This post was last updated on January 22nd, 2015 at 07:03 am
This post may catch you as you shiver in the winter and it may sound completely nuts as a result but I want you to figure out when and how you’re going to try it. It really works.
You will feel great after a cold water soak.
I didn’t actually believe it myself and tried it only out of some desperation. It was the summer of 2012 when my dad had open heart surgery for a heart valve replacement. That sort of surgery is very bad business and it was stressful for him and his care-giver. (*raises hand*)
What got me started with this therapy was a little seed of the idea planted by friends. Just six weeks before, some friends visited with their teenage kids and we all hit a local creek together. I had my boys (aged 4 and 10 at the time) so I was busy monitoring them, particularly the 4-year old. My friend was able to relax as the teenagers explored. She grabbed a vintage aluminum folding chair and placed it in a pool in the creek. She sat there in the creek on that chair, taking in the mountain surrounds. I joined her for long enough to make a mental note: “This could be a great way to relax.” I continued to chase my son around.
Weeks later I remembered her sitting in that creek and thought I would give it a try. We were in the middle of a July swelter on top of the heart valve recovery and so I figured it would be a good cool-down as well — the water was snow run-off. I also knew that cold water soaking is anti-inflammatory and that I could find a bit of relief in legs that were bothering me.
I hit the creek with a folding chair and slowly moved the chair in deeper until I was immersed up to my hips. I soaked for an hour.
When I was finished I could actually breathe (now small thing in times of stress) and my legs actually did feel better (though they were not a big issue). As the hours passed afterwards I just felt more of a sense of wellness than I had expected from my relaxation exercise.
I also felt an endorphin rush like that “high” you get from a good workout. I got it from relaxing in a creek.
I said, “Whoa.”
I did it again and then again and again. The technique really helped save me during that stressful season. I made the effort to soak as often as possible as a result and immersed more and more of my body into that snow run-off.
Come to find out there is some evidence that cold therapy reduces symptoms of depression. A team of Polish researchers found cryotherapy to be an effective addition to pharmaceutical treatment. Patients were subjected to about two minutes in an extremely cold (-200 degrees F) cryogenic chamber fifteen times a day and their depressive symptoms decreased. Read the study here.
Most of us do not have access to a cryogenic chamber and snow water run off in a creek is a far cry from 200 degrees below zero, but this study makes me wonder if there is something more to a cold water soak than reducing inflammation in our joints.
It is surely worth a try if you have the opportunity.
This is one of my favorite local spots which you can explore a little further right from your computer — it’s a 3-D photo made with the Lytro Illum camera. Click on different parts of the picture to change its focus. Check out the moss on the rock. (Find the camera here at our Amazon partner and prepare for sticker shock….)
But I digress. What has me thinking about this soaking strategy even in the middle of winter is that I was reading an advance copy of “60-Second Guru: One Minute Spiritual Life Hacks For Growth, Happiness and Empowerment” by Maurice Kaehler (available now here). (You may remember Maurice from a couple of posts on Fresh Bites Daily — one on the TEDx talk here I gave for which Maurice was the producer and one on sage tea here that starts off innocently enough and then delves deep into innuendo…).
Number 17 in “60 Second Guru” is “Cold Plunge.” He writes:
Ahhhhh! This is one of my favorites. Seriously. It is a good way to get in touch with your heart. And it is a good way to wake your self up. Your heartbeat quickens which immediately causes it to get warm. Three or four times of this and your skin will have a nice glow. Do it for an immediate change of mood. It’s also helps to strengthen your immune system.
Maurice takes cold showers but also enjoys creek-soaking. I messaged him immediately and said, “I love cold water soaking!” I asked him what he recommends to people just starting out. He offered:
The vets know to go in slowly, meditatively, especially if it is hot/cold in the extreme (as in a hot springs). The newbies tend to plunge in, are very vocal, and get out quickly. The bottom line is to go in slowly to let your body acclimate.
There are cultures that do value that “plunge” and if you can manage it, kudos. Personally, I’m with Maurice on the slow immersion.
Warnings and Contra-indications
This is a remedy you want to run by your doctor. Notice Maurice’s words above: “Your heartbeat quickens which immediately causes it to get warm.” This is great if, like Maurice, you are a youthful Hollywood yoga guru (even at age 50-something). If you have a heart condition, conditions affecting the heart, or really any other serious health concerns, I would talk to the doc.
Other highlights from 60-Second Guru: Maurice discusses the concept of a “street resume” causing me to scramble to look up his online. Bhahahaha. Here it is. Perhaps I should write one too. 😉 Maurice’s book is peppered with activities to improve your relationship with your spouse or partner and to better connect with people.