And if you said
Jump in the river
I would because
It would probably
Be a good idea
– Sinead O’Connor
If you ever would have told me that a freezing cold shower would be the best part of my day, I’d have told you to go jump in a river (ooooh that sounds good to me now!)
I mean, Why not plunge in a freezing lake?
Truly, in the abyss of 2021, what do I have to lose?
My mental and physical health have been in the toilet (COVID-anxiety, pet loss grief….)
In recent months I had seen two separate friends posting on their social media about plunging in ice baths. And these were two friends I trusted to not be completely out of their minds (they are vaccinated and believe in science, but also aren’t afraid to try outside the box non-Western medicine. Integrated medicine is our jam.)
So I decided to see what Wim Hoff was all about.
I loathe the cold. I hate winter. I hate snow. I don’t even like to enter a non-heated pool.
But cold water exposure has actual scientifically proven benefits for pain reduction, inflammation, and anxiety. There’s even new research on cold water and degenerative disease prevention. And even if I felt positive effects that were entirely psychosomatic, I’d be OK with that.
My primary goals in my experiments are always to boost my weak immune system (I have borderline Primary Immunodeficiency) and help manage my crippling anxiety. But I was also interested in the possibilities of improving my Raynaud’s Syndrome, lower back pain, general intolerance to cold, and general intolerance to discomfort – all effects my friends have claimed to experience.
The breathing part is easy. An 11-minute YouTube tutorial guides you through a practice that should leave you feeling deeply relaxed. I was able to embrace this daily practice despite not usually being a fan of breathwork or meditation.
Then I braved my first encounter with cold water exposure – a cold shower. When the cold water hits you there is a moment of “fight or flight” response where you immediately want to jump back. The key is to getting past that initial shock and using a combination of breathing and focus to embrace the cold water. Soon I was up to daily one-to-two-minute showers, always taken after my regular daily hot shower. And I absolutely love the way I feel when I’m done. It’s like a dopamine or caffeine hit.
A few days later I drove up to meet with two Wim Hoff enthusiast friends for my first plunge. It was close to 60 degrees and sunny outside but the water was less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I pushed through my fear and waded straight in up to my shoulders. It took gentle guiding and eye-contact from my friends but I think I lasted at least 90 seconds, which is really all you need for positive effects in water that temperature. And when I emerged I felt awesome. What an unexpected high!
The next time I took the plunge I went with a group of a dozen women from Ice Women New Jersey. There was something deeply connected about the brief experience. Women coming together with their own personal reasons for seeking strength and healing. This time, I was the one to offer a bit of coaching and connecting to another woman in the water. As one friend put it, “We gained something internal from the cold, from the struggle, from enduring and overcoming.”
Even if the physical benefits turn out to be bunk (which seems unlikely with a body of evidence to back up most of the claims), there is no denying the emotional and mental benefit of overcoming something daunting. We feel empowered and each have our own anecdotes about how the process helps us with our anxiety, fears, and emotional balance.
Is this for everyone?
Like just about everything in life, this probably isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of things we try that just aren’t our cup of tea. But for me and everyone I personally know who has tried it, they gained something from the process. For me, it’s changed my daily routine for the better. And it’s brought me a sense of connection and community I’ve been desperately needing, even if it’s just for an hour once a month.
Would you take the plunge?