Suffering Through Cold Showers and What I Learned

After several attempts over the last few years to maintain a cold shower practice through the winter months, I finally succeeded this year, and since we’re into the spring months it will be a little easier to keep the practice going through the rest of this year and into the next winter. Now to be clear, the entire shower I take is not cold. I do still enjoy a nice warm shower, but at the very least 30-60 seconds of the shower uses no hot water at all.

Thirty seconds of cold water may not seem like much to you especially those of you that live in LA like me, but I’ll challenge you to take a 30 second cold-water-only-shower in Pittsburgh between Christmas and New Years. That cold water is icy cold, yet it was somehow easier than the cold water in LA. I think it’s because it was so cold that it numbed my skin, and I couldn’t really feel how cold it was. Whatever the real reason is I was able to do it and keep up with the practice.

For those of you that might be wondering, “Why would you torture yourself like that?” there are many physical and mental health benefits that come from a cold shower routine.

From improving your immune and cardiovascular systems to relieving depression and losing weight, there are many lists on the interwebs of the benefits of taking cold showers. I cannot vouch for all of the claims out there, but I do follow one man that has spearheaded some of the research in this area based on his own experiences.

Wim Hof, nicknamed “The Iceman,” has set numerous world-records involving cold temperature feats including standing in a container of ice up to his neck for almost two hours and climbing Mount Everest wearing only shoes and shorts. He claimed the health benefits of combining meditation, breathing techniques, and exposure to the cold, and doctors and researchers wanted to test his claims.

You can watch the story of the experiment here.

I was lucky enough to be able to sit on one day of his weekend workshop back in 2011 which culminated with each of us taking an ice bath. That was the first time I ever experienced anything like that, and that water was freezing. There was a bath tub filled with ice, and one by one each participant was coached to submerge themselves into the tub up to their neck for as long as it took to relax their constricted muscles and breathe calmly.

When it was my turn and I started to sit down in the icy water, every muscle in my body began tightening and I could barely breathe. I can’t say how long I was in there (it seemed like forever), but eventually Wim was able to coach me to be able to relax my muscles, lay back, and breathe easily.

Cold showers are not quite as bad as an ice baths, however you can get the same health benefits.

The following summer I started taking cold showers which seemed fairly easy, but I think it was because I was living in an un-air-conditioned top floor apartment in downtown Bucharest, Romania. The cold showers were refreshing and kept me from melting in the heat, and the water didn’t even get that cold. Once I got back to the States and the temperature started to drop, the warm water came back to my showers.

For the last few years I experimented with cold showers, but always fell off the wagon as soon as the seasons changed. Last year was different because I learned how to ease into the practice and build it over time.

For those of you looking to start a cold shower practice to receive some of the benefits (better circulation, strengthened immunity, weight loss, etc.) start at the end of your shower. Take a regular shower and at the end turn off the hot water for at least 15 seconds. Do your best to get over any initial shock and relax your muscles. Over time increase the length of time of the cold portion of your shower. I’m not saying to increase the length of your shower for I don’t want you to waste water. I’m just saying to turn off the hot water sooner to get 20 seconds (or 25 or 30 etc.) of a cold shower.

Once you get that down for a couple weeks, then it’s time to move up to the next level which is to start AND end with a cold shower. You can make it warm in the middle of the shower, but make sure it’s cold at the start.

If you haven’t noticed the internal dialogue before when turning off the hot water in the shower, you’ll definitely start to notice your shadow feeding you reason after reason and excuse after excuse of why you shouldn’t or can’t step under that cold water in the beginning of the shower.

I’ve been doing this practice for 8 months and I still have to talk myself into stepping under the cold water. This is my way of confronting my shadow and proving to myself that I am in control, not it. I have to remind myself that I’ve done it many times, and that the initial shock of the cold only lasts a few seconds. Once you relax into it, the cold isn’t bad. It’s just cold. There’s a surrender and acceptance that comes along.

This has also helped prep me for dealing with life. When things go wrong or something unexpected disrupts my life, I know the initial shock of it will only last a few seconds, and then I can deal with.

I believe that these moments of victory in self-talk with our shadow in this practice are what causes the relief from depression and the other psychological benefits from cold showers.

Now I will admit to you that I haven’t been 100% victorious over my shadow regarding the cold shower starts this winter. There have been about a dozen showers that I started with warm water, however I have ended every shower with cold water. And that I can be proud of!

Do you take cold showers? If so, what benefits have you noticed?

Are you interested in starting a cold shower practice? Check out the Wim Hof Method’s 10-week online course for an entire program to help you along.