Five years of cold showers with Wim Hof
Last week, I was listening to a Wim Hof podcast. In it, Wim explained that the body is basically an autonomous system. You don’t have to do anything to breathe, to pump your blood, to process food. The body can take care of itself fine without any conscious interference. About five years ago, I started with cold showers, the Wim Hof method. This method consists of three parts: breathing, cold exposure and dedication. When I started, I used the breathing techniques before I took the cold showers. I used the breathing techniques to help my body deal with the cold exposure. For five years, I used breathing techniques every time I was under the ice cold water, every morning. Until last week. Last week, I just surrendered. I just let my body deal with the cold without my help, without the help of breathing techniques. I turns out my body doesn’t need the help of breathing techniques to deal with the cold. Breathing turned out just to be a crutch, a mental model that is not needed to deal with cold. The journey of cold showers has brought me many wonderful things of which the total surrender is the latest.
I started with cold showers by accident. I was on a holiday in a cabin in the woods. At some point during the holiday, I took a shower. I turned on the hot water, got in, put soap on my body and then the hot water supply died. It was a primitive cabin in the woods and the hot water didn’t come back on. It still had to rinse the soap of my body so I did that with cold water. At first I cursed the boiler that died. But after I dried myself off I felt energized. I didn’t think much of it until I got back home. During the whole holiday in the woods in this wooden cabin, I felt alive, energized. I wanted to keep that feeling back home but after one day, it was gone. I wanted to recreate the feeling of feeling alive at home. The hypothesis I had was that at home, I had too much comfort and that made my body operate at a lower energy level. So I started to get rid of comforts. One of those comforts were hot showers. I remembered coming across this guy Wim Hof and his method of cold exposure and the cold shower incident in the woods triggered me to look him up.
I found his method of breathing and cold exposure and decided to do a 30 day challenge with his app. Cold showers for 30 days. I used the breathing exercises before I stepped into the cold shower. The breathing exercise of Wim Hof is pretty basic. Later I discovered a whole array of other breathing techniques in the pranayama of yoga but these first exercises I learned from Wim Hof are really powerful. He uses extreme deep breathing to overload your blood with oxygen. You get high on oxygen. After each round of deep breathing exercises, you can hold your breath for minutes because the body has enough oxygen so you do not have to breathe. What that also does is make your body temporarily more powerful. If you could do 20 pushups before the breathing exercise, you can do at least 30 after. So it also helps to power up your body before you take a cold shower. That is what I did and I managed to withstand the cold. Each day a little bit longer.
In time, I didn’t do the total breathing exercise of Wim Hof anymore. I just used a couple of deep breaths the moment the cold water hit my body to help the body fight the cold. I did my cold showers for about five years in this way.
The benefits of cold showers are amazing. If anybody would ask me to give them one thing to dramatically improve their lives, I would recommend cold showers. It works on so many levels, both physical and mental. The physical benefits have been proven by research. It’s super good for the cardiovascular system. My dad died of a heart attack so I can use all the help I can get to keep my cardiovascular system in shape. It also helps against viruses. In these past five years I seldom to never have colds. It’s also good for the skin and I am sure there are more physical benefits. It also released all kinds of happy chemicals into your body. But the most amazing thing about cold showers is the mental aspect.
The third pillar of the Wim Hof method is discipline, patience, dedication. This is where the cold showers shine. Stepping into the cold shower every morning is a mental game. Your ego, your mind doesn’t want to do it. It is pain. You know you will have pain. And it never gets easy. Even after years, your mind will try to convince you every morning to not do it. But if you tell your mind every morning to shut up, you train your mind. You develop discipline. Discipline is doing what you need to do even if your mind is complaining and tries to convince you not to do it. Often, we know what is the right thing to do but we do not do it because we lack discipline. Cold showers is an excellent way to train discipline. Discipline is a muscle you can train and cold showers is one way to do that. It also gives you confidence. If you know you can do these cold showers, you feel like you can do anything. It is empowering.
For years I did it like this. Step in the cold shower. Deep breaths until my body was fine. Until I discovered I didn’t need the breathing. After hearing Wim Hof talk about how the body can take care of itself, I decided to give that a try. I stepped into the cold water and just let it go without any breathing techniques. My body was fine. No problems. My body could take care of itself. Just surrender. Don’t worry. This lesson of surrender is the latest thing I discovered in the cold water. If you surrender, maybe things will be uncomfortable, but you’ll be fine. Life goes on. One of the main lessons of spiritual traditions like Taoism is surrender. To get more into the flow of life, you need to surrender, let things unfold and trust that things will be fine, that you will be fine. What I found helpful in the surrender to the cold it that it is a physical manifestation or training in the art of surrender, of releasing control, of getting in the flow.
Wim Hof always talks about the cold as his teacher. I feel that. These are the things the cold has taught me in the past five years. I am curious to see what else it can teach me. :-)
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