Ice Bath Therapy

Yesterday I did a workshop.  Ice Bath Therapy – facilitated by a trained Wim Hof instructor – Dani Smith.  

It’s the day after and here are my reflections.

Such is me, way too busy, way too cool, and always do my best to live in the moment,

So I didn’t do the preparation for the workshop, which was 8 days of increased timed cold showers to desensitize the body!!  Key to mentally preparie the body for what it is  about to experience. Apparently.

My Bad. My excuses.

Like most things I set my mind too, I managed.

However, I did find sitting in a tub of ice water tougher than I thought.  Experience has taught me I can breathe through pain and discomfort – not always – but certainly when my mindset is right.

Yet I did succeed in sitting in a large tub of ice – for 2 minutes .

And I am ready to do it again – now I know what I know.  The mental side has been conquered momentarily.  I have had 2 cold showers and just came back from a swim in a cold pool.  Not ice – but still.  

After years of artificially controlling our body temperature through heating and air-conditioners, hot and cold taps, changing our clothing, etc, we are losing the ability to autonomically adjust our body temperature.

We, adults, are soft and by being so, are losing the important ability to regulate our auto-immune system.  Possibly a contributing reason for the rising presence of many auto-immune diseases?

My children often jump in our pool in the middle of winter; they are doing what the body has evolved over millennia to do – regulate their body temp.  

Oh to have their courage.

The workshop began with some incredible breathwork practices – the way you breathe strongly affects the chemical and physiological activities in your body.

We cleared out our airways in one practice, we diaphragmatically breathed in another – and then we did 6 rounds of 40 breaths, breathing in more oxygen than we released.  On the last exhale of the round – we held our breath.  It felt like I never had to breathe in again. Then slowly we breathed oxygen back into our cells.

To set the scene a little for this last practice a sound healer played, using vibrations, Tibetan singing bowls, some sort of soft drum, and vocal recordings adding an ethereal ambiance and allowed my mind to truly let go.

After the third round, my body tingled, my head floated into space, it was a beautiful full-body experience.  For some, it brought emotion, for others a sense of wonder.  For me, it was trippy – an inner divine, joyful floating feeling. Just like being on drugs – I would imagine.

This part of the workshop was so good – I was tempted to forget about the Ice Bath and float on home.  We built up our sympathetic nervous system (our fight, flight, freeze response – bringing us into high alert) to then turn it down and switch on the para-sympathetic nervous system (our rest, digest calming response) using our breath.

I was curious, I wanted to conquer mind over matter, using my power – the power the breath holds over the body.

The ice turned on the sympathetic nervous system – my breathing was to control it and turn it down – finding calm.

After the theory – I was committed.  We wandered outside to the baths.  There were around 10 of us and we each had a turn individually.  The sun came out which added a psychological advantage.  Had it been dark and cloudy – my body would have felt cold before even starting.

The girls had to go in before the men, due to the over-spill potential.  I watched in wonder as the first girl sank into the depths of the ice, her eyes closed and as she concentrated on her diaphragmatic breathing, I noticed the exact moment her face began to relax. She did it with such ease.

I began to feel anxious. 

Another girl got in, and she breathed loudly, her face slightly contorted, (thankfully, said my mean evil mind twin), but soon got it under control. The instructor talked her through and when she got out, she wore a huge yet relaxed smile. 

Another lady sank in and enjoyed it from the first moment to the last – she wore an inner grin, completely calm and at ease.

And then it was my turn.

I walked to the ice tub, looked in, and imagined my legs sinking in slowly, melting.

Thanks to peer group pressure looking on, I had to stop imagining and actually get in.

My legs were surprisingly OK, but as I immersed my bum, my belly, and chest my breathing began to resemble a staccato rhythm. Short sharp and detached.  I closed my eyes and tried my best to breathe into the lower belly evenly. Exactly how I was taught – exactly how I teach.  Yet I couldn’t.

The worst part was putting my hands under the ice, and as I sank them slowly in, I lost the ability to focus on my breath at all. It felt as though my veins and arteries were slowly freezing. (I should have imagined them, instead of my legs, being submerged first). I should have held my lower belly, sending a message to my brain reminding me where to breathe from.

One minute passed and I still hadn’t got it together, it wasn’t panic, it was pure discomfort and it took everything I had to try and calm my breathing down.

At 1 min 30 seconds I felt a shift – not a huge shift but one of ease, like I was ready to sink a little further within – yet my mind was telling my body if I just get out I could be warm soon.  I battled my mind for the last 30 seconds and at 2 minutes, I was done.

As we got out, we did a warming moving flow, legs in Goddess (Horse) pose, quads engaged as we moved the upper body in time to the breath, heating the body from the inside out.

It was done. I was complete – filled with bravado & accomplishment – relief and regret – if I had prepared my body better – would I have felt more invigorated?

Our ice bath was followed by a wonderful, colourful organic lunch full of local Eco-village grown veggies and cooked by my dear friend Kylie the Cook. Not a chef she was keen to point out – just a home cook.  An amazing end!

Why do it?

Cryotherapy (kryo meaning cold in Greek – not crying as it should) or Cold/Ice Water Immersion activates the body’s natural healing powers.

When practiced regularly can provide long-lasting changes to the body’s immune, lymphatic, circulatory and digestive systems that enhance the overall quality of life.  Another benefit of exposing the body to cold is the reduction in inflammation, swelling, and sore muscles, which is why athletes have been using ice baths for years, it also speeds up recovery after exercise.

Cold therapy is linked to improved quality of sleep, more focus, and most interestingly an improved immune response and symptoms caused due to autoimmune diseases.

If you want to read more about Wim Hof– click the link here.

I will definitely continue to incorporate breathing into our yoga practice.  The more I learn – the more I am intrigued.  Cold showers will be a regular feature in my life and I can’t wait to jump into the pool after a stint in our new sauna.

Challenging yourself regularly is an elixir of living a long happy life.