The Magic of Cold Showers and Plunges
I first came across the idea of cold plunges when I was looking at my Grandma’s pamphlet from the health farm situated deep in Russia’s Siberia. I must have been 12 or 14 at the time. There were some colour and some old black and white photos, showing people sitting in a half-frozen pond surrounded by heavy snow cover.
They all looked very relaxed and cheery. Even in those old sepia pictures, I could see that their eyes were clear and glowing. Although most of them were probably octogenarian, they all exuded vitality which is not commonly seen at that age.
I was entranced, quite curious, and admittedly – I thought they were all a bit crazy! Who in the world would wittingly subject themselves to the freezing water, however good it might have been!
I knew I would not be silly like that any time soon, for sure
The very idea of feeling cold is very off-putting to most of us. The thought of standing naked in the frigid weather, surrounded by solid snow, and then of plunging into the freezing cold pool is enough to make the hairs raise up your back.
But they were doing it. Daily. Happily. Me? I was sure that I’d have an instant heart attack if I even tried one second in a cold plunge or a shower.
Wind the clock a few decades later, and here I am, taking cold showers daily!
And here’s why.
Benefits of Cold Water Showers/Plunges
I began finding out more about the effects of cold plunges many years later when I was learning Naturopathy.
Traditionally, cold showers or cold plunges are done after the body’s core temperature has been raised first – either by steam baths, sauna, hot baths or strenuous physical activity, such as an intense running session which draws up sweat.
Research shows that being cold, and especially getting immersed into a cold water, has a highly beneficial impact on our body.
Cold showers/baths benefits:
- Improve the Immune System
- Stimulate Production of Brown Fat
- Support Weight Loss
- Reverse Type 2 Diabetes
- Prevent Aging
- Improve the Circulatory System
- Reduce inflammation
- Provide Pain Relief
- Improve m\Mood and Fight Depression
- Help with Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Let me break it down in a bit more detail for you.
Cold water bathing stimulates our immune system, causing a form of evolutionary stress which makes it work harder and more efficiently to protect us not only from the effects of cooling in cold weather but also from infection by bacteria and viruses like flu, passed on by other people. The immune system becomes more robust, effective and much quicker to respond to such attacks, and more effective overall when dealing with any other illnesses.
It affects the production of brown fat. We have three kinds of body fat – the white fat, beige fat, and brown fat. The two main fat types that interest us here are the white and the brown fat. (See image comparison here.)
The white fat is associated with obesity and a number of chronic conditions – type 2 diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, cancer, infertility, and so forth. It is notoriously difficult to lose, particularly when we lack the brown fat in the body.
The white fat cell is quite big, and it comprises of a nucleus (its genetic material), one predominant solid oily mass and very few mitochondria.**
The brown fat cell is usually smaller than the white and contains a large number of mitochondrial cells in addition to a nucleus, and a number of small oily droplets. The brown fat helps our body to break down the white fat, due to the presence of a large number of mitochondria in it. Effectively we are replacing the white fat with a thin layer of protective brown fat which uses the stores of white fat for its production and metabolic processes.
So if you are trying to lose weight, you will help your body utilise unwanted white fat for energy through exercise by including the cold bathing into your routine.
The brown fat can even reverse type 2 diabetes, through its utilisation of body’s triglycerides and sugars stored in white fat cells.
The brown fat produces a number of natural antioxidants, thus preventing ageing and other degenerative processes.
Cold showers or plunges improve our circulatory system too. This is particularly useful for those people who are constantly suffering from feeling cold, having cold extremities, and those who are not exercising regularly. This improvement also helps decrease any inflammatory process and reduces the pain in the body.
Cold showers are very stimulating, and they are beneficial for those with depression due to the endorphins released during cold water showers naturally improving their mood. They are even helpful to those diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome as they regulate hormones leading to more energy, lessening of pain, and increased mobility.
That is some list there! The practice of cold bathing has a huge positive effect on our system.
So where do you start?
The best place to start is to begin courting and contemplating the idea of the cold shower first. Try to imagine what it would feel like.
To me, it is an exhilarating experience! It feels fresh and invigorating as the cold water hits the skin. It starts to produce a shiver all over my body. Then it draws the warmth from deep in the body to the surface and makes me feel really warm. It clears the mind completely, makes me feel focused and relaxed. I feel the increased elasticity in all my muscles and tissues as the blood circulates freely. I feel no pain associated with the current injury to the tendon in my wrist, and there is no swelling. My eyesight improves, and the light and colours appear more vibrant. My hearing is acute.
Does it sound good to you? Could you imagine what it would feel like on your skin if you had one? Try thinking of it when you are in your bath/shower perhaps… try to entice your body to move into it… and remember – when you come out of your hot shower, it always feels cold, even if it’s warm in the house….After a cold shower, you come out feeling nice and warm! Ideal for the winter months, great for summer months too when you wish to manage the heat better. Gently build up your own excitement and expectation.
When you’ve been courting this idea for a while, one day after your hot shower, or a hot bath even (I like my hot baths), switch on that cold shower and just go for it – perhaps only for a second or two, and then see what happens!
And then do it again, the next day, and the next, increasing the length that you stay immersed each day.
I really love the cold showers now. My first one was accompanied by a piercing shriek and lasted about ¾ of a second at most. But now I can not imagine having a day without it.
Once I forgot to do a cold shower after my bath, I was too busy planning the day ahead and not fully present, and it was halfway through toweling my body that I realised it, so I jumped back in and had my cold shower – to me it’s like a desert after a fine meal, just so yummy! My mind became focused too.
A few tips for cold showers/plunges:
- Don’t shower your head – you can shower the face, but don’t immerse your whole head.
- Don’t shower at all if you feel that you’ve ‘picked up’ a virus, or getting a cold sore, and your body is trying to ‘shake it off’. I found that on one day where I felt I was ‘coming down’ with a virus, I felt the urge to avoid the cold shower, so I didn’t plunge in, and the next day I resumed with my practice as I felt back to my full health, no virus lurking inside me.
- Avoid cold showers during your menstrual period and pregnancy – you can do a lukewarm shower instead
- Do it on empty stomach, before your breakfast is the best time
And what about Vata types, surely they get aggravated?
Vata is responsible for all movement in the body: the flow or breath, the expression of speech, the circulation of the blood, the elimination of waste, and the regulation of the immune and nervous system. It moves the diaphragm, muscles, and limbs, and also stimulates the intellect.
When Vata is out of balance, you can feel more anxious, flighty, or forgetful than usual, you may lose weight, experience pains or spasms, numbness, dry skin, dehydration, excessive bloating, erratic digestion or insomnia.
The cold showers will not further imbalance your Vata, they will ground it instead. Their stimulating effect is not stimulating in the same way as the stimulating foods are. It is balancing, it restores the natural function and balance in our system, and it will help you anchor your Vata, and harness it for a calm mind and inspirational creativity, comfortable movement, deepened breath, a consistent appetite, normal bowel function, positive enthusiasm, healthy desire, and good energy all round.
For Vata types, I would recommend that you have a hot bath instead of a shower before your cold shower, and to increase the duration of immersion very slowly over a time.
Give it a try!
Enjoy the process of discovery of beneficial changes in your own being. Let me know what you find out.
**Mitochondria are essential for the maintenance of normal physiological function of our cells, and mitochondrial dysfunction, as well as lack of mitochondria, is implicated as one of the reasons for pathological changes, e.g. contributing to the development of disease states in the human body.