Week 2: Cold Therapy - A Daily Baptism by Frozen Fire

“What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
— Friedrich Nietzche

I've been researching peak performance; experimenting with my daily routine, and looking for ways to stay energetic and alert throughout the day. Last week, I listened to Aubrey Marcus, author of Own the Day, Own Your Life on Lewis Howes' podcast. In the interview, Marcus extolled the benefits of cold therapy, and an icy shower as part of his morning routine – I took the bait.

Before we jump into a cold shower though, Marcus offered some other elements to blend into our morning routine:

Water, Light, Movement.

When we sleep, we lose fluid. And according to some studies, even mild dehydration (fluid loss equaling 1% of your body weight) can result in headaches, moodiness, irritability, anxiety, and fatigue – no wonder the underground is such a joyous place first thing in the morning. 

So, first thing in the morning:

Hydrate

Along with water, we lose electrolytes and minerals while we sleep. All essential for healthy bodily function and optimal performance. I've traded my morning cup of joe for a morning mineral hydration cocktail:

  • 350ml of filtered water
  • 3g sea salt
  • 1/4 lemon, squeezed

Next...

Get Lit

Light, specifically blue light is a synchronising agent for your circadian system. Step two involves blasting yourself with 5-10 minutes of blue light exposure. The best possible source of blue light: the sun. Step outside and bask in the bright, warm blueness of the morning sun.   

I know, I know. We live in England. Sure it's summer now, but what happens when winter comes? Well the masters of gloom, the Fins, have invented something called the HumanCharger. Its a bright light therapy device that stimulates the photosensitive proteins on the surface of the brain using a calibrated white light that passes through the ear canals – you plug earbuds in your ears and radiate your brain. I'll let you know how that goes come winter. For now, enjoy the sun. 

Finally...

Movement

Resist the urge to crawl back under the covers! Light movement increases your core temperature, gets the blood flowing and releases endorphins. Making you less groggy and more alert. Marcus suggests doing some burpees (f**cking evil things), or chasing the dog around the house, or jumping on your partner and playfully waking her (or him) up - that's likely to go one of two ways.

The Monty Method

I modified the Marcus Method. I wake up around 5.30 am and mix a mineral cocktail. While I'm sipping on that, I pick a podcast, then hit the trail through the forest.

Water + Lit + Movement = Energy

Well, almost... one more thing...

The Baptism of Frozen Fire. 

Chronic stress is killing us. And one of the best ways to deal with chronic stress is to build up a resistance to it. How do you do that? Regularly subject yourself to certain forms of acute stress; a process called hormesis. Resistance is the shortest path to growth; run harder, you get faster. Basically, acute stress can help us adapt and become stronger. 

Marcus writes, "Cold is one of those best sources of acute stressors that makes us hearty and resilient, like sherpa or a Viking." Cold showers benefit brain health, pain management, mood, longevity, fat loss, athletic performance, immune health and even treatment for depression... they're also great for building resolve.

Standing under a warm stream of water, fueled by fear, my mind scrambles for any excuse not to turn on the icy cold water. But you have to override the fear. Take control... and...

'Just Do It.'

Breathing, Siri and cold are my new best friends... 

'Hey, Siri!'

'I'm here Jean.'

'Thank God for that, get ready to call emergency services.'

'I'm not sure I understand.'

'Just set the timer for 3 minutes'

'Okay timer set for T-minus 3 minutes and counting,' her circuits chuckle.

The first few days were tough. Icy water rained down on my body and 30 seconds seemed like 3 hours. Before I turn on the ice water, I take 30 odd deep breaths (using the Wim Hof breathing method). Then I turn the cold water on full blast, wait until I catch my breath – my daughter wondered what the hell I was doing in the bathroom; having a conversation with Siri followed by screaming, gasping and deep breathing. About a minute into my baptism of frozen fire, I can breath normally. I do another Wim Hof breathing exercise, and hold my breath at the bottom of the last exhale, until I feel the gasp reflex and really want to breathe again. 

You get used to it. I did.

Taking control of your breathing and focusing on the breath is a simple weapon for reducing chronic stress while cold water is a low-dose exposure to a form of acute stress. 

The Power Shower:

  1. Turn the shower to hot and wash
  2. Do Wim Hof breathing (30-50 breaths, or until you feel tingling and/or mild light-headedness)
  3. Turn the shower on as cold as it can get.
  4. Continue Wim Hof breaths until breathing calms
  5. Hold at the bottom of breath until the gasp reflex kicks in

The total cold water exposure time: around 3 minutes.

The change to my morning routine has me focussed and energetic through the morning. I still dip around noon, but I'm working on a solution. As a side, I've struggled with a case of frozen shoulder for a while. I suspect, the result of a surfing injury and aggravated by sitting at a desk all day. Osteopathy sessions have done little to alleviate the pain, however, the cold therapy seems to help. A lot of this rests on the ability to for cold to modulate inflammation. The cold water and the breath hold, act as acute stressors, stimulating the release of hormones like norepinephrine and adrenaline, causing them to spike enough to reduce inflammation. 

Not only am I feeling more energetic and focussed, but my frozen shoulder is finally improving.

Peace + Plants!

Resources:
The podcast
Become the Master of Your Life - Lewis Howes, The School of Greatness EP 614
The book: Own The Day - Aubrey Marcus
The research: Cold Shocking the Body Exploring Cryotherapy, Cold­Water Immersion, and Cold Stress