Various cultures have found ways to use the natural elements to the best of their advantage, physiologically, mentally and spiritually. So in cold places where there's long dark winters like in Scandinavian nations and Russia they initiated a cold water immersion practice. In Russia they call it tempering, which is a metallurgical term for hardening. They believe “the cold makes you strong, more robust, more hardy."
Coming face to face with such cold is a primal stressor, a low dose short duration stressor.
The physiological adaptations of cold exposure are:
Preconditions the body against stress
Phenomenal way to reset the stress response
Learn to master stress
Stimulates the release of norepinephrine which may benefit brain health
The Cardiovascular System
Initially cold water immersion creates a coordinated systemic response of 80,000 miles of blood vessels to bring all the blood to the core very quickly, to the vital organs and brain, to help stabilize the core temperature. This system then relaxes to allow the blood to diffuse to the periphery, the extremities and the surface of the body. This tonifies the cardiovascular system
Mitochondria are the batteries of our cells and produce heat
Cold immersion creates the environment for mitochondrial biogenesis, the production of new healthy mitochondria to keep us warm
Increases brown fat which breaks down blood sugar (glucose) and fat molecules to create heat and help maintain body temperature
Increases energy expenditure
Cold Water Immersion Lowers Risk of:
Type 2 Diabetes
My first cold immersion experience was with a community of men. As I entered the water for the first time primal fear and breathlessness took over. These men guided me through the process. They reminded be to focus on slowing down my breath and relaxing, “you’re not going to die.” I took their advice and dropped into my breath and consciously slowed it down. I heard the rhythm of my heart and all my mental chatter dropped away. I was still and at peace. I had the feeling of gratitude for the gift of being in the moment, being in my body
Many cultures also combine cold immersion with the heat of a sauna. The contrast of heat and cold allows one to go in the cold more often and experience cold adaptation more frequently thus really "racking up some time in the cold." This will allow one to take advantage of the plethora of health benefits.
Traditionally heat was created by wood stoves. Holistic Chiropractor Jesse Steinberg states, "There's this beautiful idea that the trees basically are absorbing sunlight and carbon dioxide and when you burn the wood you're liberating the sunlight in the form of the fire. In creating that heat and light, which you wouldn't have in the middle of really cold dark winter you're actually able to absorb some of that sun energy." I love the ritual of throwing wood on the fire and hearing the crackling of the wood burning, then ladling water over the stove to experience the steam and temperature rise.
Cold water immersion is an amazing health ritual that I want to incorporate in my life for years to come. It's deeply cleansing on many levels, physically and mentally but also connects me spiritually.