Andrew’s Blog: Ice Baths and Epiphanies

When something is working, we don’t often think about it. If the car starts smoothly, we don’t believe so: “Thanks, car, good work today. And thanks to all the engineers who have pushed this vehicle’s design forward and the workers who built the roads-”.

We do not, because we would be late for where we are going to and soon be thanking our clients for not doing business with us.

My point is When things are working, we don’t notice them. When things go wrong, we do. If the car doesn’t start, we are late and annoyed and probably swearing. If the lid of our takeaway coffee comes off as we rush to work, our fingers might get burned, and we might swear again. My point is that we carry around a lot of negative emotions with us and often far fewer positive ones. We notice when things go wrong, and we remember them. They affect us. They change our mood for the worse.

In the same way, a child carries their favourite soft toy with them everywhere they go, and we carry emotional baggage and daily stresses with such regularity that we might not even notice we are doing it. Until we are told to let go.

I’m going to talk to you now about a living legend. Wim Hof. Not only does his name sound like he should be a heroic character in a Terry Pratchett novel, but he is as brave and otherworldly as that, BUT he exists in real life. He is nicknamed the Iceman. Presumably, Iceman is the only name cooler than Wim Hof, so he was rightly awarded it. If you can’t tell, I’m a fan. If you’re not a fan, it is probably because you don’t know who he is. That’s about to change.

Wim Hof runs half marathons barefoot, on ice. Wim Hof set the world record for swimming 57.5 metres completely under the ice. Wim Hof climbed 5,700 metres up Mount Everest wearing just shoes and shorts. Wim Hof has also changed my life. He didn’t get an award or medal for it at the time, so I will give it at least some of the recognition he deserves by talking about it in my blog.

A couple of years ago, I sat in a bath full of iced water whilst on a Wim Hof Method workshop. During the few minutes I sat surrounded by cold iced water during the day, I had an epiphany. Although this sentence might, rightly, make you question what sort of person would do that to himself voluntarily, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Like many good ideas, it did not feel like a good idea at the time. It felt like one of the worst. Your body goes into shock. Your brain, which is sending messages to your body, is screaming at you to “Stop doing what you are doing, immediately” like a panicked parent when you come into the room and see your child spreading jam on the sofa…

Your brain is there to protect you but, as we have mentioned before in previous episodes, with far fewer tigers roaming wild on our streets and the increase in supermarkets, things are slightly less “high stakes” in modern life, but our brains have been slower to adapt in some ways.

When I was in the ice bath, my brain went into panic mode. It assumed I was dying, and in a way, it felt like I was. It was reacting in the way it has evolved to do, to get me out of danger. The danger, though, as I have said, was not a tiger or a stampede of mammoths, it was an ice bath.

My breath quickened and got shallow. I began to tense up and became unable to focus. I was struggling. The man who was leading the exercise, Jacub, was trying to get me to focus, to listen to him. He was telling me to breathe, he was telling me to concentrate, but I couldn’t. Then Jakob said two words that I not only heard but was able to respond to. He said, “Let go”.

These words were able to cut through the ice. Let go.

It was a true moment of clarity. Shockingly so. Like when you accidentally wake up late and open the curtains thinking it’s the first thing, but the sun is shining brightly because it is the middle of the day. Let go. Two words changed my life from that moment on. Because you only notice when things go wrong, I was carrying years of pressure, disappointments and fears without noticing. I had with me, without my knowledge and against my wishes, been carrying more emotional baggage than you can carry in both arms.

So I started to let go.

The good thing about the ice bath is that when you’re out of it, your brain immediately rewards you for not dying. It floods your body with endorphins that say “HOORAY, YOU MADE IT” and then “DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT TO ME AGAIN, I WAS WORRIED SICK.” In that same way that as a worried parent, I have both celebrated and scolded my daughter for coming back from a party late, but in one piece.

I had started to let go. Not entirely, not of everything, but I started to let go. Like a sugar cube in a hot tea (which both works as the perfect visual for how “letting go” felt and the perfect drink to have after submerging yourself in freezing cold water) I was able to dissolve, to melt.

A friend of mine always starts her day by doing what she calls “swallowing the frog”. No, she does not seek her morning meal from reptilian sources. What she means is she starts her working day by doing the worst job on the to-do list. She gets rid of the thing that is hanging over her. She swallows the frog and gets on with her day.

Since the ice bath all those years ago, I have started having a cold shower every single morning. I suffer now, so I don’t have to suffer later. I shock my body and my brain, so I am alert and present. It is almost impossible to think of anything else when your body is in cold water. Your brain is focused. Your mind is clear. This is cold. This is unpleasant. But it will not last forever, and it will not kill me.

I have a two minute cold shower every day, and my life has dramatically improved because of it. This is not a fad where you are convinced to financially invest in the latest “must-have”. It does not take up more than a couple of minutes of your day. You have 1438 minutes left in the day to spend them however you please, but two minutes in a cold shower can change your life.

I went back recently to submerge my body in iced water, and something amazing happened. In just a few years, in the same bath, with the same coach, Jakob, I submerged my body in iced water. The difference? My breathing remained the same. There was no panic; there was no sharp, shallow breathing. I had, it seemed, through daily practice, managed to make my body behave the way I wanted to. I didn’t see the growth until I was back in the ice bath, but I had moved on from the scared person I was, surrounded by ice and trauma. I had let go.

When I take a cold shower, I suffer. When I am out of it, that suffering immediately stops. Doing it every day grounds me. It is one of the ten daily habits that I perform every single day. And I encourage you to do it too.

You know that phrase “come on in, the water’s lovely”? Well, this water is not. It is cold and will shock you. But do it anyway. Spend two minutes out of 1440 you get today to change your life. Breathe and Let go.

Thanks for reading my blog today. You can also listen to my podcast HERE