I put my hand under running water.
There’s no way! It hurts my hands just washing them in that water!
I’ll freeze or die of hypothermia in that shower!
Earlier that day, I’d read a blog post by Joel Runyon at ImpossibleHQ.com. It was about the benefits of cold shower therapy.
Joel had listed the many, many benefits of cold shower therapy, from immune system health to fat burning.
I wasn’t interested in those benefits, though.
I don’t get sick often and probably need to gain some fat rather than burn it.
There were two things that Joel wrote that led me to try this crazy experiment.
First, Joel talks a lot about getting out of your comfort zone, which is one of the best things a person can do to change and improve.
And taking a cold shower definitely qualifies. In fact, in the U.S., taking a cold shower when you have the option not to might be the farthest departure a person will make from their comfort zone in a day.
Maybe even in a week.
And most people won’t even do it once.
Most people read something like Joel’s article and say “that’s crazy” or “why would I do that when I can take my comfortable, hot shower.”
But really, what’s the worst that can happen? You shiver a little bit? It takes a minute to catch your breath and warm up?
Not really life-ending stuff here.
And yet, possibly life-changing. In a good way.
It took me ten minutes of breathing, dreading, and coaxing until I finally…..backed out. I pulled my hand out of the stream and conceded that I wasn’t as brave as I thought I was. I enjoyed (maybe was even a little bit addicted to) the kind of scalding shower that turns my skin crimson. The kind that warms to the core. The kind that lays a fog you need a commercial-grade squeegee to clear from the mirror.
So you win, comfort zone. I can’t take a cold shower. I can’t even get half of my body in the stream for a minute.
I turned the water off and began to dress, disappointed but relieved.
And then I realized…
Joel said this would happen. I sound just like the people in the comments on his post who whine and make excuses. I’m one of those people who get called out because I can’t do this one simple thing.
Even for five minutes.
And then I was pissed.
And that was the second reason I had to try cold shower therapy.
Because most won’t. And I’m not trying to be most. I expect more from myself.
To back away from such a simple challenge made me wonder what other small discomforts I was avoiding in my life. Or big ones.
If I couldn’t do something this simple, I was just like everyone else. With a reason. Or an excuse.
Whatever you want to call it, I had it.
And didn’t want it.
So I took my anger, frustration and need for improvement back to the shower with a newfound bravado.
I undressed, turned on the water, cold knob only, and took a few deep breaths. It still took a minute, but I knew what I had to do.
That first stream of water splashed without mercy on my back, stealing all the air I had gathered in the minutes leading up to this moment.
Some people talk about screaming, or at least a strong urge to scream.
But that’s not really the kind of guy I am.
Instead, my muscles tensed up like rocks in a river, just waiting for the cold to pass. My teeth chattered and goosebumps lined my arms.
If thinking was possible in such cold water, I might have thought this was nuts.
But it’s not. Possible.
At least, it wasn’t possible during that first shower.
And the second shower was a little bit easier. Still much coaxing, but not as much shock.
Finally, I learned to breathe through the cold.
I started a cold shower meditation practice by breathing ten very slow breaths through my nose for each side of my body.
So I wouldn’t allow myself to leave the freezing water streaming on my back until I had finished my ten slow nose-only breaths. And then I did the same thing for the front.
Breathing through the shock is the hardest part.
And that was a big takeaway from cold shower therapy.
When in in a stressful situation, whether it’s a cold shower, job interview or a dangerous life-or-death situation, the person who maintains his composure and stays calm and collected usually has a better result than someone who can’t control the stress, losing composure and control.
Cultivating the ability to breathe through stress, crisis, or another departure from your comfort zone is the biggest reason to practice cold shower therapy.
After that first shower, in November 2013, I showered exclusively in cold water until March of 2015. I checked the calendar and counted 477 days since my last cold shower.
This included two winters, showering with cold well water in a rural area. The coldest daytime high temperature during my 477 day streak was below zero.
The temperature from the shower head bottomed out at 49 degrees F in the dead of winter.
Positive Effects I observed
- Cultivation of stress-handling ability through meditative nose breathing.
- Increased energy for a few hours after taking a cold shower
- Healthier skin with fewer dry areas and no itching even through winter dry times
- Better hair volume and manageability.
- Less sweating and body odor
- Improved sleep quality leading to increase in mental clarity and focus
- Faster beard growth and improved density (Possibly due to aging vs cold showers)
- Enhanced ability to see myself in the mirror after showering
- Shorter Showers. When showers are uncomfortable, I don’t tend to linger.
- Money Saving: If you’re doing this to save money, you’re doing it wrong. But heating water is expensive. So you’ll have to heat less and you’ll definitely use less.
Speculating on other positives
- Increased testosterone and growth hormone
- Fat burning by activation of brown adipose tissue
- Increased sex drive (an effect of hormone changes)
- Weight loss
- Cure for Depression
These effects are certainly possible, but I didn’t have any blood tests or other evaluations during this experiment, so I’ll avoid speculation for now and use my results as an n=1 experiment.
Note: I’m not a doctor. Of any kind. If you have a heart condition or other medical condition, please don’t try this without consulting with a trusted health care provider.
Tips for trying Cold Shower Therapy
- Don’t give up after the first shower. Yest, it will be terrible. You WILL hate it. But you WILL survive. And you’ll feel great after the first one is done.
- Go straight to the coldest water you can. Don’t hedge your discomfort by starting with warm water and transition. Go for the maximum coldness for 5 minutes.
- Play music during your cold shower. A song is usually about 3 minutes. Two songs is six minutes. After two songs, you’ll be done. (This is better than a timer because it will help you to relax by listening to music you enjoy and you won’t be counting the seconds and checking the timer. You can fully focus on the experience.)
- Don’t tell people what you’re doing right away. They won’t get it and people have a way of talking others out of their plans when they don’t understand. Negative opinions can kill your enthusiasm. Instead, write or blog about your experience.
- Remember: Cold water is uncomfortable. This will be challenging, especially if you’re addicted to hot showers (like I was). It is supposed to be a challenge. Embrace the discomfort and learn from the stress.
Note: I’ve seen many people ask about the difficulty of getting clean and the effectiveness of soap in a cold shower. This should not be a problem. The water will probably be somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees. Nowhere near freezing. Soap is not heat dependent and will work just fine with cold water.
Try it. For at least 30 days. You’ll like it by the end of the challenge. You might even go crazy and do it for 477 days.
If you try cold shower therapy, be sure to come back and leave a comment. Or blog about it yourself.
**Nothing In Moderation**