Chinese Medicine Practitioner Katie Brindle shares the benefits of Cold Water Therapy and the power of combining it with the Buddhist practice of Inner Fire Breathing.
Cold water therapy has been practised for thousands of years across cultures around the world. It is becoming increasingly popular as a simple, yet highly effective self-care practice. So, what it is all about?
Cold water immersion is based on a theory called hormesis, where the body is very temporarily placed under conditions that for longer periods or intensity would be considered harmful. Hormetic stress – in this case, the fluctuating water temperature – acts as a trigger for the body to heal itself naturally; the water becomes the catalyst for profound self-healing. Performed correctly, specific targeted cold exposure is an incredibly valuable self-care healing practice, with many benefits including:
Reducing pain and inflammation and increasing circulation
Cold water creates movement of blood and qi in the body, drawing toxicity and stagnation away from the tissues, joints and muscles. As the body warms up again fresh qi and blood is flushed back around the body, delivering vital nutrients to the extremities, keeping you supple and strong.
Helping with weight loss
As the organs strengthen, a sluggish metabolism will balance and food cravings will come under control. Cold water activates fat-burning brown fat, which uses excess white fat as energy to heat the body and improves leptin sensitivity, the hormone that controls our tendency to hold onto fat.
Lowering blood pressure and controlling stress and anxiety
As we warm up again, the parasympathetic response becomes dominant; blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows, blood sugar drops and we relax. This allows the body to begin to naturally repair itself.
What can you do to help yourself?
Cold Showers – Fluctuating between hot and cold water is a good way to begin. Simply add a blast of cold water at the end of your shower.
Cold Water Bath – Fill your bath with cold water and alternate between the hot shower and cold immersion.
Ice Bath – Add ice to your cold bath water for a deeper practice.
Russian Bath-house – Alternate between a sauna and cold plunge or cold shower.
Cold Water Swimming – Limit your time and ideally swim with a friend, for safety. And make sure that you get into warm dry clothes and have a flask of warm tea with you, especially if you then have to drive home. It is very important that you don’t remain cold.
Preparation and Aftercare – Always begin very gently and slowly build up your tolerance, even a few seconds of cold water will be a good start. ALWAYS warm up after your practice, wrap up in a bathrobe or blanket, have a hot drink ready and rest for a short while.
Contraindications – Most people will benefit from some form of cold water therapy, but the practice should be avoided if you are feeling unwell, if you have just eaten, if you are pregnant, menstruating, or have a pre-existing condition such as low blood pressure or heart concerns. If you are unsure, always consult your GP first.
How You Can Prepare for Cold Water Immersion
Cold water therapy is, well, cold! So it is helpful, particularly if you are going for full-body immersion, to think about preparation and aftercare. This is where Inner Fire Breathing comes in.
Inner Fire Breathing, also known as Tummo Breathing, combines powerful breathing techniques with visualisation. The practice works to raise body temperature and heighten oxygen levels, whilst calming the nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety, and boosting the immune system and mental wellbeing.
Tummo is the Tibetan word for heat, so, understandably, Buddhist monks use the practice as a meditation to conquer the challenging effects of the altitude and cold temperatures they live in. It is increasingly used in the West alongside cold water immersion therapy because it deepens the mind-body connection, allowing you to focus and relax, ultimately strengthening the body.
Understanding how we can control our body temperature in this way can be a valuable self-care tool to combat many stress-related issues including anxiety and depression, insomnia, inflammation and some autoimmune conditions.
Our vagus nerve will be strengthened, our stress response improved, and our immune and circulatory systems enhanced. Furthermore, regular practice can increase our overall tolerance, not only for beneficial cold water therapy, but also for physical exercise, thereby reducing the risk of muscle injury and increasing recovery rates and self-healing.
What is our Inner Fire?
Our inner fire is an energetic heat source, often likened to a flame, which is located in our Dantian area, our body’s energy centre, just behind the navel. We all possess inner fire and the ability to have a conscious, controlling effect on our own body temperature – we just don’t necessarily understand how to ignite it. As we concentrate on this flame, alongside specific breathwork, we can influence how we direct this energetic heat.
Sitting or standing with the spine straight, rub the palms of the hands together energetically.
Place one palm over the navel and the other palm on top of it. Imagine a flickering flame or a pulsing ball of fire in this area and hold the image in place throughout the session.
- Inhale deeply through the nose whilst pulling the shoulders back and flexing the spine so the ribcage and chest are fully expanded. Imagine the air being drawn down to feed the flame, allowing it to increase in intensity.
- Exhale forcefully through softly rounded lips, at a slower rate than the in-breath, bringing the shoulders forward and slightly rounded, and pulling in the abdomen. Imagine the heat from the inner fire being drawn up the spine to the top of the head.
- Repeat this sequence several times before allowing the body to return to gentle, natural breathing for a few seconds.
- Keeping the shoulders strong and upright inhale deeply and pause the breath for a couple of seconds – again, imagining the intensity of the inner fire growing.
- Exhale slowly, this time pushing your abdomen out if possible. Keep imagining drawing the internal heat up through the spine.
- Repeat this sequence several times before, again, allowing the body to return to gentle breathing.
As you perform this powerful breathing technique, visualise your inner flame being stoked and the fire growing in intensity, spreading throughout your body, particularly along the spinal cord and through the organ channels. With practice, this technique can be used to direct the internal heat through the whole arterial system to specific areas of the body, with remarkable life and health-enhancing effects.
Yang Sheng Techniques and Chinese Wisdom
Chinese wisdom understands that stagnation of blood and qi is the basis for all diseases. If toxins, negativity or inflammation are allowed to impede this flow then illness, both in the physical and emotional body, can develop. Cold water immersion works to temporarily draw blood away from the extremities into the core of the body where the organs will then be able to efficiently eliminate these harmful toxins, allowing the energetic pathways to remain clear.
As the body then warms up, blood and qi will be pumped back around, increasing the circulatory, immunity and lymphatic systems, keeping the body strong and supporting the Wei Qi; that vital energy that prevents external pathogens from invading. This, in turn, will have a knock-on effect of balancing the emotions so that stress, anxiety, and even depression can be eased.
Tapping all over the body (using the Hayo’u Method Bamboo Tapper) for even one minute after your cold water immersion will be invaluable in generating warmth, activating the parasympathetic response and enabling the body to self-heal. For the ultimate bathing experience, incorporate the Hayo’u Method Mineral Shower Wash into your practice and allow the specifically created aromatherapy blend to envelop your senses as your body relaxes.
Qigong is also an excellent way to help the body both before and after cold water therapy: If you have been unwell, or have had an injury or surgery, qigong, breathwork and meditation will build your strength back up gently so that you can then add in this specific targeted cold exposure to strengthen the body further. For an in-depth lecture on the benefits of cold water therapy, including specific heat-generating qigong and breathwork techniques to help you get the most from your practice, download Arron’s Cold Water Immersion Masterclass from Hayo’uFit.
If you would like to explore the world of qigong for yourself – do join us for a free Seven Day trial where you can experience the enjoyment and benefits for yourself.