One of the most ancient and beneficial health practices known: the art of tempering the body with cold water. Tempering the body with cold water, indoors or out, is an ancient practice for health, stamina and longevity. Kundalini yoga practitioners do this early in the morning, and their name for it is ishnaan. The ancient Greeks and Spartans practiced it. Long-lived and primitive cultures, living more in tune with nature, include this and other healthy lifestyle practices almost automatically as part of their normal way of life—water in nature is generally cold, and, in many places, this is the only water you’ll find! We Westerners, however, must make special efforts to make tempering with cold a routine part of our lifestyle.
Benefits of Cold Water
Cold water brings numerous health benefits. Foremost of these is increased peripheral circulation—the blood flow to your skin and the outer parts of the body. You feel tingly, warm, exhilarated. Blood rushes from deep within the body, where it is pooled either due to sluggish circulation or some other cause, immediately bringing warmth and increased circulation to the skin and the peripheries, flushing toxins and providing a warm glow. The experience reminds me of the tourniquet effect of Bikram Yoga, which is one of the reasons it is so effective and has such healing capabilities. Cold water is also said to help balance the nervous system, helping you feel relaxed and peaceful, yet alert, enhancing the circulatory and immune systems. And all of these effects, in the aggregate, contribute to living longer.
There are countless health enthusiasts, promoters and teachers who have long practiced the art of tempering the body with cold water. The method was especially popular in the early 1900s, enjoyed by young and old alike.
Health and raw food diet pioneer Dr. Paul Bragg swore by his daily cold showers and regularly joined the Polar Bear Club for dips in the ice-cold ocean. Incidentally, you’ll find similar clubs in Finland, China and Russia (where they like to be called walruses instead of polar bears!)
Joe Rollino, known as the strongest man who ever lived in the 1920′s, was active in the Iceberg Athletic club and practiced what was referred to as “winter bathing,” swimming in the cold ocean three or four times a week. Rollino lived to 104 and would probably have lived much longer had he not been struck by a car. He winter-bathed, he said, for nine years without missing a single day. Rollino attributed his enduring good health in part to this habit. Members of this club, who all state they have not been sick since taking up the practice, believe the cold water kills germs within the body after 5 to 10 minutes of exposure. One Staten Island resident says, “When you come out of the water and put your sweatshirt back on, you feel like you’re ten years old again.”
I was grateful to be introduced to the concept by Victoria Boutenko in her book 12 Steps to Raw Foods. Health proponents such as Boutenko are now helping to revive this once popular method of increasing health and longevity.
Caution…do not run out and immediately start jumping into ice-cold rivers and ponds, especially if you have any underlying health conditions. Doing so could lead, in extreme cases, to a potentially fatal condition known as cold shock response. That name says it all! I suggest, going gradually with “contrast” showers.
Try “Contrast” Showers
Cold showers will help build your tolerance—if you start slowly and work your way up. Most of us take daily showers without realizing that this traditional morning routine can be transformed into a cold tempering practice, capable of boosting our immune system, improving blood circulation, helping to keep the lymph moving, and preparing us to feel more comfortable when dealing with cold weather.
Next time you are in the shower, try “contrast” showering. Once you are done washing your body, which you presumably did with very warm water, switch to cool water for one minute or so, and then back to very warm/hot for another minute. Switch between hot to cool a few more times, staying with each for a minute, and finish with the cold shower. Now you are ready to vigorously wipe your body with a towel. You will feel invigorated and warm. This gradual method will help you build tolerance to temperature variations and, in essence, condition your thermoregulatory response.
Ideally, you would practice the contrast shower method daily, gradually moving from cool to cold or even very cold water over a few days or, more likely, weeks. The more contrast between hot and cold you are able to create, the more rewarding an experience it will be for you. Contrast showers take very minimal extra time, but if practiced regularly, contain the power to make you nearly invincible against colds, flu, and upper respiratory infections. And showering this way will soon make you immune to feeling cold on the raw food diet.
Try it Together with Bikram Yoga
Get into Bikram yoga, too. Aside from the wonderfully invigorating benefits of hot yoga, another plus is that, for at least 90 minutes, you will definitely feel warm. Following your hot yoga session with some cold-water hydrotherapy may give you the best of both worlds. In my earlier blog article, The Raw Food Diet in Winter, you’ll also find some handy tips for feeling warmer while your thermoregulation is getting an overhaul.
The raw food diet and tempering with cold water will help your body regain its own thermoregulation capabilities, and lowering your body temperature can support your anti-aging efforts.
If you are ready to take your raw food diet to the next level and learn more advanced anti-aging and health inducing lifestyle practices, take a look at the 2nd edition of Quantum Eating.