Ice Cold Yoga
It wasn’t a hot day. But a group of us yoga teachers planned to immerse ourselves in a tub of ice cold water. I have seen people do this on social media and knew it was supposed to be some amazing experience. Perhaps a test of will. Athletes use it to calm inflammation and aid in recovery. Many people I know don’t need to know why and simply say, nope. Me? I like adventure.
Jeremiah, the cold water immersion facilitator coached us on breathing before the ice bath. Deep breaths with long exhalations calms the body by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a way to get your body ready and you’ll want to return to this type of breathing as soon as you can once immersed in the water. Staying in for three minutes is the ideal goal for beginners. But Jeremiah warned that if at any time it is too much, immediately get out.
As I waited my turn I watched others sit in the water. The first person screamed. Everyone had their own way of dealing with the shock of the water. One person decided to also dunk their head in at the end. I knew I didn’t need to get my braids wet.
I started to feel anxious. Wondering if I’d be the one to get out early. How would I handle being in water around 35 degrees?
I began to consider all of life’s challenges. I realized that of all the discomfort I suffered in my life, rarely did it last only three minutes. Then I knew I could do it.
As humans we are wired to seek out comfort. It’s why we live in such luxury now. In fact we are so comfortable that we find discomfort in the tiniest ways. I can’t bare to sleep on the ground. I convinced myself I’m lightheaded if go several hours without eating. And many people who live near me find it hard to walk across the neighborhood and have invested in golf carts. (I chose to ride my bike. Although my new e-bike makes it easier).
Researchers find that all this comfort is making us soft. In order to improve ourselves we must experience discomfort. They conducted a study instructing 2,100 people in personal growth activities. They coached half the people to feel uncomfortable or awkward, or nervous, or anxious, or even upset. They were told to push past their comfort zone and that feeling uncomfortable is a sign that the activity is working.
The other half weren’t told to embrace discomfort; instead, they simply focused on learning or noticing if the exercise was working and how they were developing their skills.
The researchers found that people who aimed to be uncomfortable were more engaged in their activities, felt more motivated to keep doing them, and believed they made more progress toward their goals compared to those who weren’t seeking out this kind of vulnerability. Seeing discomfort as a sign of progress can be motivating, the researchers believe, because we often see it as the opposite: a sign that there’s a problem.
“To be outstanding – get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”— Alrik Koudenburg (interior designer)
When it was my turn for the ice bath, I stood at the water’s edge and set my intention to leave pain, anger and discomfort in the water and allow myself to be strong and healthy.
The water was as shocking as anticipated. I gasped for breath. I found it very hard to inhale even to a count of two while the exhale was shorter.
I huddled in a ball and after 30 seconds or so there was a shift and I could take a deeper breath. The water was less shocking, but still cold. I tried to process the sensations. I was very present in the moment, amazed at my calmness.
Jeremiah started to talk to me. I didn’t want to talk. More discomfort. But I made myself speak in short shuddered sentences. “It’s cold. I’m okay.” is all I can remember saying. Then I made affirmations about being strong and positive and courageous. Just like that, three minutes was up. I slowly stood and expanded my arms in victory.
Outside of the water I wasn’t immediately cold. We were told to stand or sit and warm up naturally. But I wanted to shake and move. I don’t know if that helped or hindered. What ultimately made me more comfortable was putting on dry clothes. About 30 minutes later I was back to normal with a greater sense of relief and pride for my accomplishment.
The idea behind mere mortals like myself doing ice water immersion is to calm the nervous system. By doing ice bathes or cold showers regularly the body learns to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system more easily when stress arrises. Some say this has cured their anxiety or addictions.
I like the idea of making it a regular practice. It was suggested to turn the water to cold for the last minute of a shower. But I like my hot showers and have yet to step outside of that comfort.