What is a Haramaki? The Health Benefits (and more) Explained

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Helen Foster
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The Haramaki is the health accessory you didn’t know you needed. The first winter I came across a Japanese haramaki, I mentioned it in pretty much every single publication I work for this winter as I was amazed at it’s effect and it become one of, if not THE, favourite products I’d tried that year. But what is a haramaki and what health benefits might you get from wearing one?

Haramaki stomach scarf being worn around the middle of a young woman

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What is a Haramaki?

A haramaki is effectively a scarf for your tummy – a Japanese belly warmer or belly wrap if you like.

This wasn’t always the case. The original haramaki was a piece of chest armor worn by Japanese Samurai to protect the middle of their body from attack. However, the name also loosely translates as ‘wrap up the middle of your body’ – and that’s how it’s used today.

Today’s haramaki is basically a tube of soft, stretchy material that you pull up around your middle. You wear it under, or over, normal clothes and it just keeps the area around your midriff warm – but, by raising your core temperature, this then warms up the rest of you.

I love it because I have feet that normally feel like ice – if I put on a haramaki though, they warm right up. In fact, it’s such a quick reaction I tried it while typing this post. About thirty minutes ago my feet were freezing, I put on the haramaki and they are noticeably warmer already.

Exactly why I’m not sure, although there’s possibly some biological theory that if my internal organs are toasty warm, my body feels more secure about diverting blood to my extremities.

Yes, I could just put on a jumper, but I actually hate wearing them – I feel too confined. The haramaki provides the same warming effects I get from wearing a jumper, but without the same claustrophobic feelings.

But warming up your feet isn’t the only potential haramaki health benefit.

haramaki - scarves for your middle
There’s one for the whole family

Warm Stomach, Healthy Body

The theory that a cold stomach is the cause of many health concerns is deeply rooted in Japanese culture – and some other countries too.

The theory is that the stomach is actually the heart of the body and it must be kept balanced – part of which is keeping it at the right temperature.

This is one reason why Japanese food is very seasonal and foods such as oden – a broth-based stew and nabe – a chunky stew are more commonly found during the winter months.

There’s a similar belief in Chinese medicine where warming foods like root vegetables dominate winter diets – and food is rarely served raw.

Other Health Benefits of the Haramaki

It May Raise Immunity

In Japan, people wear Haramaki to protect themselves against infection. Japanese medicine has it that if the temperature of the stomach is too cool you’re more likely to get sick.

They also say that when energy drains from the Hara – the middle of the body – it will also sap your levels of energy and motivation overall.

It Could Aid Libido

There’s a similar belief about the importance of the middle of the body in Chinese medicine too.

The Chinese believe that if your midriff is cold, kidney energy will drain from the system – and this not only puts you at risk of urinary health issues, it also lowers energy and vitality – including libido!.

It May Help Period Pain

Even if you don’t buy into the theory of kidney energy, wearing the haramaki is also very good at creating comforting snuggly feelings should you be having period pains or cystitis.

It’s Good for Morning Stiffness

It’s also really good first thing in the morning if you wake up with stiffness in the lower back.

During the night the fluid between the discs of the back drains out and this can be why you take a while to get moving in the AM, but by gently warming and raising blood circulation around the lower back, wearing a haramaki might help get you moving faster.

It May Help With Digestion

If your digestive system is cold, the theory is that it just won’t work as effectively.

And, as we’ve explained in some of our posts on bloating (like why chickpeas cause bloating), the longer things hang around in your digestive system, the more likely they are to ferment which can aggravate problems like IBS or cause bloating and gas.

The theory is that by wearing a haramaki, you keep the digestive system warm, keep the circulation flowing effectively and, keep everything moving along more easily.

It’s Great During Yoga and Pilates

Lastly, wearing a haramaki is also a fantastic way to create warmth when you’re doing workouts like Pilates, weights or yoga where you might not want to wear bulky clothing as you want to see the muscles working.

Popping a Haramaki around your middle can raise core temperature enough to keep your middle warm – and heat up the rest of you but let you keep your arms, shoulders, back or legs more exposed.

If you tend to heat up during your practice, pop it over your top, rather than wearing it directly against your skin.

You’ll get the same results but it’s more easily removed once blood circulation improves and you start to warm up..

One of my favorite ever quotes came from an acupuncturist I interviewed about how to stay healthy in winter. She was very pro-haramaki. She told me  ‘I spend most of January walking around wanting to tell people to cover up or pulling their tops down to cover their kidneys.’

The negative effects of cold kidneys, I can’t prove, but I can say if you get cold easily – but hate being bundled up, or you’ve always got cold feet, then why not give wearing a haramaki a try and see if the extra warmth changes things for you the way it did for me?

Where to Buy a Haramaki

There’s a lot of different haramaki brands now available but the one I use is the Kokoro Haramaki which was the original brand to launch here in the UK when I first wrote this piece back in 2013.

You can also find some basic lightweight wool haramaki for both men and women, in neutral colours by clicking here.

If you’re looking for something a bit more fun though, I’m loving the designs from haramaki brand Kaya that also take inspiration from Japanese culture.

Wearing haramaki used to be something that was mostly done by older people, but younger people have cottoned on which means you’ll find some funkier designs now – there are even Pinterest boards dedicated to haramaki designs.

Which of these

Top Tips for Wearing a Haramaki

You don’t have to wear them under clothing. If you want to show off your haramaki, or, if you don’t want it to look as if you’ve gained an inch around your middle, then wear it on top of a shirt or t-shirt.

The haramaki in the first picture is unrolled all, the way – I wear mine doubled over as I find then it doesn’t interfere as much with normal clothes. Although this does make you look a little bit fatter.

If you work in an office where the temperature is up high, you might only need your haramaki for getting to and from work – in this case, it might be easier to wear it over your top layer so you can take it off more easily.

So, there you have it – why you might want to add a haramaki to your winter, or workout, wardrobe – and where to find some very cute ones.  I love mine.

Who is The Wellness Nerd?

My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.

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