A blog post I wrote for TINO.
About a month ago, my friend Rob turned to me after training one night and said “Man, have you heard of the 30 Day Cold Shower Challenge? I’ve been doing it for a few days now and it is amazing.” That’s all I needed to hear to try it. In fact, he could have stopped at the word “challenge” and I would have been in- I’ve always enjoyed pushing my physical limits to see just how much I can survive.
My reasons were simple: I wanted to make life harder. All things considered, we have things pretty cosy: hot water at the turn of a tap, exotic vegetables available at a local supermarket, being able to travel almost anywhere in the world within the space of a few hours… A hundred years ago, many of our ancestors could not imagine such luxury. In short, our society has enjoyed such convenience that we’ve become accustomed to it, and we’ve forgotten just how little people need to survive. I wanted to remind myself how good I had it, and to toughen up a bit in the process.
Admittedly, it was kind of a blockheaded idea to jump on the bandwagon without really knowing what I was getting into or why, especially in late winter/early spring. Nevertheless, I later discovered that there’s more to be gained than just mental discipline. Apparently there’s a whole list of health benefits! People who take cold showers can expect to feel more energy, less muscle soreness, greater immune strength, improved organ function, less pain, less stress and healthier skin and hair, among other things.
Without knowing any of this, I went home that night, stripped off my clothes and stared nervously at the shower head. I’d had cold showers before on a previous martial arts training camp, so I knew that what I was in for would involve discomfort and gasping and flinching. I was right. I decided I’d start the water off at about a 50:50 ratio of hot:cold and work down from there. It was intense. My muscles had long since cooled during the half hour drive home, and pretty soon I was shivering as I tried to shampoo my hair. I crawled out of that first shower, shaking and freezing, but glowing with a sense of triumph.
The second shower wasn’t so bad. I had suffered one cold shower already, and there was no way I was going to have endured that suffering for nothing. So I started the water at about a 30:70 hot:cold ratio and tentatively let the water cool first my left arm, then my right arm, then my left leg, then my right leg. By cooling small parts of my body, my core body temperature dropped so that when I immersed my torso it wasn’t nearly so unpleasant. After a few minutes, I found that the water temperature didn’t really make much of a difference- cold was cold, or put another way, lack of heat was lack of heat. I turned the hot water off entirely and just got on with cleaning myself as quickly as possible.
Around Day 5, I was sweaty and dirty, it was around 11pm and I was in no mood for another biting shower after a painful session of training. But I had set the challenge for myself, and I wasn’t going to back down. I turned on the cold tap, gasped a little, and then just got on with it. After two minutes, I turned off the tap, climbed out and felt surprised that it was so easy to clean myself, especially when I didn’t let myself have a choice about it. If I had gone “Oh man, I really don’t feel like this. Maybe tonight I’ll use a little (or a lot) of hot water”, my suffering would have been unending. When you don’t have any alternatives, you just do what you need to do and there’s nothing to complain about.
A couple of times I managed to shower while my muscles were still hot from training/exercise. On these occasions, I found that I could I just stand in the shower, turn on the tap and let it hit me full in the chest/back without flinching. There might have been slight gasps, but they were reflexive, not due to discomfort. (One of the body’s defence mechanisms for plunging into cold water is to automatically take a quick breath. Cool, right?). It was like my heart was insulated by heat, and though I could feel the sensation of cold running over my skin, my body glowed with warmth from inside.
Around Day 8 I started enjoying my showers more. There were still a few seconds of gasping and flinching, but for the most part, the cool running water began to feel exquisite. I came out, fresh and happy without any fear of cold. I wished I could share the amazing sense of strength and clarity, of joy and resilience with everyone I met.
Yet despite it all, I’m a little sad to say I failed the challenge. On the most recent martial arts training camp I was on, I managed to maintain my practice of cold showers in the mountain ranges, up until the last few days of the week. After one freezing session of yoga as the sun set in the canola fields, I thought the pleasure of feeling warmth would outweigh the displeasure of failing the challenge. It didfeel great, but only for the first few seconds- then my body adjusted to the temperature and it felt the same as any other shower, except I didn’t want to get out. It’s not so much that I enjoyed being in the jet of warm water as flinched at exposing myself to the cool air- a problem I didn’t have when I took cold showers. So it was, around Day 25 of the challenge that I failed it. I also failed Day 26 after that freezing night in a mountain cave, but I consider that shower well worth it.
So my challenge is officially over! Not that I’m letting it stop me. Despite not seeing it through to completion, I’m still taking showers every day. (Well, usually every second day, or whenever I need them. I don’t believe it’s necessary to take showers or change clothes unless you’ve been working up a sweat- a few generations ago, people only bathed/changed into their “Sunday best” once a week. This practice of swapping clothes and scouring the body every day is quite modern, and quite bad for your hair, skin, clothes and the environment.) Apart from saving a significant amount of water and energy, it just feels good. I’m not suggesting you try it, but if you do, you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Keep fresh everybody!