" oil, which makes it ideal for summer or warmer weather in general. Sesame oil, on the flipside, is considered to be a "warming" oil.

I am by no means an expert in Ayurvedic medicine, but I did study it in nutrition school as a result of the impact it has had on medicine (usually in terms of preventative or holistic), and how although it has been around in India (where it originated) and South Asia for at least 5000 years, different schools of thought are finally finding it to be more and more relevant and are incorporating it into their own teachings. It can be defined generally as a practical science of life that focuses on every aspect, element, and facet of life in order to promote healing on deeper levels and believes in treating every person as an individual with a unique constitution.

When I was in nutrition school, I went full-on "in" and tried about 95% of the recommendations within the different courses on myself (out of excitement usually). Steeped ginger and lemon tea is a super-nutritious way to start your morning, you say? Did it for a year and felt great. Non-rancid flax seed oil is essential for neuron protection, cell formation and can help limit sugar cravings? Bought and returned 6 flax seed oil bottles until I found a non-rancid one to take 1-2 TBSPs every day. Felt amazing and my skin glowed like a pregnant lady. I became pretty hardcore about everything and as a result was able to see what worked for me specifically, since one of the main ideas behind holistic nutrition is to treat each person as an individual.

The course on Ayurvedic medicine was full of suggestions, with all foods (including spices, herbs, etc.) being categorized in terms of whether they had a net cooling or warming effect. For example, most people would think that spicy foods/herbs would have a warming effect, but in Ayurvedic medicine, they are considered to be cooling since their net effect causes us to perspire and therefore "cool off". I tried countless ideas from this course (except any suggestions about yoga of course) and when I saw merit in them, continued.

Two things I try to do as often as possible (I have been slacking a bit lately) are skin brushing to improve circulation and remove dead skin (glowing pregnant skin, baby!) and oil massages, or Abhyanga massages (had to re-check the spelling of that one).

During the summer I would use coconut oil for this, but during the winter raw sesame oil is KEY!

How to do the massage (long & short options): in the morning, pour a little sesame oil into a bowl (the amount depends on whether you want to do full-body or not) and put it on top of hot water in a pot/bigger bowl to warm it up but not cook it. While it warms up you can begin dry skin brushing (optional, but for the full-body oil massage they really do go hand in hand) starting from your feet all the way up to your neck in upward motions, with circular ones for your stomach. If you have never tried dry skin brushing, the first few times can feel a little intense, but you will get used to it. Best to do it in your shower or tub as skin flakes may come snowing down. It will energize you, improve circulation/blood flow, remove any build up of dead skin cells, and in the case of women and some men, will reduce cellulite as it is a "deep" brushing that works with the subcutaneous layer of skin!
This is the kind of loofah I use for skin brushing
Once you are finished, you can begin the oil massage. Rub the oil onto your skin, from toe to head. Again, best to do this in the shower or tub as some oil may trickle down Adam Smith style. On limbs, long strokes work well, and make sure to really work the oil into the skin. On joints and your torso, circular motions work best. Once you have covered your body, move on to your face (including ears), again with circular motions. I have also done scalp and it tends to be included in the full-body massage. Try to keep the oil on your body for at least 20 minutes - you can do stretches or yoga dance steps to pass the time, and then just hop into the shower. The residue/film of the oil will leave you moisturized, and in the case of sesame oil, will still have its warming effect as it has been absorbed by the top layers of the skin. Skin-brushing combined with the Abhyanga massage will improve your circulation, stimulate your lymph nodes, and rejuvenate your skin. You will feel like you have an aura of sunshine around your entire body!

Now, for people who are not interested in doing this full-body massage, you can still use sesame oil to stay warm in a quicker way - simply use it as a face wash or face/body moisturizer. As long as it is not toasted sesame oil but raw, there is no scent so you will not end up smelling like a stir-fry. My fingers and feet are really the only parts of my body, besides my nose, that become extremely cold, so I focus on using it on those areas - either before I leave the house or when I am home as a moisturizer and for the warming effect. You can use an old pair of socks to wear over your feet to keep in the oil and so that you do not grease-up your floors or slippers. For my face, I tend to rub the warmed oil all over, leave it in for a bit, and then rinse it off and lightly towel dry so that it does the job but does not leave my face oily.

Since we are on the Ayurveda-train, here are some edible options for warming herbs/spices:


Try to incorporate as many of these in your dishes and/or teas for some internal warming effects as well! Greet winter with an aura of sunshine and lollipops, and radiant skin! 


  1. Wish I saw this before the blackout!

  2. Beautiful! Just reminded me of my time in Boston, how one day I decided to rub a light layer of Vaseline on my skin before going out in freezing temps. Did wonders. Good info here. Thanks.

  3. Awesome post! If you don't mind me asking, during my research about holistic treatments for cancer, I bumped into some articles claiming that Oregano Oil is capable of curing Cold and flu. Is that true?

  4. Hi Nichole - sorry for the late response - I somehow missed this comment! Oregano oil is commonly used for its anti-oxidant & anti-bacterial/microbial effects, so it definitely is a good choice for preventing colds or flus! Lots of people I know swear by it!