Cold showers anyone? Cryotherapy for increased wellness
|Posted by Jinnene| Photo by Fouad Ghazizadeh on Unsplash
What is it with all of this talk of cold showers among health publications? New findings continue to surface that speak to the validity of cryotherapy for increased wellness.
Is cryotherapy the next questionably helpful fad?
Unless you live in another galaxy, you’re likely no stranger to what headlines say about the latest health fad. For example, take the topic of advice put out to blast fat.
Around mid-twentieth century, the instruction was: Blast your fat with this diet pill. A couple decades later, the adage became: To lose fat, stop eating fat. Closer to the 21st century’s dawn, messages morphed yet again: To lose fat, eat a bunch of fat.
It’s no wonder we’re confused about how to live healthfully, what with these claims and conflicting messages distributed throughout mainstream media.
But for better or worse, fads trend for a reason. Sometimes, said fads hold a modicum (or a great deal, even) of water. After all, as we evolve as a species, scientific experts can only exert their level best to publish the most compelling data they have within reach.
In short, we need not knock a fad out of principle alone.
And yet, it’s important to approach health issues while peering through a wider lens than say, changing your lifestyle on the whim of a single perspective. Instead, gather as much information as you can. Try out various health methods empirically. Then, decide what’s right for you.
Benefits of cryotherapy
These days, it’s been posited by self-proclaimed wellness experts and scientists alike that cold therapy might increase metabolism, a key component that aids in the process of losing weight.
It turns out, however, that increased metabolism isn’t the only potential benefit from cold therapy. Also known as cryotherapy, its list of theorized benefits is vast—from reducing inflammation and pain to increasing energy, productivity and focus.
The zany Dutchman, Wim Hof is a good one to watch for breakthroughs in cryotherapy. If you visit Wim Hof’s benefits (of his method, coined “Wim Hof Method”), you glean a vast list indeed: Relieve stress, burnout recovery, better sleep, immune system boosts, auto-immune disease relief, increased sports performance, arthritis relief, and the list goes on.
I recommend you check out Yes Theory’s well-crafted documentary on Wim Hof (“Becoming Superhuman with Ice Man – Wim Hof”) to learn about his highly harrowing yet energizing exploits.
Yes Theory’s piece chronicles the breakthroughs Hof has been able to achieve through mastering his mind (and hence, mastering his ability to endure daunting levels of cold for—what to a typical human would be—unendurable amounts of time). Fascinating stuff to be sure.
My own run-in with cryotherapy in the form of cold showers
Every morning, I take a cold shower. The water is as cold it will get (cold water is no joke in the Pacific Northwest). I stay under the water for a series of minutes. I have done this every day for the last four months.
I learned about Wim Hof only after I began my own cryotherapy pilgrimage. It was as if the universe had guided me toward a fanciful north star to bless my quotidian ritual.
I had first heard about benefits of contrast therapy (where one bathes in alternating warm and cold temperatures) as a yoga student: Vasodilation and vasoconstriction of blood vessels increases the ability of lymph to flow more effectively throughout the body.
For my anatomy teacher Chiara Guerrieri, who had originally presented this idea during my initial 200-hour yoga teacher training, the idea was simple: contrast therapy increases circulation. In yoga, everything is about increasing circulation. In theory, if we’re well circulated, we’re, well, healthier.
It wouldn’t be until years later that I would pick up this intriguingly uncomfortable routine myself. A wonderful woman by the name of Erin Merrihew, a communications coach in Seattle, and one that I have taken boundary-setting workshops with glowingly recommended cold therapy practice to her followers.
As I appreciate Erin’s wisdom, I figured I’d heed the advice Buddha and his followers extended to those skeptical of the practice of meditation millennia ago: Come and see for yourself.
Melissa Urban invites us to check out cold showers on the reg
At Erin’s suggestion, I listened to another highly recommended source on this front: Melissa Urban of Whole30, and her podcast “Do The Thing” — episode entitled, “Cold Showers with Ed Sheeran.”
A propos taking cold showers every morning, in her podcast, Melissa Urban is energetic and enthusiastic without waiver. Like Hof, Urban listed the litany of staggering benefits of cold therapy. Suffice to say, Urban almost made the practice seem blissful (in a curiously uncomfortable way, mind you—the way running a marathon is blissful, if only because it hurts like hell, and then it eventually ends).
OK, so blissful? Maybe not. But despite what people have described to me since I began cold showers as a prospect to be “the worst thing they could possibly imagine; hell no, they are not taking a cold shower,” I tend to disagree. In fact, it’s not as bad as one might think.
If you can get over the initial discomfort and breathe into it like a lioness must before she sinks her teeth into her prey, then you’re all set; the cold shower routine can be a party.
Human body craves routine
I learned during early adulthood that my body, as most any human body does, functions best as a well-oiled machine. And with that oiling and machination comes routine. Refined routine. Carefully calibrated routine after days, weeks, years of experimentation.
I’ve tried countless tricks to motivate myself and diminish overall anxiety surrounding my shortcomings: hemp oil, psychotherapy, getting up daily at 4am to write, getting up daily at 5am to walk around the block, crafting my own chai tea with mortar and pestle, swearing off coffee, aggressive workouts.
But nothing quite sticks.
Except, for the cold showers.
Accountability practice may decrease anxiety
Since my cold shower experiment began nearly four months ago, I feel less anxiety on a day-to-day level, I have logged more “productive” days than I have all year (it’s December as I write this), I can focus for hours at a time on creative endeavors, I run more often per week, and have succeeded at keeping a fairly positive attitude most days.
This isn’t necessarily a plug to start taking cold showers (though I do recommend you try; Melissa Urban’s podcast offers great tips for literally what that practice could look like). This is just to say that a sharper routine for many of you can potentially be the holy grail of pursuing your improved authenticity; of allowing you to establish lifestyles that prove more in alignment with joy.
Bonus: The wonderful thing about routine is that it breeds more routine. Cold showers have given me a thing that I have to be accountable for; a thing that I don’t totally want to do, but kind of do because I get that jolt of satisfied accomplishment when it’s over.
Routine builds momentum around improved habits
Cryotherapy has caused me to more effectively dedicate to other self-care practices like abhyanga (self-massage), yoga, multiple meditation sessions per day, and gratitude practice with quiet reflection.
These cold showers have helped me to build a shrine around my morning sanctuary. This practice is an oath to myself that I’ve got my body’s back. See below if you’re interested in an example of an Ayurvedic morning self-care routine, similar to the one I follow.
It’s an oath that I’m here to listen, every day, to tune into what ails me and drives me. To draft goals and to affirm they will be met. To give thanks for the list of blessings that could never all be counted.
The pandemic has forced a home life upon me, upon you, upon us all. We never saw this coming. But we can work with the changing tide, and not against it. Is there space for you to build a morning authenticity routine, or to refine a pre-existing routine?
Couple of exercise to get you thinking:
- Do you typically take any time for yourself in the morning?
- Is there anything that is relaxing you’ve always wanted to try?
- Can you incorporate yoga postures into your practice?
- What would an ideal morning routine look like for you?
Example morning ritual using Ayurvedic wisdom
Wake up early (not later than 7am)
Take a short (cold?) shower
Engage in abhyanga (self-massage) with coconut oil
Do a short yoga practice (see a New York Times example of beginner’s yoga here)
Reflect quietly with candles, small amount of coffee or tea and a bit of fruit or light protein
Read affirming material or engage in affirmation practice or mantra