Today’s shivery suggestion is brought to you by my very happy, healthy and confident little brother. In a family zoom call recently he talked about how great he was feeling since he completed his three day fast a couple of weeks ago. We were fascinated by his experience, as he described the physical and mental benefits of a complete cleanse and reset. While not at all tempted to follow that example, the conversation went on to the similar benefits of cold showers, which everyone sort of nodded in agreement to. I didn’t realise the extent to which immersion in freezing water was of recognised benefit to health, and looked it up.
So many benefits! For circulation, immune system, metabolism and – interesting for my purposes – increasing endorphins, the ‘happy hormone’.
Several years ago, on an outdoor survival weekend in Welsh woodlands (also led by Matt Hill, back in our Aikido days), part of the experience was immersion under a waterfall. To get there, everyone waded through the icy river and then stood under the pounding freezing torrent of water from the Welsh mountains for as many seconds as they could cope with.
Someone had to stay on the river bank to look after the towels, and I volunteered graciously to miss out on the icy experience. But after their shivery shenanegins, they all sloshed back out of the river laughing, with sparkling eyes and very pink faces, and an effervescent glow of happiness that convinced me to go in for a quick careful swim in the shallow end before staggering out to the comfort of my towel. The cold was biting, but once I got over the shock of it, it was properly refreshing, and I got that crazy happy glow too.
So ten years later, back in our cosy warm flat, I’ve been gearing up for day six all week. Our shower takes a while to warm up, and I obviously normally let it run its horrible cold course before tentatively stepping in. But this week I’ve been standing straight in and enduring the few seconds of chilly discomfort before it gradually reaches the sensibly scalding temperature that my Italian blood requires. And it hasn’t been too bad.
It’s like Jordan Peterson said on day one, if you approach something voluntarily rather than having it inflicted upon you, you approach it with a more positive and capable part of your brain. When the shower runs cold for some water pressure related issue, I usually scowl and retreat, swearing and shivering angrily until it warms up again, but this week I’ve been embracing the cold, going straight in, instead of avoiding my fear, and mostly giggling instead of frowning.
So I was ready today for the full MINUTE of full cold. Having learned some breathing techniques yesterday I decided I would do three rounds of very slow controlled breathing. Counting to 12 on the inbreath and 12 on the outbreath. That was a bit optimistic, as I found within the first few freezing seconds I was painfully gasping through violent shivers. So cold! I managed a count of three as I breathed in and out, (it was tricky to breathe with my head under a torrent of water!) and then a few more, until the biting pain was too much and I threw the switch all the way round to full heat.
It wasn’t the most admirable success, but I tell you what, after that I felt amazing! For at least an hour. I will see if I can improve on what felt like one minute of cold – but was probably only ten seconds – but the main thing is that I’ve started. I’m no longer terrified of the cold water, and I am oh my god so much more grateful for the hot water when it comes on. I will progress this and update you at the end of the month.
Side note: This one also requires another post-cult side note because I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that cold showers were part of the abundant buffet of guilt/fear/sacrifice/suffering that we were treated to as children of an extreme religious group. It was never enforced, but as a teenager dealing with the daily trouble of ‘evil spirits’ and ‘satanic influences’ I knew that God wanted me to repent for my sinful thoughts via the medium of icy atonement. Later, when preparing sermons for the younger kids, I would do a cold shower before speaking, as a means to cleanse myself of any egocentric or selfish motivation before standing at the podium. The resulting rush of clarity, focus and energy was great for public speaking, which I used to believe was due the power of God speaking through me, but now I understand to be a powerful release of endorphins. So in a way the church got it right to encourage cold showers, but again, not for the reasons they thought.