Have you ever taken the plunge into a body of cold water and experienced the feeling of aliveness that comes with it? No, I’m not talking about the shock that you experienced by doing something uncomfortable - I’m talking about that invigorating feeling that floods your body saying, “God damn! I’m definitely alive!” In fact, what could make you feel more alive than doing something that instantly pushes you out of your comfort zone?
In our first-world modern lives, we have the convenience and comfort of never-ending hot water at our fingertips. Often, we forget what a privilege it is to have access to hot water and how hard our ancestors had to work for the rare opportunity to have a hot bath.
In a world of modern convenience and comfort, why would we ever consider taking a primitive cold shower?
Humans around the world, and throughout time, have had an intimate relationship with lakes, streams, ponds, waterfalls, and oceans. Water is life, and as creatures living on a water planet, we are intimately connected. There is something about the stillness of a frozen body of water that calls to our innate nature, saying “come in”, but why? Taking cold showers is a simple holistic practice, for physical and mental well-being, that ties us back to the nature of what it means to be human on this earth.
Documentation from ancient cultures such as the Greeks, Native Americans, and Japanese monks, shows their awareness of the physical and mental health benefits of cold water. We can easily implement the benefits of this ancient human practice into our daily lives by taking cold showers.
How does it work? Cold showers gently shock our nervous system and send electrical impulses throughout the body and to the brain, acting as a mild electroshock therapy, also known as “hydrotherapy”. Positive results can be achieved in as little as five minutes.
What do you have to lose by giving it a try? What could you gain?
Although it is common knowledge that athletes use cold water to treat injuries, research in this area has been growing to support its effectiveness. Cold compresses and ice baths decrease inflammation by lowering the temperature and allowing new, fresh, warm blood to flow into and heal the area, which leads to muscle recovery. Daily cold showers can improve your overall physical health by improving the circulatory systems of your blood and skin. Exposure to hot water can deplete natural oils and dry out your skin, while cold water seals your pores to maintain moisture.
When exposed to harsh conditions, such as cold, the body works harder to maintain its core temperature. Specifically, little powerhouses in your cells called mitochondria, are put under temporary stress and through this stress the mitochondria repair and grow to become stronger. This plays on the body’s natural ability to adapt to harsh conditions. Through taking daily cold showers, you create a controlled environment that strengthens your mitochondria, and your body becomes more resistant to stress and pathogens as a result.
Cold showers are also beneficial for your brain health. Studies have found that daily cold showers improve the health of your Vagus nerve, which helps strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is responsible for rest and digestion and plays a role in lowering heart rate to decrease stress. While strengthening the PNS, and improving digestion, cold showers increase metabolism as well. Yes, taking cold showers can help you lose weight, too!
Since cold water activates the natural healing properties in mitochondria, it is no surprise that cold showers improve your immune system and resistance to colds and the flu. Some studies even show that cold showers increase white blood cell count, which can build resistance against cancer. Cold showers can also increase testosterone production and improve fertility. In fact, some studies show that exposure to hot water can drastically decrease sperm count in men by nearly 500%.
Although the physical benefits of cold showers are abundant, what may be more important are the mental benefits. Taking daily cold showers pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to be present in the moment. By connecting with your breath, you build mental strength and endurance.
The first thing that will happen when you start to take cold showers is a shock to your system, more mental than physical. You may question “why the hell am I doing this?!” Remember that is it good for your health, and that this is part of human nature. Breathe into the cold and feel the strength in your willpower and the aliveness of your cells. You are supported by your body in this experience of life. Be grateful and take care of it. As you breathe into the experience of the cold, feel the fresh oxygen flood into the cells of your body and mind.
The cold water will shock your mind into one state: present being. Your inner dialogue is temporarily interrupted by silence. After the initial shock of the cold, convince yourself to accept the circumstances. Know that this will not last forever, and although it may be uncomfortable for a few minutes, that you are improving your physical and mental health and well-being. You are strengthening your mind to build resilience in stressful situations. When you stop resisting the current circumstances and accept that things are the way they are, a sense of peace comes over you. You may even find that you enjoy it.
Most importantly, remember that you are choosing this. You are making the decision that your health and mental well-being are worth a few minutes of discomfort if it means long-term benefit. By simply accepting the situation, you lessen your suffering. You will develop the habit of making tough choices and sticking with it. Your discipline will improve, as you ignore that voice inside your head saying, “I can’t do this” and you do it, anyway. You will gain confidence as you challenge yourself to do the thing that you never thought you could do.
You will even feel happy that you are doing it! Taking daily cold showers is a practice in mindfulness and can relieve symptoms of depression by increasing endorphin production, otherwise known as happiness hormones. People who follow this practice report increased optimism and feelings of well-being. Not to mention the increased alertness, clarity, and focus that comes from shocking your nervous system with cold water!
Imagine having the emotional strength to not react to the jerk that cuts you off in traffic. Cold showers build emotional resilience, to help you tolerate what used to be intolerable. You will become less reactive to the stressful situations in your life, making those around you ask “What is their secret? How are they so calm?” The secret is taking daily cold showers.
Now imagine the most difficult thing you have ever accomplished. How much did your mental chatter hold you back, and tell you that you couldn’t do it? When you start taking daily cold showers, you know that it is going to be unpleasant. But you make the decision to do it, anyway. Because you are building that mental strength and resilience, you know that things will be tough but that you can handle it, and you are going to see it through to the end. You will learn that you are stronger than you think.
Cold showers are not a magical treatment to cure all ailments. But it is a simple, traditional, and holistic practice to increase the physical and mental well-being of all humans. Since you probably don’t want to go jump in a frozen lake right away, you can start by slowly lowering the temperature of the water at the end of your normal shower.
Use your willpower to stay under the water for one minute, then two, then eventually work your way up to five. Breathe into the cold and know that you are strong enough to bear it. Know that you are improving your physical and mental health just by being present. Breathe and know that the discomfort will not last forever. Feel the invigorating life force inside of your cells come alive with fresh, new energy, as you strengthen your mitochondria, immune system, and nerves.
There is nothing to fear about taking cold showers, and you have nothing to lose. In life, when you are faced with uncomfortable situations, will you retreat into your comfort zone? Growth doesn’t happen there. By making the decision to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, you are expanding your mind with what is possible. You may realize how many things you can do that you never thought you could.
What other practice can you do in five minutes a day that will improve your physical and mental health, instantly? Give cold showers a try. If you can handle daily cold showers, you can handle almost anything.