I am no stranger to cold water. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba - one of the coldest places in Canada - and earned my way through school working as a lifeguard and swimming teacher. This required me to spend hours at a time, standing around in lukewarm water teaching kids how to float or the breaststroke, as well as springtime outdoor training for beach patrol jobs in the summer. It made me hate cold water.
Fast forward to Fall 2020, where cold plunge in creeks became top of my list for intuitive self healing.
Sauna and cold dips became my favourite wellness ritual while living in Europe - this has a big tradition in my husbands family, where every single family member - no matter where they live - has a sauna in their house. He got me onto the cold plunge - "just try it honey, you'll feel so good after." He's not alone on this - even Tony Robbins integrates it into his daily morning routine.
I made sauna visits with cold showers a priority. Then came COVID, and there were no more saunas.
After moving to West Vancouver during COVID, I often found myself alone, alongside some beautiful mountain creek - not least, because there was one that crossed the morning walk of the kids to their school: "That looks like a great spot for a cold plunge. " I would think, spotting a deeper, somehow protected area, where the water was not rushing with such strength. No sooner did I have the thought, then I was already thinking of where to drop my clothes. This was November, and obviously, it was cold outside. It requires some motivation to do, but once you have taken your clothes off, you're basically committed.
It became a frequent part of my intuitive self healing strategy this fall. I would end up naked in the creek, without even consciously deciding to do it. Often drying off with my scarf or my clothes. That weird hippie mom. The learning is, don't think about it so much, don't plan for it - just do it. You'll thank yourself.
How to: best cold dip in mountain creeks
- Enjoy a nice walk along the creek.
- Look for a spot where the water is not rushing so fast, and there is no risk of getting pulled by the current - ideally protected by larger rocks for this purpose.
- Ideally, the spot is somewhat deep, or at least somewhat wide, so you can lay down flat.
- Ideally, your spot is private.
- Get in quickly - your feet will thank you.
- Get all the way in - and stay in 10-20 seconds.
- Come out, and repeat as needed. The second time is much easier! You hardly feel the cold :) In my experience, no more than 3 dips, otherwise your body cools down too much, and it's difficult to bring your temperature back up, without for example a warm bath.
- Dry off.
- Feel amazing and proud!
Health benefits of cold water plunge
So, I know that this feels good, and I feel better after doing it, but why? What is happening at a physiological level? Immersion in cold water is a tool to trigger your body’s natural healing powers and has immediate positive health benefits for body, mind and spirit.
Immersion in cold water:
- Reduces inflammation, muscle and joint pain, by releasing numbing the nerves around your joints and releasing endorphins. Not just for arthritis - but for athletes, with post workout stiffness is known as delayed onset muscle soreness ( see this study for more details.)
- Stimulates the immune system - the cold water causes the body to release body chemicals known as cytokines, which help to boost the body’s ability to fight off harmful bacteria and viruses.
- Speeds up metabolism - that's right -burn more calories, real quickly. By making your body extremely cold, you need to quickly raise your body temperature back up - causing your heart pump faster, burning more calories, and fat.
- Activates the lymphatic system - causes your lymph vessels to contract, which forces your lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids throughout your body. Fluid is flushed, triggering the immune system’s white blood cells to attack and destroy any unwanted waste.
- Stabilizes blood pressure - by activating nerves responsible for breathing and blood vessel constriction
- Is uplifting for mood and has an anti-depressive effect - by immersing yourself cold water, your brain releases adrenaline and endorphins, natural mood-boosting neurotransmitters, which make you feel good /happy.
- Strengthens your mind and willpower - hey, it's hard getting cold. Your mind will think of a million reasons why not to do this. Show her, who is in charge!
Feeling wild and inspired? Get outside and find a mountain creek or river near you, or a cold lake in the winter. You can also do cold plunge or cold water immersion at the spa after a sauna (posh), or with a cold shower at home (hardcore) - but for me, it feels so much easier to dip into the creek. Get outside, on purpose.