In this video, Daniel guides us through a 1-minute cold exposure session. Before entering the water, focus on the conscious decision you made to face the cold. Understanding your ‘why’ is an important part of your mental preparation every time you’re preparing to enter the water.
Know your ‘why’
It can sound a little ‘new age’ when someone says, ‘know your intention’, but in the case of cold water immersion, it’s very useful. For some, the cold is simply a tool. For others, it’s a way of reducing inflammation after intense exercise. For some of our clients, it’s pain management or keeping symptoms in check. It’s also a mental health aid for those who find respite in the kick of norepinephrine generated from the cold; the evidence suggests it builds their mental resilience.
The way you Get Your Cold on doesn’t matter as much as knowing “why” you’re doing it. It keeps you focused, encourages you to stay committed, and helps to measure its effects on your mind and body.
Next, focus on the breathing.
The way we breathe has a huge impact on our mindset. The common understanding is that “breathing” is just something we do every day without thinking, but the reality is that it’s an untapped source of tremendous power – when used properly!
It has a direct effect on our biochemistry and even helps control our lymphatic nervous system – with or without deliberate cold exposure.
Wim Hof’s online breathwork guides explain how we can offset deregulatory stress with breathing techniques to help us exhale acidity and move to a more alkaline state of calm. Build it into your morning routine, before breakfast, and before your cold exposure practice, using your whole body to deepen your breathing and turn it into a productive practice in itself.
When you’re in the water, keep focused on your breath. You want slow and controlled inhales through the nose and extended exhales through the mouth. This tells your body to stay calm, that you’re ok and in control. Everyone feels the urge to breathe frantically at first, it’s a chemical response (norepinephrine primarily) that is the challenge in even the most adapted practitioners. They use their breath to manage it, and you can too.
Next, move into position on the edge of your bath and slowly sink into the water, standing up first. As your body reacts to the cold, you will need to engage your breathwork again, taking control of those inhales and exhales.
How deep should I go in an Ice Bath?
When ready, sink further in until the water comes up to the base of your neck. This is where the largest part of our parasympathetic nervous system called the ‘vagus’ nerve is found. It connects our brain to our organs, and when stimulated by cold water, it’s understood that the nerve reduces the stress response. In a stressed state (like when you first enter the cold water), our sympathetic nervous system - commonly referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response - is activated.
Cold water exposure is a non-invasive way to activate the vagus nerve, once we’re in, it helps us slow our breathing and heart rate, switching us into a state referred to as ‘parasympathetic mode’, more commonly known as ‘rest-and-digest’.
Research demonstrates that prolonged and chronic stress results in changes in the brain found in anxiety and depression. Counteracting it by stimulating the vagus nerve via cold water therapy, is now understood to help improve these conditions.
Plus, away from the vagus nerve, cold water immersion therapy has been shown to increase the production of mood-elevating hormones and neurotransmitters (such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and beta-endorphins), which can lead to improvement of mood and is behind the much wider metabolic benefits of cold water immersion.
So make sure you sink to the base of your neck, and, if you want to max the feeling, a brief face and head dunk.
Surrender to the cold
Try to relax your shoulders even further and focus on your breathing, close your eyes too, if it helps. The body knows there is cold and stress but you’re consciously choosing to relax anyway. Releasing a deep “omm” sound through your nose and mouth can help focus and relax, too. You can bring your hands out of the cold if you prefer, this doesn’t affect the practice.
Finally, when you climb out of the water, you need to remain focused and maintain that slow breathing pattern. Come into horse stance or stand still while your body heats naturally.
Ready for more? Explore our 3-minute guided dip.