Why take cold Showers? My training with Wim Hof
(This is an edited transcript of a brief interview on cold showers during my training with Wim Hof, the Iceman)
To simplify, I was just explaining why cold showers can have a big impact on your functioning, on your physiology, on your brain, on the capacity of your body to adapt and to switch on and off the survival/stress mode. The idea is to induce a stress reaction of our autonomic system and, simultaneously, take control over it and induce the relaxation response. By doing so, we activate our lizard brain and over-time, we can get out of chronic stress…
At the beginning, it was difficult for me to take cold showers, of course, because it’s painful. It’s not pleasant at all. You want a warm shower, you want a cozy one, you want to relax, and taking a cold shower is the opposite of that. So I would linger, I would put my foot or my hand under the cold water, or maybe the tip of my nose. And hesitate, hesitate, over and over.
However, at one point, during my training with Wim Hof, I decided: “No! That’s enough! I have to change my mindset because I can’t get anywhere with this kind of attitude – a little bit of this, a little bit of that – no, no, no, it leads me nowhere”. So, I told myself: “Now, from now on, no hesitation, go for it, go under it, go! go!”
Slow your breathing, your body will adapt
Of course, at first, you gasp. The shock of the cold water is important, but because of my training in controlling my breathing, I was able to slow down my breath instead of breathing rapidly and I just let my body adapt to the cold.
The cold is not painful anymore. It becomes enjoyable!
Usually it takes two minutes to adjust. So, the idea is to stay two minutes at least, until your body adapts, and then the cold is not painful any more. It’s a very strange experience to go through, to observe what is happening inside of you, at that precise moment. After a while your body has adapted, it has made all the necessary adjustments to be fine. So, at first your blood vessels constrict and it is painful, your circulation system changes, but then in a little while you are OK! The cold is not painful at all anymore – it’s even enjoyable!
The Vascular fitness
So, what’s happening with this kind of training? In fact it is achieving far more than the physiological changes, the ‘vascular fitness’ it provokes.
Cultivating “l’esprit de decision”
It has changed my way of life, my behavior in everyday decisions making, Here it goes: Determination! No hesitation! In Martial Arts we have another expression for that, “l’esprit du sabre”, ‘the spirit of the saber’: Do it!
You provoke stress, yes, but your body adapts. This stress stimulates the old part of your brain, the lizard brain, the limbic system which controls all the autonomic responses in your body. And this ancient brain is a fantastic part of your brain, with an incredible capacity for helping your whole body to find a new balance, for your whole being to adapt and to give this stress response nearly instantly. It is fantastic when you think of it.
Switching on and off the stress response
With this practice, because you control your breathing, you can tell your lizard brain: “That’s ok, no need to stress anymore. You can tell your ‘flight and flight response’ to stop. And this is what we are supposed to do in life, to be able to activate an instant stress response, “Yes, go!” And also, nearly as instantly take over and end it: ‘That’s finished, no more, no more problem’. You have adapted and experienced: “Stress, switch off!’
When being uncomfortable does not matter so much anymore
The problem with our lifestyle is that we are avoiding obvious stressful situations as much as we can to find comfort, but by doing so we are also avoiding to activate the healthy “on and off” stress response. We don’t want the cold, we don’t want the wind, we don’t want the heat or too much of it. We don’t want anything that will provoke this kind of stress. We are protecting ourselves as much as we can, but in fact what it does is to encourage our whole limbic system to fall asleep. You are not exercising it as it should be, you are not cultivating the vital and powerful ancient capacity to switch on and off the stress response.
Getting out of chronic stress, a major illness in our society
Instead, we live in a sort of permanent stress stemming out from many sources, overload background stimuli, relationships, work, lifestyles, disorganized lives and sleep patterns, illnesses, etc.. Many things in our lives are disorganized, out of balance in opposition to our natural, inner, healthy ancient mode of functioning deeply in connection with the forces of Nature.
The result is that we gradually become totally unable to switch off the stress response. We are becoming chronically stressed, unable to switch off. So, of course we have all sorts of practices like yoga, breathing exercises, meditation that help to switch off, or music, or medicines, drugs or whatever. We all have our means and tricks, but nevertheless most of the time our lifestyle builds up a kind of chronic inability in our limbic system to react efficiently to our stress and above all to switch off.
This is a major step towards a healthy body, towards a healthy and strong mind, towards health, towards simplicity and happiness.
In and out, in and out, stress response on and off! – this is what the cold shower helps you to develop.
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