“Wow, this feels warm!”
I’m trying to trick my body into the water. As the cold pierces into my ancles, everything in my body screams to get out of the element humans were clearly not made for. Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.
Some ice clings to the branches of bleak trees. Nature is resting in a slumber awaiting warmer times. Around me are five smiling faces in swim wear. Some strollers on the other side of the river give us their thumbs-up and start taking pictures. I feel alive, very alive.
Besides the scientifically proven health benefits, going into the cold is active stress management. By playing around with ice, this is what I learned over the past few years.
How to deal with freezing
If you are tense the cold will get to you very quickly. You try to “keep the warmth inside” by flexing your muscles, but if you just let loose and surrender yourself, the cold becomes easier to bear with. You have to be soft, not hard.
Breathe deeply and make sure the outbreath takes as long as possible, count to 10 in your head. As long as your breathe, everything is good.
The first 20 seconds are a mental battle. I loved how a Wim-Hof-instructor told me “give your body the gift of cold”.
Don’t wrap yourself up in clothes right away. Warm up incrementally. Otherwise the blood vessels in your extremities will open up too soon and cold blood will mix with your core. You’ll start shaking uncontrollably, because your body will do everything to keep its core temperature. This is referred to as the “aftershock”.
Read up on the Wim Hof breathing method. This increases oxygen in your body and makes your skin receptors less susceptible to pain. Never do this in the water. This breathing exercise is very powerful and you could faint.
Breathe out slowly when you make the first step in to the water. A long exhale relaxes you.
Slide into the water up to your neck directly. I find it more painful to stay in the water up to my knees and then sink in.
Don’t go into heavy exercise after coming out of the water. Breathe deeply in and out and just move your body around. Stay active but don’t start doing push ups or squats immediately. You can do those later though if you’re still cold after a while.
If you’re hiking outside, keep your hands in your pockets near your stomach. There it will always be warm.
Having a rather empty stomach makes it easier.
Sounds simple, but… smile! Make fun of the cold. Play with it.
As soon as I walked around with no shirt at –5 °C for an hour—and I haven’t turned into Ötzi lying on the roadside—I start asking myself: “Where else am I limiting myself? What do I perceive to be impossible?”
There will be nothing else you will think about and you will be in the now completely. This can be seen as a shortcut to a meditative state.
Never force anything. It’s not a competition. You have to be able to regenerate heat yourself afterwards.
Don’t go alone, always have someone with you. Understand that low temperatures have great energy but can also be dangerous.
Emotions, a dish best served cold
When I get into the cold, I get the whole palette of primal fears and joys served up all at once. I have to conquer my willpower, I can feel my heart shooting adrenaline through my veins. I get out of the water and feel relief and pride of having done it again. As soon as the warmth comes back, I get a big smile and feel kind of “high”. I wonder if there is a connection between the the popularity of ice bathing and dark winters in the Scandinavian countries?
Too much high-energy-food causes diseases like overweight. Constant warmth and comfort can be put on the same scale. It’s okay to freeze for an hour and then return to our heated homes. This stuff works. Try it!