Just when I was ready to do the unthinkable – go south for a couple months to ease the agony of bruma morbus malum (translation from Latin: winter morbidity syndrome) – I discovered skraalung, a low-impact exercise regimen that provides relief for the afflictions of winter.
When temperatures dip to the minus-20 line on the thermometer and the weather forecast calls for another 3 to 5 inches of snowfall, the human psyche longs to sooth the corporeal body by easing it into warm and quiet hibernation. But Homo sapiens have not been granted that grace by the forces of evolution; we must endure as best we can the hardships of winter in the North Country.
It is mid-January, the last days of the final hunting seasons have freeze-dried and blown away, and we are slowly collapsing into that stiff and stumbling winter lethargy characterized by physical aches and pains and psychological depression. Ahead of us lie 10 more weeks of winter, this bleak season when we rise before late sunrise and doze off just after early sunset, trapped in the house much of the short daylight hours by the chill of sub-zero temperatures and knife-like slash of 20 mile-per-hour Arctic winds from the north and west. Our bodies respond by punishing us for subjecting them to this abuse, tormenting us with a cold, endless, throbbing ache. Our minds walk us down their darkest corridors, opening iron doors to usher us into windowless rooms decorated with anguish, worry, and dejection. Medically, this phenomenon is known as bruma morbus malum (translation from Latin: winter morbidity syndrome), and it can be a harsh and cruel malady.
But there is hope for relief. Just when I was ready to do the unthinkable – go south for a couple months to ease the agony – I discovered skraalung, a low-impact exercise regimen that provides relief for the afflictions of winter. First practiced in the northernmost regions of Sweden (or maybe Norway; the history of this workout is cloaked in mystery), skraalung was developed in what is unarguably the coldest, darkest, most remote, and most isolated winter environment on the face of the Earth. Nowhere else do humans suffer more physical and mental tortures than along the Scandinavian perimeter of the Arctic Circle, so the benefits of skraalung have been tested and proved in the harshest conditions imaginable. As is said: if it can help a Swede survive the winter, it can help anybody.
Skraalung (pronounced scrawl-loong) dates back hundreds of years, first mentioned in the Norse sagas of the Vikings in the early ninth century. The Vikings were probably not much discomforted by winter’s traumas and tensions themselves (although they were “carriers” who inflicted them on the general populace and understood how winter terrors destroyed hearts and minds), so it is odd that they practiced skraalung and lauded it in their myths and legends as a gift from the gods. It may be coincidence, but when skraalung disappeared from Norse tradition in the mid 11th century, so did the Vikings.
Skraalung is as simple as it is effective. To practice it, situate yourself in a comfortable location such as a recliner or an overstuffed easy chair and huddle under a thick blanket or comforter to get warm. Extend both forearms along your thighs so that your hands rest palms-down upon your knees. Cup your hands as though they were resting on a grapefruit or a softball, and slowly and gently close your hand into a loose fist. Open your hand, extend your fingers, and repeat the motion 20 or 30 times.
To realize maximum benefit from skraalung, at least one hand should be placed on the top of the head of a dog that is resting its chin on your knee. A two-dog skraalung is the ultimate, of course, but even a one-dog skraalung is still more than twice as effective as the basic dogless skraalung. There is some contentious debate about the best breed of skraalung dog. The Vikings allegedly preferred Norwegian Elkhounds, but I personally find that the dome of a French spaniel’s head, just behind its ears, is the perfect size and shape for my skraalung sessions. An additional benefit of the canine-assisted skraalung technique is that it also eases tensions for the dog and provides both of you with pleasant memories of the bird season when you were giving her a similar appreciative head-rub after she retrieved a pheasant or grouse.
Midway through the exercise you should feel the tension and stress flow out of your body through your fingertips, beginning with your arms, continuing up your shoulders, across your back and chest, and gradually relaxing the tight muscle fibers and nerve channels throughout your entire body. When you feel the nape of your neck and the back of your head loosen so that your chin rests on your chest and you begin to doze off, you have attained the acme of the exercise and can cease all motion and thought for up to an hour before winter morbidity syndrome returns.
I recommend you try skraalung to cure the next onset of winter morbidity syndrome. If you attempt the canine-assisted technique, I caution that you may find yourself napping in your easy chair with a 50-pound bird dog in your lap. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but take care that she doesn’t knock over your stein of beer.
Which reminds me that I forgot to mention the role of beer in skraalung. Well, you can figure that out for yourself.
More stories about hunting, bird dogs, bird guns, and life in the North Country are published in my three collections of essays and two novels, all available through my Author Page on Amazon.com Jerry Johnson Author Page