Today, we’re going to talk about a trend that has been on the rise for quite some time now: ice baths.
We’ve known it for ages, but only recently has it really turned into a kind of practice or movement.
It was actually first mentioned around 3500BC on numerous occasions in an ancient document, known as Edmund Smith Papyrus.
So, why now?
With the development of technology, our lives become so much easier in terms of our most basic needs, and yet at the same time, for many, unbearably difficult, especially mentally.
That’s probably why mindfulness and well-being has grown so much in the recent years, both as a discipline and methodology – an approach to life of sorts.
Cold water therapy apart from its wide range of scientifically proven benefits, has emerged on that same wave and is currently among the most popular methods.
It’s become a part of living a sustainable lifestyle as well.
So, whether it’s the paper straws, glass and stainless-steel cups, bamboo bath towels or reusable cotton rounds, it’s all connected in a way.
Equally important, but let’s call it a reason number two – social media and the biggest cold exposure proponent, Wim Hof himself.
Although he’d been given this nickname years ago, Wim Hof’s rise to fame didn’t come early in his life; he actually earned his social media star status quite recently when he was well into his 50s.
By that time, he had already been an avid enthusiast and a long-time cold therapy advocate.
Wim Hof takes it even further – cold exposure is a form of spiritual practice and a way to control the responses of autonomous nervous system.
His method is actually based on three pillars: cold therapy, special breathing techniques similar to ones used in yoga culture, and finally commitment.
Who is he and how did he come up with that? Does it even work?
It’s completely natural to be skeptical, hearing all about these amazing benefits just from cold water exposure. But here’s where it gets really surreal – Wim Hof once ran a half marathon above the Arctic Circle, wearing only shorts, barefoot.
He also swam 66 metres underneath the ice. At one point, he was actually injected with a poisonous E. coli endotoxin and through his breathing technique (hyperventilation) managed to mitigate its dangerous effect on the human body.
Of all the incredible things he’s managed to do, probably the most incredible thing in all of this, is the reason why he started working on it. Depression.
It was that cruel disease of the mind that took the life of his beloved wife.
Ultimately, he managed to rise above the trauma in his own life and decided to share his knowledge and experience with others.
It’s all there to help people live their best lives, and there’s undoubtedly something admirable about that.
In Ice We Trust
So, cold exposure - why even do it? It’s so uncomfortable and physically painful…
That’s exactly why. According to latest research, putting your body through small portions of hardships or physical strains (to a reasonable extent!) have great health benefits and are the key to longevity.
Taking a dip in icy water has been shown to improve sleep and increase the rate of fat burning by improving the ratio of active brown fat tissue.
We all have it, but cold exposure promotes its growth.
Brown fat tissue can basically turn calories into heat. So, when we’re expose our bodies to cold, they use calories to keep us warm – and the more active BAT they have, the quicker they burn them.
Cold therapy has a number of other health benefits and is linked to:
improving the quality of sleep;
improving immune system response;
regulating blood sugar levels and blood flow;
relieving muscle soreness;
speeding up recovery.
And, although not backed scientifically, plenty of practitioners stand by it - improved willpower and focus. Impressive stuff!
Breaking the ice
Now that we know why and how it all started, let’s focus on how you can start. Break the ice, if you will. You don’t need much, to be honest.
Even less so in terms of equipment – have an ice bath or a cold shower at home, and maybe have a good set of bamboo towels to quick reach.
If you're taking your first ice bath, the key thing is to let your body gradually accustom to the ice cold water before soaking your entire body.
You can’t just jump into the freezing lake. That’s reckless and very dangerous. This is by no means what we meant by saying it’s good to put your body through frequent and small portions of consciously applied strains.
That would be equivalent to going to the gym for the first time and trying to lift the heaviest way weight possible straightaway. A recipe for disaster.
Start small. A cool shower is a perfect beginner-friendly option. At first, you don’t even have to use ice cold water.
Control deep breathing and try to stay there for 30 seconds to a minute. Then, you can use warmer water to heat yourself up a little bit, if you need to.
That’s enough to get you started. As your body adapts to the cold, you can challenge yourself a little more.
It’s extremely important to listen to your body. If the extreme cold is absolutely unbearable – you need to get out. Fainting or getting hypothermia is not going to give you any health benefit, quite the contrary.
But don’t be too easy on yourself either.
Lets’ face it – it’s not very fun or pleasant. Your body will not like it at first, and you’ll tap into very primal and survival-oriented part of your brain. You’ll feel like quitting quickly, especially if you’ve never done anything like that before. It’s all about balance and common sense.
Icing on the cake
The vast majority of a population doesn’t live nearby a lake or any accessible body of water, so a cold plunge out in the nature, as fun as it sounds, is not a viable option.
Maybe that’s for the better – it’s easier to control the cold temperatures at home, so it’s safer.
Of course we all shower every day, but spending an extra 2 minutes just pouring water all over yourself while focusing on your breathing is not particularly “green” – especially with the water shortage.
How to deal with that?
Investing in some essentials. If you’re committed, you’ll see – at some point you will want to do it. The whole experience is just so much better. Plus, it conserves water, which will also help you save some money on bills.
At the top of our list is some kind of container – bathtub, small swimming pool, or even a large trash can.
With all the options available, budget is the key factor. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Ultimately, there’s only one job it’s meant to do – store water so that you won’t have to fill it up every time. That’s about it.
The initial dip may be a shock but overtime you can alter your ice bath temperature with ice cubes to effortlessly lower the water temperature.
The rest is more or less non-essential, but, of course, it’s best to have some quality easy dry towels. That’s just something you’re going to want to own. Cotton or bamboo towels – take your pick.
This next item on our list will be best suited to those who live in city apartments, or anyone who doesn’t really have a ton of space. It’s a quick dry bath mat.
You can easily set up your ice bathing station in your own bathroom. It’s great for two reasons.
First – you won’t have to worry about slipping, which is a serious risk. Climbing out of a cold plunge, while your whole body is shivering is not easy.
Second – it soaks up all the water straightaway. You can find an affordable stone bath mat right here at Misona.
Cold As Ice
It's easy to get carried away a little, hearing about all these amazing benefits of cold immersion, but we all have to remember about safety.
Listen to your body and proceed with caution. When unsure, it’s never wrong to consult a doctor and follow professional medical advice as well.
Be smart and be persistent. Use common sense. By all accounts, it’s worth it... and may eventually become an enjoyable practice for you.