The benefits of cold showers are well-documented but how do you introduce the challenging act of stepping into cold water into your daily routine?
A year ago to the day I resolved to take a daily cold shower. Admittedly I was in Fuerteventura at the time where the temperature was about 30 degrees so it wasn’t a hardship at all. I can happily report that I haven’t missed a day in 12 months, one of my rare commitments that I have honoured. How did I do it and have there been any noticeable benefits? Read on…
I was introduced to the notion of cold showers during my Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training – it forms part of the Kundalini yogi lifestyle and comes with a long list of benefits which I will get to later. It wasn’t enforced during the teacher training so other than a few flirtations with it, I tended to give it a miss. I’m someone who hates to be cold – I’m a summer person, I become hamster like in the winter finding it difficult to go from room to room in our house, let alone venture outside. Cold showers felt like a step too far on the training so I gave them a wide berth.
A few years later and Wim Hof came onto my horizon. I’m always looking for authenticity in my teachers and he was instantly recognisable as the real deal. I read about him and his practices and was fascinated by his achievements and the health benefits his methods were offering people. But of course this all came at a familiar cost – cold! Here we go again – “the cold is your friend” Wim proclaimed “the cold is your teacher”. I gave it another go and lasted about 2 days before resorting to the comfort of hot showers.
But last year when we were on holiday something shifted. My mantra has always been that comfort is the enemy of the people. We now know from a lot of research that it’s the enemy of our health too. I’m approaching 50. I’m approaching menopause. If I’m going to do anything to help my health as I age, it has to be now, I reasoned. I have my yoga practice and I’m a plant-based eater but I was aware that a lot of that was within my comfort zone. I needed a challenge for my body that would help promote better health. Cold showers reared its head again. Third time lucky I thought.
It so happened that I was reading a Tony Robbins book at the time and in it he talked about having things in your life that are non-negotiable – commitments that you make that are so important that you cannot talk yourself out of them. I followed the guidelines and set cold showers as my new non-negotiable.
The Kundalini approach to cold showers is to cover yourself in almond oil and then get straight into a cold shower. I knew that this wasn’t going to work – firstly I don’t have the time to cover myself in oil every morning and secondly, from experience, getting straight into a cold shower hadn’t achieved very much other than making me scream and avoid showering. The Wim Hof approach seemed a bit more realistic, building up your tolerance gradually, so I signed up to one of his courses.
Yes, it was Fuerteventura and yes, it was hot outside, so I actually I didn’t have much difficulty maintaining the practice for the first 10 days. Even though it was only 30 seconds, it felt really good afterwards – my body felt alive and I also felt the self-satisfaction that came from sticking to the practice.
Of course when we got back to the freezing cold of the UK it was a different matter – turning the dial cold on a sub-zero day, and that second or so before the water temperature dipped, were pure hell. But I was in a really weird headspace with it all – I didn’t want to break the non-negotiable commitment I had made. It would almost feel like letting myself down if I didn’t do it. And so I persisted. Not only that but I built up to a minute and then 2 minutes. And then 5 minutes – ok this was a one off but I did it, it didn’t kill me, and I had such a surge of smugness afterwards that I proceeded with the Wim Hof plan.
And that’s where it got difficult. The next part is what the Kundalini taught – get straight into a cold shower and then turn the water hot. No more temperature boosting hot shower first – on the first day I attempted this I just stared at the water for ages and genuinely considered quitting. But it was non-negotiable, I couldn’t quit, and so I did it. And I’ve done it every day since and I can honestly say that there hasn’t been one day where I haven’t wanted to quit, not one day where I’ve wanted to step into that shock inducing water. But I’ve persisted, each day now I do a minimum of 2 minutes cold at the start of each shower, sometimes, I just do cold, and here is what I’ve learned.
Firstly it’s great for your circulation. My toes used to turn blue in the winter, no joke, quite often I wouldn’t be able to feel my feet. But not anymore – my circulation has improved no end, in fact I’m now able to tolerate at least as much as cold, if not more than my ex-army Scottish husband who appears to be nuclear charged. Occasionally I use bed socks but I’m happy to report a new, fully grounded relationship with my feet.
Secondly, I haven’t had a bad cold in the whole year – this might be a coincidence but cold therapy is reportedly of huge benefit to the immune system. My experience has not persuaded me that this is wrong.
Thirdly, the act of committing to something and sticking to it has boosted my confidence exponentially. It has shown that I can change my lifestyle, that introducing things that may initially not fit my comfortable existence is possible. I’ve realised that in the other areas of my life where I have failed to commit as easily, there is probably a hidden agenda playing in the background, causing self-sabotage. Armed with that knowledge, rather than just labelling myself as someone who isn’t very disciplined, I can now go about changing other elements of my life.
And fourthly, and probably most importantly, it has made me fairly comfortable with being uncomfortable. I no longer dread getting out of bed on a cold winter’s morning. I don’t mind leaving the house when it’s icy outside. I’ve acclimatised to that short, sharp shock of the sympathetic nervous system. I’ve realised that I just have to breathe deeply, that my body will adjust if I don’t tense up, that the sensation will pass. That I am designed to do this. That we are designed to do this. That we have overly domesticated ourselves and that our health is really suffering as a result. The body needs to be challenged – it needs to experience hot and cold, hunger, and vigorous exercise to keep it optimised and running our survival programmes. Sitting in overly hot houses and offices every day is slowly killing us with comfort. And it’s limiting our experience of life – we have the most resilient, wonderfully complex body that is designed for life. But our need for ever increasing levels of comfort is robbing us its beauty – it’s like having a Ferrari but never driving it fast, just keeping it locked up in your garage.
I’m now back in Fuerteventura and the unheated swimming pool that last year was totally off limits to me is now a delight. I’ve just finished reading Lifespan by David Sinclair, a Harvard Professor and world expert on aging, specifically on how to stop the aging process. In it he talks about the need to activate the body’s survival circuits that stop the genes from losing information and aging. And one of the key ways to do this? Exposure to the cold. I feel a real sense of triumph that I have already been doing this for a year and fully expect to be doing it every day for the rest of my life. I still hate it but the realisation that I always feel amazing afterwards spurs me on. The numerous benefits now associated with the practice are also motivation enough. So I’ll finish with a list of just some of the benefits, just in case you’re curious, just in case you’re so inspired…..:
– promotes fat loss
– improves immunity
– improves circulation
– aids drainage of the lymphatic system
– strengthens the nervous system, promoting resilience, lowering stress and chances of depression, improves relaxation
– encourages better sleep
– balances the glandular system
– is anti-aging, triggering the genetic survival network, brown fat and improving mitochondrial funtion
– promotes faster muscle recovery
– enhances skin and hair
– makes you feel alive, energised and radiant with a good side dose of self-satisfaction!