Cold Showers

Cold Showers

Research supports that different temperatures of water impact our physiology and mood. Take a cold swim or a cold shower, for example. Once we get over the initial shock of the cold, it can be very invigorating! Coldwater causes our surface vessels to constrict, making blood move from the surface of your body to the core and back again, as a means to conserve heat. 

Ishnaan as Hydrotherapy

Imagine this: the alarm rings, or you wake to your own body clock. It’s the start of a day. You head to the bathroom. Start a shower. Dry brush your skin. Massage your body with soothing oil. Turn on the water. And instead of finding that good temperature of lukewarm to hot-as-you-can-take, you keep it cold—real cold!—and you like it that way. 

The thought of a cold shower first thing in the morning can be shocking at first (unless, of course, you’re one of the 43% of people worldwide without the luxury of hot water). Known as Ishnaan in the East, and popularized by Wim Hof, Tony Robbins, and the world of Kundalini Yoga, cold showers are a form of hydrotherapy with proven benefits for good health. 1 

The resistance can be tough to overcome. But the grit it takes to do so carries over and gives us the courage to face the challenges of everyday life.

How does it work?

Research supports that different temperatures of water impact our physiology and mood. 2  Take a cold swim or a cold shower, for example. Once we get over the initial shock of the cold, it can be very invigorating! Coldwater causes our surface vessels to constrict, making blood move from the surface of your body to the core and back again, as a means to conserve heat. 

When the cold water hits your skin, blood rushes to the major organs to protect them and keep them warm. It also reflexively bathes the brain and vital organs in fresh blood and flushes the capillaries. This is both energizing and detoxifying for the body. It is an automatic defense mechanism that we self-induce. It keeps the skin radiant and the blood chemistry balanced and clean. Cold showers boost the lymphatic system, energize the glandular system, and strengthen the nervous system.3

Warm water has its own therapeutic benefits, but warm and cold showers are ideally not to be mixed. Warm water makes the vessels vasodilate (relax), which brings blood back to the surface.4

Hydrotherapy for Depression + Anxiety

A group of researchers in Virginia found that hydrotherapy may be useful to treat cancer and chronic fatigue, as well as be useful in the treatment of depression.5

Since the density of cold receptors (the parts of our body that can sense cold) in the skin is thought to be three to ten times higher than that of warm receptors, the simultaneous firing of all skin based cold receptors from jumping into the cold may result in a positive therapeutic effect. 

Lowering the temperature of the brain is also known to have neuroprotective and therapeutic effects and can relieve inflammation, a known mechanism in depressive illness. In addition, exposure to cold has been shown to activate the sympathetic nervous system, which increases the brain release of norepinephrine–an adrenal hormone that can help depressed people feel more ‘up’ naturally. Water therapy also can help increase the production of beta-endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ molecules that give a sense of well-being.6

 

Benefits of Cold Shower Therapy

  • Delivers blood to the capillaries
  • Cleans the circulatory system
  • Reduces blood pressure on internal organs, flushing internal organs and refreshing the blood supply
  • Strengthens the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems
  • Contracts the muscles and causes them to eliminate toxins and poisons more quickly
  • Strengthens the mucus membranes
  • Keeps the skin young and shining
  • Balances the glands

How to Take a Cold Shower

For those willing and wanting to brave it, follow these steps for the first (and major!) victory of the day.

Wear loose fitting shorts or boxers to cover your thighs. Avoid skin tight, polyester shorts to allow the skin to breathe. The shorts protect the sex nerve and the femur from sudden changes in temperature. The femur controls the calcium-magnesium balance in the body, and is very sensitive to temperature. 

Optional: Dry brush your skin. Dry brushing is an Ayurvedic practice aimed to increase circulation and stimulate the lymphatic system. Dry brushes are available online and at most health food stores. When dry brushing, brush lightly towards the heart. 

Massage your body with oil. You will not be greasy after the shower! In fact, oil makes the skin soft and creates a natural glow. The oil nourishes the skin and creates a barrier to make the cold water temperature less shocking. We recommend almond oil, which contains healthy minerals. Jojoba, grapeseed, coconut, or avocado oils are healthy alternatives. 

Run the cold water. Step into the shower. You can ease in, starting with the extremities—maybe one arm or leg at a time. Massage the water into the skin. Move! Chant! Rub the skin vigorously. Try to stay in for at least 2-3 minutes or until you stop feeling cold. Women may massage the breasts to detoxify and increase circulation to that area. 

Dry off vigorously with a rough towel to bring the blood to the surface of the skin and make the body shine. 

 

Note: Why Shorts in the Shower? 

The femur bone is an immune system power house. The thigh bone is the longest bone in the body and a storehouse for bone marrow, where the immune system and blood cells are generated. As the longest bone in the body, it acts as a mineral reservoir, working in sync with the kidneys, blood, and other bones in the body to keep the pH and minerals in the blood stable. The inner thighs are home to meridians that flood the internal organs with energy and blood, specifically the kidney, liver, and spleen meridians.7

And that’s it! 

Cold showers can be intimidating, but those who have taken the plunge often report that the body starts to crave them. Cold showers are often referred to as “free energy,” a yogic substitute for the morning cup of coffee. The ideal is to build this into the daily regimen, but once a week is a good place to start.  If you cannot take a full cold shower, try washing your hands, elbows, face, ears, and feet with cold water.

If you really love hot showers, wonderful. There are benefits to them as well. But better to take them at night or another time for relaxation, or for washing your skin and hair. The morning shower is for energy, circulation, and the stimulation of the nervous and glandular systems.

 

Contraindications

Women should not take cold showers during menstruation, or after the seventh month of pregnancy. Cold showers are not recommended for anyone with a fever, rheumatism, or heart disease. 

Work Cited:

  1. Mooventhan, A., & Nivethitha, L. (2014). “Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body”. North American Journal of medical sciences, 6(5), 199–209.
  2. Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body”. North American Journal of medical sciences, 6(5), 199–209.
  3. The Aquarian Teacher: Level One Instructor Textbook: KRI International Teacher Training in Kundalini Yoga (6th ed.). Santa Cruz: Kundalini Research Institute, 2020.
  4. Schrader, Jessica (July 6, 2014). “A Cold Splash–Hydrotherapy for Depression and Anxiety”. Psychology Today.
  5. Shevchuk N. A. (2008). “Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression”. Medical hypotheses, 70(5), 995–1001.
  6. Shevchuk N. A. (2008). “Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression”. Medical hypotheses, 70(5), 995–1001.
  7. Lumpkin, Nirmal, LMT and Japa Kaur Khalsa, DOM. Enlightened Bodies: Exploring Physical and Subtle Human Anatomy. Santa Cruz: Kundalini Research Institute, 2015.
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