Here is a brief history of me and the cold: I considered myself a constitutionally depressive person until the age of 18, at which point I left Washington state for southern California and discovered that, in fact, I had just been a little chilly.
I take freezing temps personally. Why are you doing this to me? I hiss into the wind. And yet, after college, I moved to New York City. My inaugural winter was a catastrophe. I didn’t own a winter coat or waterproof boots. My first apartment was a wind tunnel, and the only source of heat was a radiator situated directly under a window—whatever warmth it generated escaped instantly out into the night. At my irredeemably bad customer service gig, we squabbled over one shared space heater; seniority plus the sort of sadism that sets in at very bad jobs dictated that it was never my turn to thaw. In any 24-hour period, I was only reliably warm when I was showering, or a beer/shot combo deep at a crowded dive bar.
A perpetual chill mimics depression in that it becomes impossible to imagine feeling any different. The good times are gone, says the frost, and they won’t be coming back. That first winter went on forever, single digits into spring. “I can’t do this anymore,” I said to myself out loud one morning in March, and by “do this” I meant “put on socks.” The fight had gone out of me.
Then, a miracle happened.
Somehow—was I dancing? schlepping Craigslist furniture home on the subway?—I discovered that I could do a few squats, no more than ten, and my entire body would instantly hum with warmth. It was as simple as starting a car. Ten squats and I didn’t need (“need”) to burrow under my comforter after showering. Twenty squats before I left for work and the walk to the subway was no longer profoundly dispiriting, just sort of annoying. Thirty before bed and I could wear one pair of socks instead of three. Squats for warmth! A built-in cudgel against despair! Who knew!
Squats are free, and simple, and adaptable for every cold emergency. In a chilly movie theater, you can hover an inch off the seat until your blood starts moving—ditto February bus rides and red-eye flights. You can hammer out 20 squats in the office bathroom, or, if you work at a startup, insist they become part of the “culture.” You can even get away with a sort of modified wall-sit at a house party as long as you’re not trying to impress anyone.
Am I in great shape now? I wouldn’t say that. Can I do a basically unlimited number of squats? Yes, and don’t mind if I do. My butt has grown like the Grinch’s heart. And while my landlord has never once indicated that he cares whether I live or die, I do not fear the winter.
Someday I will move back to California and kiss the warm asphalt all January long. Until then, I’ll use my glutes. If you are a fellow cold-averse freak, I invite you to join me. Squat to greet the day. Squat to shake the blues. Squat for a butt that will double in size like bread dough rising in a patch of sun. It’s cold out there, but your legs know a secret.
Katie Bloom is a writer living in queens.
Collage by Emily Zirimis.