When I was training to become a Kundalini Yoga teacher, I was presented with so many techniques, kriyas, mantras, and lifestyle tips that were making a profoundly positive impact on my life. Because of that impact, I was in a very curious and willing state of mind when it came to trying some of the broader offerings of the practice. A prime example of this was the regular practice of cold showers. Prior to this time in my life, the idea of taking a cold shower daily, or even as a matter of practice a few times a week, would have seemed absurd and totally unappealing.
In Kundalini Yoga there is a technique called Ishnaan, which is regarded as being one of the most highly beneficial practices for maintaining excellent health within the mind, body, and spirit. It is a technique that makes use of cold water as a means to maintain optimal health. Although Ishnaan has been practiced for hundreds of years within recorded history and touted for its profound health benefits, most people are only now starting to learn of its benefits by way of similar, more visible, and popular techniques, like the Wim Hof Method.
The physical benefits of cold showers and cold water therapy include: a stronger immune response, weight loss, increased metabolism, pain relief, a strengthened nervous system, reduced inflammation, faster recovery time, and improved circulation.
A teacher once described the practice of cold water therapy to me as “putting yourself into a martini shaker”. The introduction of cold water to the skin quickly draws the blood from the organs and distributes it out into the extremities, thus drawing impurities and toxins out of the organs and improving circulation through some of the finer capillaries of the vascular system. It serves to reset and optimize the function of the nervous and endocrine systems as well, by minimizing the signaling of pain receptors, increasing production of endorphins (feel-good hormones), and decreasing cortisol (stress hormones). Allowing yourself to warm up in the comfort of a big, soft towel afterward, or moving to a hot dry sauna allows the now oxygenated prana-charged blood to return to the inner organs restoring vitality and harmony.
Psychologically, cold water therapy helps to reduce stress, heighten attention span, increase will power, improve mood, and relieve depressive states. In my experience, the benefit of a cold shower lies within the way it resets perspective. Everyday I am reminding and reinforcing myself to move through resistance, first thing. With the practice of cold showers I am moving toward discomfort and away from complacency, in honor of the greater good of my health: physically, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually.
So what does this all have to do with yoga? This is yoga. At a fundamental level Yoga is not just a series of poses, though it does include them. Yoga is a holistic reclaiming of connection, health, prosperity, awareness, truth, and one’s relationship with the natural world. Participating in a regular practice of immersing oneself in relationship with a basic element of life and allowing it to heal, transform, and uplift you is yoga.
The most valuable thing I receive from my cold shower practice is the complete reframing of perspective that is cultivated once I choose to step outside of my comfort zone and walk willingly into the cold water. This regular reminder is a gift that allows me to bear witness to that pervasive and all too human quality within my psyche. Whether you choose to call it the ego, the little self, the false self, or the pain body as Eckhart Tolle has so beautifully coined it in The Power of Now, a reckoning has occurred within you in relation to the ego after you have completed your cold shower. A new frame of perspective is present and guiding you with awareness throughout the day.
Individuals with heart or other medical conditions should first consult their doctor before embarking on a cold water therapy journey. And it goes without saying for those who do embark, the most challenging part of starting a cold water therapy practice is getting started. This is when you have the most negative association with the process, worried it will be desperately unpleasant. Especially if you’re considering it in the colder months. Don’t let that discourage you! Cold showers during colder months will keep your metabolism up and help you cultivate more resilience. For a person to experience the aforementioned benefits of cold showers, a consistency of practice must begin to take shape and this consistency building process can take any form you like.
For those of you who like to try things out in short bursts, or trial periods, perhaps make a commitment to a week of cold showers and journal about the benefits you experience during that time. The specified time of focus and self reflection will likely encourage you to continue forward with the practice. That lack of long term pressure allows you to be excited and experimentally minded about it.
If you like a sense of reward for your efforts, think of something that you’d really love to treat yourself to, and incentivize the process by rewarding yourself with it after you’ve completed a week, month, or longer of cold showers. Both treating yourself to the desired thing and the beneficial outcome of the practice itself are great positive reinforcers for the mind.
Not every shower you take needs to be cold. I still take and enjoy warm showers. If you take 2 showers or more a day you have an option where to fit the cold one in. My personal recommendation is that it be the first shower of the day to have maximum benefits. That said, I find a cold shower before bed to be very relaxing and makes getting into a warm, cozy bed very satisfying.
Regardless of how you do it, in order to make it a practice, you need to do it. I’m a firm believer in the practice’s benefits. If there are times I stray from the practice based on extenuating circumstances, my body, mind, and spirit find a way to remind me how much better I feel and happier I am when cold showers are in my practice. I encourage you to give it a try and share your experience with me in the comments section of this article. I’d love to hear about your experiences.
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