This is the story about how, and why, I got started meditating and taking cold showers. Yes, sometimes I do these both at the same time. Here is my experience with cold adaptation, meditation and the Wim Hof Method.
For the first time ever I purchased an online course, the Wim Hof Method. It is a 10 week video course on cold adaptation, meditation, exercise and mental commitment. Truthfully, I believe it extends beyond that. I am often asked about my routines. I have discussed Wim Hof, meditation and cold adaptation with a number of people. I wanted to reflect on my experience and share it with anyone who is interested.
A few good friends convinced me to sign up for this. I was reluctant. I have always been a wimp when it comes to the cold. I consider myself a bit of a boy-scout and have really great outdoor gear for staying warm. The idea of cold showers and being naked in the snow brought about feelings of pain and discomfort. I also didn’t want to pay the money and have no shortage of excuses around my time. Nonetheless, I decided to pay the money and do the best I could for 10 weeks.
The thought that my friends were doing this and I might somehow miss out was a big driver for signing up. It is definitely easier to stick with something if you are a part of a supportive group. After watching a few of Wim’s videos I was fully committed. It was a ten week course and it started out much more gently that I was expecting. Still, I felt like a huge wimp towards cold water. The first shower was only 30 seconds of cold after a warm shower. Still, I bailed after about 10 seconds. I tried again and pulled off 30 seconds. It wasn’t until about day 4 that I actually did 30 seconds straight away. The course isn’t just about cold showers, there is a breathing technique and exercises to do. It is a daily practice. So, diligently for 10 weeks, I went through the routines. The breathing meditation was enjoyable. The exercises came pretty easily to me. It was the cold that was my biggest challenge all the way through. As my tolerance for the cold showers increased, the length of time required in the cold water would increase and continue to challenge me. I spent much of the 10 weeks not hitting the weekly objective. This is probably one of the few times in my life that I stuck with something that I sucked at.
There are some real risks involved with the cold. People die from hypothermia and people drown in cold water. Wim describes the process of getting better like building a brick wall. Take things one step at a time and don’t force yourself. The course is laid out in 10 weeks but you are encouraged to go at your own pace. This approach parallels fitness training. You can do great damage to your body by forcing yourself to do things. If you set out to run a marathon without training it isn’t going to go well. Forcing heavy deadlifts without building up slowly can cause tremendous damage.
For me, the big take away came from being fully committed to a practice but not the outcome. I will do the best I can for 10 weeks, without forcing it, and see where I get to.
This concept is a gem that is hidden in the course. It applies to so many aspects of life. Do the best you can, stay committed, but don’t force things and don’t be attached to the outcome. This is similar to why process goals are better than outcome goals.
During the course I did go into the cold every day. Out of ten weeks I missed one day. That being said, I didn’t force it. If the weekly task was to do a ten minute cold shower, I considered a success to be doing a cold shower for as long as was manageable, about five minutes in the beginning. Over the ten weeks I went from not being able to last 30 seconds in the cold water to enjoying 10 minutes in a cold shower.
After completing the course, here is where my routine is at: I take a 3 minute cold shower every morning. It feels slightly uncomfortable every day. However, it is nothing like the feeling of pain that cold water used to provoke. I take a 10 minute ice bath once per week. I actually look forward to it. I do some deep breathing alongside the bath and look to this time as meditative. When I come out of the cold water, I feel fully awake and have a great sense of accomplishment. This is the only way I start my day now.
Whenever I get out camping where there is cold water I see how long I can stay in for. This is one of the biggest reasons I took the course. I love to swim in lakes and would love to be able to do it for more months out of the year. Yes, people look at me like I am crazy. This is nothing new, you should see the green sludge I drink instead of eating lunch some days.
I have been a huge fan of meditation since reading Phil Jackson’s book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success Meditation is becoming more and more mainstream. Although the benefits are massive and it is easy to do, I had struggled falling into a consistent practice. Being patient or taking time to relax have always been challenges for me.
The meditation in the course is for the purpose of getting stronger. I needed help in the cold water and viewed meditation as a way to do so. This framework for meditation really increased my commitment. I am not relaxing, I am training my body. I am sharpening the axe.
So, for the first time in my life, I meditated consistently for a period of time. Meditation is like a cup of coffee. I don’t need it, but it sure gives me a nice boost. Can you imagine having never tried coffee because it seemed to hippy-dippy?
So many people have asked me this question. “Why the hell would you want to do that?” I have a few reasons. In the beginning, I looked at it as a new challenge. It would be fun to be swimming in cold water and loving it. When I started the course, Wim mentions a lot of health outcomes so I decided to geek out and dive into the research.
There are some circulatory and cardiovascular health benefits to deep breathing and cold. However, it seems like there are much easier ways to work on cardio.
Then, I stumbled into research on Mitochondria. Mitochondria are critical for energy production in our cells. When you look at someone who runs marathons and compare them to someone who sits on the couch, you see a huge difference in their mitochondria. There is growing evidence that cold exposure has a positive impact on mitochondria. In a similar way that someone who runs a lot develops a greater ability to generate the energy required for running; someone who is exposed to the cold generates a greater ability to generate heat. This type of thermogenesis is touted for weight-loss see the ice baths in Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman You can also check out this video interview by Jason Prall to learn more about Mitochondria.
The immune system and sensations of pain: Wim describes this and has gone through a lot of detail. For me, I am not worried that I may become ill. I see this as a hidden bonus. I have a great immune system and want to do as much as I can to live optimally and be abundantly healthy. I think cold adaptation and meditation are tremendously powerful. Right now, we are like neanderthals looking at lightning. We know it is powerful but we don’t fully know why.
All things considered, I enjoy the process and the results so I am hooked. I don’t know what impact it will have on my health in the long term. For right now, it feels like a vital part of my routine.
Learn more about the Ice Man at http://www.icemanwimhof.com/innerfire