Cold exposure is intense mind-body resilience training and, done right, a beautiful practice of strength and soul.
Our next group Resiliency Field Trip is coming up in August: a collaboration with breathwork guides, Paulus and Cassidy, where we will plunge into ice cold water (around 4-6 degrees).
It’s safe to say we will all be forced out of our comfort zones for the longest 5-10 minutes ever.
Of course, I wouldn’t be a good facilitator if I wasn’t willing to test out the experience ahead of time…right?
This last Wednesday, I joined one of Paulus’ sessions to do just that.
The breathwork emphasizes rapid belly breathing across four rounds, with a hold on the exhale and then a hold on the inhale in between those rounds, very similar to the breathing techniques described by Wim Hof, or “ice man.”
The idea is that we are pushing increased levels of oxygen into our tissue, while also triggering the brain to release adrenaline and other stress hormones, the powerful fight-or-flight response behind the seemingly superhuman abilities we have in the midst of an emergency.
However, here we are resourcing the hormone purposefully – creating a mind-body training simulation where we overcome the primal desire to run from pain and fear, or from the cold in this case.
Why is this profoundly helpful?
For my purposes, the primary benefit here is Intentional Discomfort, one of the six factors in the Hierarchy of Resilience.
Purposeful stress exposure is a powerful intervention that can dramatically anchor in a new, empowered relationship with overall stress.
We’re uncoupling the normal parallel response of the hormone neurotransmitters associated with fear versus calm – learning to twist our biology to our advantage and condition our bodies to respond in a positive way to stress.
The resilience we build in enduring uncomfortable or distressing situations is immediately transferable to the real test of life’s inevitable adversities.
We learn experientially that we can always find control – not of circumstance or other people – but in ourselves. We always have a choice in how we respond; what attitude we take (as long as we build and maintain resilience!).
Finding joy in discomfort liberates our happiness from happy conditions.
Of course, there are many additional benefits.
Through just the breathwork, we are engaging in 30-minutes of meditation while utilizing our breath to cue the body into a parasympathetic state.
Our breath is a powerful tool that is always with us. It’s an automatic process that we can take control over in the midst of stress to move out of a fear-based, reactive mindset and back into our authentic self, open to possibility.
Given that the sympathetic stress response is cued constantly in our culture of high pressure, never-ending expectations, many of us live on a constant cortisol-drip even though there aren’t any actual tigers lying in wait.
Our bodies weren’t designed to live in this state of chronic stress.
The longer we stew in those hormones, the more dysregulated we become, leading to fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, autoimmunity, heart disease, cognitive decline and an entire cascade of negative outcomes.
“The purpose of deep breathing is to induce a ‘hypometabolic state,’ where autonomic and mental arousal are minimal. It is a resting, restorative state, a counter anxiety, counter stress response of the body induced by using the breathing that goes with relaxation to trigger a similar muscle response in the body,” Robert Fried, clinical respiratory psychophysiologist
Mindfulness, especially meditation, creates the opposite physiological state to stress. This breathwork practice is a great example of that training.
And then there’s the ice bath itself…
The word intense doesn’t really cover it.
It’s an experience like no other – a physiological response to what the body deems a life-or-death situation that overtakes you for a few moments.
Then there’s about two minutes of releasing into the discomfort of the cold itself, embracing the call to adventure rather than fighting it.
The goal is five minutes. Just 300 long seconds.
Also called cold water immersion (CWI) or cryotherapy, just a few of the proposed benefits of an ice bath include:
- Immediate improvement of mood, deep relaxation, and a sense of euphoria, lasting for hours afterward
- Rapid decrease in depressive and anxiety symptoms
- Pain relief through stimulation of norepinephrine and activation of the endogenous opioid system
- Increased metabolism and concentrations of adrenaline, noradrenaline, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisone, and endorphins
- Improved immunity
Wim Hof’s warm invitation into this practice:
“If you go into the ice cold you have to go deep. There is no other way. It is just bloody cold.”
Are you ready to go deep? Join me on August 15th if you’re local to SLC, or find an ice bath session near you.