One year ago, I promised to myself that I will take cold showers for one year.
I know, to many this sounds extreme and you probably ask: why would you do that, are you crazy?
Well, let me tell you my story first and you will be the judge of that. 😀
It all began about 2.5 years ago. I've read an article in a Romanian online newspaper about a weird guy in Bucharest, the city I lived in for the last 20 years before moving to Montreal. He was biking on snowy streets in February at -15 degrees Celsius dressed only in shorts and a t-shirt. Wait, what??
Obviously, people were as shocked as I was. The reactions were unanimous. Everybody agreed that this guy was crazy.
I've said to myself: they are right, he is crazy. But the thing is, I love crazy guys, as there is always more there than meets the eye.
So, very intrigued as to why he was doing this, I started reading more about him.
Valentin struggled with weight loss and health issues before, just like me. He studied a lot on how to improve his health and completely changed his life through nutrition and cold exposure. Not only was he biking in shorts during winter, but he was also taking ice baths.
How and why? I needed to find out more!
As it turns out, he was inspired to this by a Dutch guy called Wim Hof, whose nickname is The Iceman.
This guy holds more than 20 Guinness World Records related to cold exposure, like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for almost two hours.
Now, that was really mind-blowing for me. And I've said to myself: this dude right here is beyond crazy. But I love him!
I was always impressed by uncommon people who step out of the worn paths and challenge beliefs and cultural and social norms. They are the ones who are considered insane, freaks or misfits, but who also inspired growth and evolution in society throughout human history. We owe it to them to at least hear what they have to say.
So, with my curiosity at peak levels already, I've continued my research about Wim Hof.
For the next weeks, I've read almost everything about him, heard and saw him in podcasts with really cool people I followed and looked up to, like Joe Rogan, Tom Bilyeu, Rhonda Patrick, Lewis Howes, Tim Ferris, Russell Brand or Rich Roll.
I was mesmerized and was so interested about these alleged benefits of cold exposure that I felt the need to study even more to see if what The Iceman preached was truth or ridiculous nonsense.
Finally, after double checking his claims with science for a while, I concluded that he is for real and that he is definitely onto something.
In fact, Wim Hof is one of the most fascinating personalities that you can find nowadays. He may be doing extreme things, but in my book this is a sign of mental mastery and toughness. He is truly a great, charismatic teacher and what he says did speak to me in a number of ways and made a lot of sense.
That's why I was convinced and just had to try his method, which is a combination of three pillars:
- breathing exercises (scientific breathing techniques that improve your energy level, detox your body, reduce stress levels, rebalance the nervous system and strengthen your immune system)
- cold therapy (to learn how to use the power of cold to burn fat, boost your immune system, sleep better, reduce inflammation and enhance nature’s own mood boosters)
- commitment (going deep into your own physiology takes commitment and a willingness to move out of your natural comfort zone to unleash your inner power)
How did I start start?
Well, the good news is that there is an app for that. 😀
I downloaded it, watched the instructional videos in which Wim explains how to approach each pillar.
Then, for the first weeks, I started practicing the breathing exercises.
Basically, you have to take about 30 deep breaths to allow oxygen to spread throughout your body and brain, then stop and hold your breath for as long as you are able to. At first, you cannot do it for more than 20-30 seconds, but with time and practice you will go up to 3 minutes.
It felt surprisingly good. Even though I wasn't able to master the technique from the get-go, I enjoyed a surreal state of peace, calm and relaxation after each try. My mind was clear and focused and my resting pulse was extremely low.
I had just discovered another kind of meditation and I was loving it.
Next step was to try to slowly introduce cold showers. Let me tell, you, it was easier said than done.
Wim advises you to take your usual warm/hot showers and end them with 10-30 seconds of cold water to let your body adapt to cold over time.
It took me weeks to break into my mind and to allow myself to cut off the warm water and to remain under a cold stream. Even for a few seconds.
Finally, I managed to do it. At first 10 seconds, then 15, then 20, then 30. This was a milestone for me and for months I was not able to go further than that.
Also, at that point I was doing the cold showers on and off, whenever I could summon the will and mental power to do them again. That's because it was already the end of 2018 and the cold water here in Canada is - let's say - unfriendly during winter time.
A battle was going on inside my mind before and during each cold water exposure. There was the part overwhelmed with fear and worries that was screaming: stop it, this is dangerous, you are freezing and are going to die!
Yes, that was the main narrative going on in my brain at that time and that's why I was doing them once per week or less.
Then, there was the other minority part, that had full faith in Wim and the science that clearly showed the truth to the cold shower health benefits. So, although it was excruciating to carry this fight inside my brain, I vowed to continue.
During that time, I was also reading about the sauna health benefits and heat shock proteins.
The next thing I did was to go the a gym and during each visit I took sauna sessions followed by warm showers ended with that extremely cold water. It was tough, but somehow I broke that 30 second mental limit.
Shortly, I was able to give up the warm showers and do the hot sauna cold plunge thing. 3 to 5 sauna sessions followed by straight cold showers.
The worrisome mental chatter was still there, but it gotten weaker, because I was feeling absolutely fantastic. Wow! The mental and physical relaxation I've felt after the repeated hot-cold sessions was stunning.
This helped me immensely to understand that my body - and mind - can withstand the cold therapy without any problem and that it's highly beneficial for my physical and mental health.
It was already February 2019 and I was very much capable to taking 1 minute cold showers and even to sit outside at -7 or -9 degrees Celsius wearing a t-shirt.
But still wasn't ready to master the third pillar of the Wim Hof method - commitment.
Summer came and I was doing cold showers more often than before - because the water was significantly warmer than during winter - but was still far from the point where I could commit to do this daily.
The reluctance lasted until the start of October 2019. It was then when I was able to find the commitment switch i was looking for in my mind. I found it, but it took about three more weeks to be able to pull and activate it.
It was October 24, 2019 and I felt ready. I promised to myself that I will take a cold shower each day for a full year.
And I started it.
For the first two months, I struggled. Winter came back, the water was once again cold as ice and it was hard to get myself under the freezing cold shower daily.
I was stubborn though and did it anyway, despite the voice in my head that shifted the narrative from "you are crazy, you are going to die" to "ok, but do you have to do it like every day? It's not really that important. Maybe you can skip today?".
But it really was that important to me, so I continued. And it became easier and easier.
In weeks, I started to challenge myself to stay even more under the cold shower. 2 minutes, 3, 4 and finally 5 minutes every day.
After 3-4 months, I began to really enjoy them and I became so committed and even obsessed. There were 2 or 3 cases when, after extremely busy days with a lot on my mind, I totally forgot about it. But I remembered and got out of bed extremely tired at 11pm and jumped in the shower to not miss a day.
After 5 months, I was able to also put my head under the cold water, because I wasn't able to do it until then.
After 6 months, I promised to myself that when one year passes, I will take an ice bath like Wim. I knew that I was ready.
The next months were relatively easy. Because of the practice, the body is well adjusted and during summer, the cold water feels kind of warm. Yes, that's true.
So, today it's October 24, 2020. One year passed, the challenge is complete and as promised six months ago, I finished it off with a 3 minutes ice bath in 10kg of ice.
The best part
The most funny thing happened after two months. After initially thinking that I was completely crazy (obviously!), Ana joined the fun and started the cold showers challenge.
Even though at first she wasn't doing them on a daily basis, she shortly pushed herself and ended up getting under the cold shower each and every day without fail.
Overall, she was tougher than I was. It took me 1.5 years to commit to daily cold showers, but she achieved this after only a few months.
Not only this, but she joined me in the ice bath today!
Who says that women are weak?? That's stupid. Women are Badass!
What we learned
1. The main thing we've learned during this period is that what started as a promise or challenge transformed into a new long-term lifestyle. We will not stop after this year and will be taking cold showers daily for the rest of our lives.
Why? Because cold showers are good for your health and because they make us feel incredible! Wim Hof has been doing this for the last 40 years and look at him still going strong at 61 years old. This alone is very inspiring.
2. Cold showers are mental, not physical. By literally dragging ourselves out of our comfort zones, we unleashed our inner David Goggins (another "crazy" guy who inspires us. Please Google him if you don't know his story).
Taking cold showers daily sure sucks. But we understood that you need to embrace the suck, because doing difficult things daily builds mental resilience and will power over time. Practicing control of your mind helps in all areas of life and makes you happier overall. You already have what it takes within you. Just need to do a proper search for it.
3. Best time to take the cold shower is in the morning, before going on with your day. It revitalizes, increases your energy and gives your body and mind a fresh restart. Not to mention that it significantly reduces stress and anxiety for the day.
4. However, even if it's counterintuitive, an occasional cold shower before bedtime will help you sleep like a baby, because it melts the tension in your muscles.
5. You don't need the breathing exercises before going under the cold shower, but they do help. For us they were an useful tool that got us started. After a while, you will not need them anymore.
6. Definitely don't jump under the cold shower directly. Use the technique Wim suggests. End your warm shower with a few seconds of cold water and see how it feels.
Don't rush it. It's true that it's mainly a mental battle with yourself, but it's not a race. Steady and slow does it. Take your time to feel comfortable, because even if it's hard to believe it, I promise that it will become comfortable. You got this and you can do it!
7. We discovered a trick that helps. Take one or two deep breaths and turn on the cold water (or turn of the warm water) while you are on the exhale. If you do this while you inhale, you may choke and start shivering and it will make the experience more uncomfortable than it should be.
8. Unlike what we've been told as children, frequent exposure to cold doesn't make you sick. On the contrary, it has a great number of health benefits and helps boost your immune system considerably.
Ever since I've started playing around with cold therapy, I didn't get even a slight cold, despite taking freezing cold showers, staying bear foot in the snow or hanging outside in a t-shirt at negative temperatures during winter.
9. We could vow for the anti-inflammatory benefits of cold exposure. The showers brought immediate relief of back-pains, for example.
I'll update this article with any new findings we will have in the future.
Did you enjoy the story?
If you've read until the end, it must be because you are doing research just like I did, because you are interested in a healthy lifestyle and in the cold therapy health benefits.
Hope our experience helps to make it easier for you to start taking cold showers.
I highly encourage you to keep reading on the subject and to try them when you are ready, to discover this free magnificent tool to feel better, be happy and to improve your health.
Please reach out if you have any questions and will be more than glad to share or discuss more.