The unexpected connection of yoga and winter bathing
As still as the frozen sea
My winter bathing journey began one summer. I was reading about the benefits of cold showers. Besides the cardiovascular benefits, there were also spiritual ones that I found appealing. When we sleep we digest, not only our food and old cells but also our day and past days in the subconscious. When our food is digested we eliminate it on the toilet, for our digested energy there are different ways to let it go. A cold shower in the morning, can have a big part in “washing it off”. It is little daily cleanse of thoughts and feelings, that we do not need anymore. So when you turn on this cold water, what happens? Your breath stops for a moment in shock with your body being exposed to the cold water. Then I realized that here it is where all the breath work can come in handy. So I focused on breathing calmly and easily through my nose. After a few seconds you turn off the shower and notice something else happening, I didn’t think about anything else, I just felt alive and connected to my breath and my body in a way I haven’t felt before. It was like a deep state of meditation. A silent mind, not occupied by thoughts about all the benefits of a cold shower and the internal complaining about the discomfort of the cold. And it taught me so much more. So what stops you from taking this cold dip? The feeling of discomfort? What else in live do you not pursue because it might cause some discomfort? Growth happens when we get out of our comfort zone.
Suffering is a construct of the mind
When I truly allowed the cold and focused on my breath there was no suffering, no complaining. A state of inner peace. When I advise students to take a cold shower in the morning, I encourage them with the words: “If you can handle this, you can handle anything that life will throw at you that day.” The cold water is an amazing teacher to strengthen willpower, determination and courage. A few seconds exposed to cold can have life changing benefits. And as a German born person (hello nationality cliches), I like efficiency and I realized the time benefit component is amazing with a cold exposure practice.
So this is how I got hooked. It became a beloved spiritual practice and then winter slowly started to show up and I was ready to go into the cold water, fully immersed, from toes to neck. I try to make it into the water a few days a week, and the coldest I have been into was minus 2 degrees Celsius.
Today my breath was instantly calm
But this morning something special happened. I went down the ladder to hang in the water (it’s deep where I go, so I hang like a monkey on the metal bars of the ladder). Hanging there gives a sense of floating, which I never appreciated before, because I was so occupied with breathing right and counting how long I can be inside (hello ego). Today my breath was calm. I floated in 3 degrees warm water. My mind was calm and I felt at peace. All the times I have been in there with my pure willpower prepared me for this moment, all the pranayama (breath work to control lifeforce energy) I did prepared me for this moment, where my breath knew exactly what to do. This is when you realize that all the work you put into your yoga practice pays off. You are in a stressful situation in your life (and yes cold water is stress on the body) and you are just calm and in peace. You accept what is and your mind is in ease. Just as still as the frozen sea.
*Disclaimer: Start easy with cold showers (start slowly body part to body part), do not just jump into the water. It is a practice and needs training. When in doubt if your cardiovascular system is ok, always consult a doctor. Better safe than sorry.