Yesterday, almost 2 years ago marked the beginning of my tentative journey of taking cold showers every day (even in winter!)
Considered very bizarre to many people, this ascetic practice started as a way for me to enhance my self-awareness and personal discipline, but almost immediately I began noticing a vast improvement of my mental clarity and physical well-being. “How is it possible that taking a cold shower can have so many benefits?” I thought. We’ll get to that a bit later.
The thing is, ascetic practices like these aren’t anything new; yogi’s and monks have been doing them for years. For most of us, asceticism is hard to understand at the very least, and ridiculous at the very most. For instance, when I was younger I struggled to understand why someone would choose to live 20 years standing solely on one foot after hearing about the Standing Baba practice.
Then, one day, while I was roaming through the outskirts of my town, I decided to jump into the cold icy waters of the river. The initial shock was pretty bad, but the worst part was the moment I walked out of the river. The wind and air amplified the coldness of the water I was drenched in. My first reaction was to shiver, but then, as I realized that there was no possible way to dry myself I accepted my fate and just stood there.
My thoughts went from trying to avoid the cold to trying to feel the sensations in my body; I allowed the cold to have its way with me. I suddenly realized that the moment I stopped resisting what was happening, all of my focus on feeling the icy pains across my skin completely disappeared.
From then on I realized that practices such as cold showers (or “Scottish showers” as some call it) are a terrific way to practice spiritual non-resistance. Not only that, but they significantly improve your physical well being as well. We’ll explore some of these unexpected benefits in this article.
But taking cold showers isn’t just a new and hip trend. The Ancient Greeks, Russians, Zen Vajrayana Monks, Native Americans, Japanese Shinto Monks (they call it “Misogi“, or spirit cleansing) and Spartan Soldiers were well aware of the benefits of cold water, and in 18th century the modern revival of cold water treatments was re-discovered in Germany under the new name “Hydrotherapy”.
Cold Water Shower Health Benefits
Most people will immediately scoff at even the suggestion of taking cold showers, labeling it as ‘crazy’. Like most of you, I personally prefer warmth and comfort over unpleasantness as well. But after experiencing the benefits of cold showers I find the momentary discomfort of such a practice a very small price to pay in the bigger picture of the innumerable physical, mental and even spiritual benefits I receive.
The truth is that most of us spend our lives sheltering our body’s from any discomfort, and thus weaken it in the process. We live in a perpetual bubble of carefully controlled temperature: from the air conditioner and heaters at home, to the air conditioners and heaters in the car, and finally at work. We rarely take off our clothes to allow the biggest organism in our body’s, our skin, to breath, other than when we shower and even then we do it in comfortable warm water.
If you are open to trying new experiences in life, these are some of the benefits you can anticipate based on my own experiences and several scientific studies when taking cold showers:
1. Increases Awareness
The moment you step into the cold water, your heart beat accelerates and your breathing becomes deeper due to the shock that your body experiences. Your deeper breaths are your body’s attempt to keep you warm and in the process, this also oxygenates your brain while the increased heart rate releases a rush of blood and adrenaline throughout your body. This provides the perfect energy boost to ‘wake you up’ and start the day.
2. Increases Immunity Defenses
I haven’t caught a cold since the day I started showering in cold water, seriously! A 1993 study by the Thrombosis Research Institute in England found that individuals who practice daily cold showering experienced an increase in white blood cells which are responsible for fighting off viruses. This increase of white blood cells is believed to be related to the increase of metabolic rate that comes as a result of your body trying to warm itself up.
3. Increases Blood Circulation
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, cold water improves our circulation by encouraging blood to surround our organs, and so improves the efficiency of our arteries. Greater blood circulation boosts our overall health by lowering our blood pressure and clearing blocked arteries.
One of the strangest experiences I’ve had after taking cold showers is experiencing temporary flushes of heat … even in winter!
4. Increases Skin and Hair Health
Dermatologist Jessica Krant recommends washing your face with ice cold water to prevent it from being stripped of its healthy natural oils too quickly. This is due to the cold tightening your skins cuticles and pores, which will prevent them from getting clogged.
Cold water also seals the pores in your scalp preventing them from getting dirty as well as making your hair appear shinier, stronger, and healthier by flattening hair follicles, and increasing their ability to grip the scalp.
5. Increases Muscle Recovery After Exercise
If you suffer from muscle aches and soreness after exercising, cold water helps your body to recover. This increase in the rate of muscle recovery can be linked to the increase of blood circulation, with a 2009 study showing that athlete’s who immersed themselves in cold water experienced a significant reduction of muscular aches and pains.
6. Increases Stress Tolerance
A study conducted in 1994 found that exposure to the cold was an effective means of decreasing uric acid levels. Exposure to the cold also increases gluthathione, an antioxidant that keeps all other antioxidants performing at their optimal levels, helping us adapt to repeated oxidative stress.
7. Improves Mood and Relieves Depression
Cold water produces an antidepressant effect. When the cold receptors in our skin experience a shock, this sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses to the peripheral nerve endings of the brain. For people who experience depression, this a way to shock their system ‘awake’.
Research by the Virginia University School of Medicine found that short cold showers stimulate the brain’s “blue spot”, or where the main source of noradrenaline responsible for relieving depression is located. Another 2008 study found that cold water has an analgesic effect boosting our overall mood.
8. Increases Testosterone, Fertility and Energy
In a study, the Thrombosis Research Institute also found that cold water showers increase the amount of testosterone produced in men. Not only can this help relieve depression, but if you exercise regularly, are very active or practice sexual energy transformation techniques, this has immense health benefits.
Moreover, if you are trying to reproduce, the University of California at San Francisco found that exposure to sources of ‘wet heat’ (like hot baths) reduced your sperm count by 491%. The male physical anatomy is built with externally hanging testicles for a reason; your sperm has very little tolerance for heat, hence testicles retract or extend according to the atmospheric temperature.
9. Increases Weight Loss
There are two types of fat within us; white fat and brown fat. White fat is the excess fat our body’s accumulate when we are consuming more food than we actually need. Brown fat is the good fat which is responsible for generating the heat to keep our body’s warm.
When we shower in cold water, brown fat (the good fat) starts burning up in order to keep our body’s warm. A 2009 study found that our brown fat increases 15 times the normal amount when we regularly expose it to extremely cold temperatures. This could account for up to 4kg’s (9 pounds) of weight loss per year.
How to Begin Taking Cold Showers
Ultimately, starting the practice of taking cold showers is about putting mind over matter. However, here are a few tips I can provide you that might make the transition easier:
- The first 30 seconds are the worst.
- Take your shower in the morning as it will set a confident and energetic tone for the rest of your day.
- Avoid gradually going from hot water to cold as this isn’t as beneficial and is much more mentally strenuous. If you must, take your cold shower after a physical workout as it will make it much easier.
- At first you might begin to hyperventilate – use your breathing as an anchor and focus on the physical sensations, rather than on your thoughts. Taking a cold shower is an amazing exercise in mindful awareness and non-resistance.
Let me know in the comments your experience with cold showers or the outcome of experimenting with them!