04 Nov The Benefits of Cold Showers | 7 Reasons to Take the Plunge
Difficulty at the beginning. The birth of anything – including a new relationship – is an entry into the realm of the unknown. – iChing 3
While it may seem unpleasant at first to willingly plunge ourselves into freezing water, not only does the body adapt — the benefits of cold therapy far outweigh the discomfort! Check out the top seven reasons why cold showers and ice baths are good for your health and wellbeing.
REASON #1: Improved Circulation
Do you always have cold hands and feet? Feeling stagnate, restricted, or blocked?
Could it simply be the blood in your veins isn’t flowing enough? Scientific studies aside – it’s easy to see that when your blood is moving freely throughout your body you will have a better day. When your circulation is poor, your wellness will reflect that condition. When your blood is freely flowing… warmer hands and feet!
I once heard Wim Hof say to someone…
“You have cold hands and feet? Great!! Put them in ice, warm them up!”
He says this because the vascular system responds to temperature. Veins have smooth muscle that act to both constrict and dilate the veins. Hot, cold – hug, open – hot, cold – hug, open.
When your body experiences cold, your ENORMOUS circulatory system responds. It’s a total vascular system workout. Temperature is the key in exercising this extensive network of smooth – blood flowing – muscles. We often do not use these tiny yet mighty smooth muscles of the vascular system.
Our modern technology has provided us with so many ways to keep our temperature at that perfect 72-76 degree range of comfort, that we are simply losing prime physiological capacities. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
There are many reasons why taking a cold shower could be beneficial. Improved circulation alone is enough reason to challenge any aversion to discomfort and brave this difficulty at the beginning.
REASON #2: Reduced Inflammation
As children, most of us went to the school nurse for a bump or scrape in the school yard. We sat with a bundle of ice on it and were sent on our way. It is well known the cold is a helper in reducing inflammation and swelling. It’s very curious to me that the school nurse will put the ice on a black eye or swollen ankle but then she may have suffered from whole body or chronic inflammation. Often times medication is the only answer provided for chronic inflammation. Not only do these medications take time, money, and resources to acquire but they often have intense side-effects and can build dependancies for life. Inflammation is a key byproduct of most all ailments and diseases.
‘The ice is the firefighter of the inflammation’,Wim Hof
We know ice reduces swelling and inflammation, so why are cold showers and ice-baths only for pro-athletes? For one, most of our bodies are frightened of the cold, because it is obnoxious and uncomfortable, even downright excruciating. Therefore we shy away, and move even further from the abilities that are our primal birthright, when in fact a cold shower a day could very well keep the doctor away!
REASON #3: Healthier skin and hair
Just like when the vascular system constricts when exposed to cold temperatures the pores of the skin also close and tighten. By ending your shower on cold you help the skin be in a ready position to be protected from daily dirts and oils. A warm shower helps to soothe and open the pores, great! Then a cold rinse helps to close the pours and protect the skin making it poised and ready for the day!
REASON #4: Stress Adaptability
We have all most likely had the experience of a stressful situation being very difficult in the beginning and then after some exposure to the same stressful situation its actually not that bad; like learning to ride a bike, public speaking, or test taking. Some stressful situations can be considered ‘negative’ and some ‘positive’, or helpful vs non-helpful stressors. Public speaking can be used as a positively impactful stress, whereas being in an accident maybe not so much.
The cold shower when used gradually and consistently is the of the positive stress type. A helpful stress that builds strength, adaptability and resilience. After exposing yourself to this good stress, both gradually and regularly over a period of time your tolerance level will improve and regular daily stressors can start to become less of a challenge and proceed with more ease.
REASON #5: Environmental Resilience
Once upon a time I would be cold and miserable I went if I went anywhere and it wasn’t above 80 degrees and sunny. Alongside being a native Texas, I was also hyper sensitive to the cold. So much so I wouldn’t even swim in pools in the Texas Summer because I couldn’t tolerate the temperature shift. After 3 years of cold training, during a Denver winter I found myself at the grocery store, wearing a tank-top and yoga pants. The cashier made an exacerbated face and told me how cold I was making her. I didn’t understand and upon looking around I realized that everyone was wearing full on cold gear: puffer jackets, scarves, gloves.. the whole lot!
The realization was amazing to me, like all the hard cold training work had finally bore fruit! I wasn’t even cold, and I wasn’t even wearing a jacket. This is what cold training avails to the practitioner. A greater flexibility in relating to a range of environments. True comfort!
REASON 6#: Balanced Nervous System
We all know what happens when the phone lines are down or lines of communication at work get crossed. It can be chaotic or even detrimental. Our nervous system is the communication network of our body, and can become unbalanced when reacting and responding to stressful situations in the environment, especially if these stresses become habitual, persisting over a long period of time.
Cold showers can retrain or “reset” the nervous system, helping us to react, respond and communicate more effectively with the environment. This provides a much greater opportunity for productivity and wellbeing.
Cold showers benefit the nervous system by creating stronger polarities and a clearer boundary between stress and relaxation. By going from one extreme to the other, and back again, our growing familiarity and ease builds and strengthens the lines of communication.
Studies in Heart Rate Variability show that when your heart frequents many levels of variation in its rhythms, it is healthier and has a longer lifespan. The same can be said for the nervous system. When your nervous system is able change chemically, on demand, consciously, from stress to rest and back again with little to no blip in the transition you are set up for success.
The cold shower takes the body into a good stress extreme that we don’t often experience. It is not just a physical exercise, it is deeply neurological; influential on the mental, chemical, emotional and physical level.
REASON #7: Breath Awareness
When you hop into a cold shower or even better… an ice-bath, your breathing has no place to go but into action and ideally, awareness. Breath awareness is an age old practice and a teaching within many cultures, meditation systems and edicts. The cold is a complimentary, practical tool in the practice of breath awareness. If your breathing is inhibited the cold will show you where you are withholding.
We often breathe on auto pilot but when stepping into the freezing lake or really cold shower the breather hops into the drivers seat and does the best it can to bring control and keep the system balanced. There is no subconscious hiding place for our breathing when the cold comes to town. It is the number one tool for breathing awareness and serves as a mirror and viewfinder into your breathing patterns and capacities.
Awareness, Insight, Epiphany!!