Some days I want to do it. Other days I dread it.
Some days I jump right in and get it done. Other days I stand there naked and try to talk myself out of it.
I’m cold. I’m feeling exposed. Every cell of me is resisting.
This daily practice is good for me, I tell myself. It’s making me stronger. I can do this.
I take a deep breath and then I start.
First, it’s just my hands. Then my arms. I wave my hands and arms back and forth like a mad conductor. Movement helps. I step in further. Now ice cold water shocks my legs. My lungs automatically and forcefully empty. Exhaling like a cannonball helps. Grunting helps. I’m committed. I’m doing it. I could still bail. But I’m already halfway in.
Within seconds my limbs get used to the cold, and now I’m wanting to be all in. The icy stream pummels my chest and face. It actually feels good. I’m starting to feel heat radiating from deep in my core despite the fact that I’m only cold water is coming out of the shower.
I surrender to the sensations. After the initial discomfort, I feel a sense of calm, pleasure and deep relaxation. I let go of the limited range of my mind’s idea of what’s comfortable and discover more than I ever thought possible.
Now my whole head is under the water and every hair follicle perks up. I turn around and let the water massage my back. I’m happy. Wide awake. Alert. Alive. Creative ideas start flowing fast. Getting into the flow of water gets me in the flow. I am the flow.
No matter how much my mind protests, the cold shower always wins because it feels so damn good.
Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health. ~ Dalai Lama
I am not this body. I am not this mind. I am so much more than either, and so are you.
I got into the habit of taking a cold shower first thing in the morning when I started practicing and studying kundalini yoga. As part of my teacher training, I was required to take a cold shower for 40 days in a row. That 40-day requirement has turned into one of my favorite daily habits.
The Katherine Hepburn Effect
In her book, How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great, Karen Karbo describes how Katherine Hepburn “made a religion out of cold showers” and regularly “swam at the crack of dawn in water cold enough to turn her lips blue.”
The movie star was onto something. The daily habit of immersing herself in cold water multiple times a day is as good for you as it was for her. Become the movie star in your own life by cultivating the daily habit of hydrotherapy.
“Without discipline, there’s no life at all.” ~ Katherine Hepburn
1. YOUR HEART LOVES THIS
When your warm body is suddenly in cold water, it automatically responds by increasing your heart rate. Your body goes into high alert to keep you warm. Your heart starts pumping harder, your circulation speeds up and your blood pressure momentarily goes up. The result is that blood rushes to the core to keep the body warm, your capillaries are flushed, and your heart gets a little workout.
2. IMPROVES YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Immersing your body in cold water also boosts your immune system. Your immune system is interconnected and interdependent with your circulatory system. Lymph, the clear fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells, is part of your blood.
The lymphatic system’s job is to protect your body from infection, disease and foreign pathogens. It does not have its own pump to move the lymph, like the circulatory system has the heart to move the blood. Instead, lymph moves when you move your muscles, so all the flailing about in the cold water is actually keeping you healthy.
3. DEEP BREATHS DO THE BODY GOOD
When the heart rate increases, you automatically start to breathe more deeply. This means you’re taking in more oxygen to feed your muscles and organs. Deep breaths in means you’re taking in what’s new and nourishing.
Deep breaths out means you’re exhaling more CO2, lactic acid and other metabolic waste from the cells. Letting go of what you no longer need.
Starting your day with some deep breathing is sending your subconscious mind the message that you’ve got this. You’re reminding yourself that this deep state of relaxation and ease is safe for you. You prime your brain to expect more of this when that’s the first thing it experiences first thing every day.
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
4. INCREASES ALERTNESS
A cold shower is bracing, no doubt about that. When your nervous system perceives that you might be in danger, it goes into high alert. Exposure to cold water is outside your normal comfort zone, so all your senses immediately respond with maximum alertness to keep you safe. Deep breaths in mean more oxygen gets to your brain. Sluggishness vanishes. You feel a ton of energy in your arms and your legs. It’s an awesome way to start your day feeling ready to go, alert, awake and alive.
5. DECREASES DEPRESSION
Primates have experienced physiological stressors over millions of years of evolution, but our modern lifestyle keeps us within a very narrow temperature range. A 2008 study published in Medical Hypotheses discusses how changes in body temperature are actually vital to optimal brain function, and found evidence that cold showers could have an anti-depressive effect.
The surface of our skin is covered with 3.5 times more cold receptors than heat receptors. Exposure to cold stimulates those cold receptors, and the body responds with increased heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen flow, and endorphins — which are the body’s natural painkillers.
6. IT FEELS GOOD
Standing under a cold shower puts you in a great mood (once you get used to it). The cold water stimulates the dopaminergic paths in your brain. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that’s associated with pleasure and reward.
7. COLD IS BEAUTIFUL
You know how you constrict when it’s cold? We’ve all had that feeling of really having to pee when we are outside in cold weather. That’s because your body is contracting to keep you warm at the core. Keeping you warm at the core means the blood is being drawn away from your extremities and shunted towards your core. Your fingers and toes and the tip of your nose are the first to freeze. They give up their comfort in service to your more important organs getting the warmth they need.
What happens? Your cheeks get all rosy. Same thing happens with a cold shower. Then look in the mirror. You’ll find you can be cold and hot at the same.
8. WEIGHT, WEIGHT, DON’T TELL ME
There are two kinds of fat in the body: white fat and brown fat. White fat is the kind we love to hate. It accumulates around the belly and thighs, it jiggles, and too much of it can lead to heart disease and diabetes. Brown fat most people have never heard of because scientists are still learning more about it. Brown fat is found in the neck and upper back. It’s important because it produces heat and protects us from hypothermia, which is a drop in core temperature.
Scientists suspect that brown fat plays a role in keeping us lean because it burns more calories. Burning more calories can lead to weight loss (assuming you don’t follow your cold shower with a pancake breakfast). In other words, exposing your body to cold turns on your brown fat, which ramps up your metabolism to heat your core up.
Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body writes about his experiments with immersing himself in an ice bath to stimulate his brown fat. He says that activating your brown fat can increase your fat burning by almost 300%.
9. BUILDS CONFIDENCE
I’d been doing the cold shower dance for over a decade, when I discovered a whole new world of cold: the ice bath… I was in the bone dry mountains of New Mexico last summer on a yoga and meditation retreat and it was about a 100 degrees. My body was sore from sitting in meditation for so long. I was prickly from the heat and just super uncomfortable in my skin.
The author enjoying an ice bath
Yes, I am actually sitting in a freezer of ice water that’s about 40 degrees Fahrenheit while chanting!
No, I have not lost my mind. I chose this.
I had heard about the therapeutic benefit to sitting in an ice bath because I live in Boulder and all the pro triathletes use it… I knew that sitting in cold water would make my capillaries contract, which helps flush out metabolic waste, CO2, lactic acid and other toxins from the body.
I knew that it would reduce the inflammation I was feeling and would increase my metabolism (this I knew from reading Tim Ferriss).
I knew in my analytical mind that this was supposed to be a good thing.
But when I put my hands in the water to check it out first… dang! Within seconds my hands started feeling frostbitten and my fear kicked in.
I started to backpedal. I literally started backing away from the freezer. But it’s too cold. But I’m not ready. But I’m scared. But I’m in my underwear.
And then my inner coach came in and kicked my BUT. Really!?, she said. You’re going to let fear drive? You say you are all about creating new experiences for the nervous system and training your brain to relax even when it’s scared? And now you are trying to bail on yourself? I thought you were committed to growth.
I AM committed to growth. I AM committed to walking my talk. I am committed to feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
I decided I am doing this. I practiced some strong Wim Hof breathing and then plunged right in. No tiptoing in and slowly submerging, like I had been doing for a decade with my daily cold showers.
The ice bath is all or nothing. There’s no halfway. You’re in our your out. Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!! Immediately I was laser-focussed and clear and euphoric. Yep, it felt AWESOME.
Sitting in an ice bath — and taking a cold shower, or plunging into a mountain lake — builds confidence FAST.
10. IT FLEXES YOUR FEAR MUSCLES.
You don’t talk yourself out of it. You don’t argue for your limitations. You talk yourself into taking the scary steps that will help you grow. You commit to getting uncomfortable because you realize that the fear of getting uncomfortable is actually worse than that anticipated discomfort. In fact, the more you do what scares you, the less scared you become. The more excited you are to be all in, and the easier it gets.
11. SHORT-TERM PAIN FOR LONG-TERM GAIN.
You decide that you are going to get uncomfortable for the greater results that are waiting for you on the other side of the discomfort, which is only temporary anyway. It starts feels good once you get over your story about how painful it might be.
The worst part is the story you are making up about how scary and terrible and awful it’s going to be. Once you are actually in the experience, you realize it’s not that big of a deal and it’s actually FUN. You feel like a badass because you are one.
12. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE.
Just keep taking deep, full cleansing breaths one after the other. One step at a time. You make the path my walking it. You’ll never get there (wherever you decide where your there is) if you don’t take the first step. The only way to experience the next greatest version of you is to become her. Stop avoiding yourself. You are much stronger than you think you are. Your mind’s limitation are just that. Your mind sees a part of the totality, but not all of it, unless you consciously unlock the door and let yourself experience the more that’s here for you.
You are breathing whether or not you are aware of it, and breathing is what makes you grow. When you immerse yourself in cold water, you cannot hold your breath. You learn that you have to breathe. You have to let go.
13. BELIEVE YOU CAN AND YOU WILL
You get stronger by taking doing stuff that stretches you. The hard part was getting myself psyched up to do this. The hard part was motivating my mind to focus on what I told it to focus on. The hard part was getting my mind off the story that this would hurt and that I could not do it. Whatever you tell your mind to focus on, it will believe.
Once I was in the freezer, it was super fun and I actually did not want to get out.
Whether it’s sitting in an ice bath or completing a marathon, writing a book or shattering your own financial glass ceiling, once you jump in with your whole self, you realize that you can do it because you are already doing it. Your daily habits create a kind of momentum that makes you unstoppable because you believe in yourself. You know you can so you do. You’ve proven it to yourself day after day. Courage is your new normal.
A ton of energy now flows through your body and your business. All the energy you had been using to protect and defend yourself is now available to you to use to create something else. You become aware of your power and you open to all the possibilities that are out there for you.
Getting into the daily habit of taking a cold shower or sitting in an ice bath is great practice for being an entrepreneur. It’s a habit that you commit to for a bunch of short-term and long-term reasons.
In the short-term, you receive immediate physical, social, emotional and intellectual benefits — you feel better, you have more energy, you are healthier, you have more creative ideas.
In the long-term, you create lasting changes in your nervous system that will change your life. You become efficient and productive because you no longer waste energy in a sluggish, procrastinating, half-committed state. When you’ve cleared the gunk from your body and mind, you just end up creating more, so you end up serving more, so you end up making more money.
Immersing yourself in the flow of a cold water first thing in the morning helps you merge with the flow in life overall.
You find that what used to make you uncomfortable no longer does. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. You discover you’re more comfortable being more visible, making more money, having more authority, saying no to things you used to say yes to that you didn’t really want to do.
GETTING UP THE NERVE TO PLUNGE IN
Grab a free copy of my book Best Brain Hacks and read more about the neuroscience of success. Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you love about cold showers!