Girl, you are crazy!
That is the reaction I get when a friend or family member learns about my new hobby. “You seriously go into freezing water… in the middle of winter in Vermont… for fun?”
I hate being cold, so why do I love Vermont ice baths?
What I really love about ice baths is the rush and release.
A very different type of R&R. You stand there, half-naked, staring into a sea (or lake, or bathtub) of water colder than your MIL’s RBF. You’re freaking out a little, psyching yourself up to plunge into the unknown.
You tiptoe slowly, picking up momentum with each stride, realizing what you’re about to do defies logic and common sense. And by the time you’re waist-deep, you forget about everything besides the present moment. Your brain shuts down and your adrenaline takes over. You feel nothing and everything all at once.
Also known as dipping, this type of ice bath isn’t like a Penguin or Polar Bear Plunge, where you run in and out of the mid-winter water for a charity benefit. To feel the real benefits of an ice bath you need to stay in the frigid water for as long as you possibly can before you feel like you might go uncomfortably numb.
There is nothing like ice dipping in Vermont at Lake Champlain, overlooking the Adirondacks on a chill winter day as the ice glistens in the sunlight. While you can dip nearly anywhere there is water, a natural setting truly enhances the experience. The serenity is unmatched.
It gives me a natural high without using any substances. It is exhilarating. It’s energizing. It’s calming. It’s enlightening. It’s free. It’s accessible. You don’t have to go to a sketchy alley downtown to meet up with Joe Noname to get your fix. There is no guilt or shame. You feel euphoric, out of body, surreal.
There is one negative side effect… You do come down. The emotional and physical fireworks subside. Which is why I do it as often as I can. When the weather doesn’t allow, I take a cold shower (which is somehow a lot more difficult for me than jumping into the lake). I fill the tub with cold-as-the pipes-can-get water. Sometimes I stay in for a minute, sometimes more.
Though no two ice baths are the same, I always feel the rush and release. Immediately afterward, I have energy. I feel clearer. I am grateful. I am happy. I feel happy in every fiber of my being.
I haven’t always loved hanging out in icy water.
This winter was worse for me than the remake of Dirty Dancing (a movie that should have never been remade, IMO). It was stupid cold. It was brutal to be outside. It was physically and mentally draining. I took extra vitamins, I exercised at the gym, I practiced gratitude, and did my best to live in hygge. I did all the things.
No matter how much you fight it, sometimes you get the winter blues.
I felt run down, uninterested, unengaged, and just plain tired of life in the arctic. My usual obnoxiously shiny, happy self was missing. One day my friend asked if I would like to join her for a dip in the lake. I wasn’t sure I’d like it. I didn’t know what to expect. I think I just wanted to feel something other than depleted and depressed.
Turns out, it worked. Ice baths provided more healing energy than anything else I tried.
Ice baths are not new. Also known as hydrotherapy, thermogenesis, cryotherapy, or simply cold water therapy, the practice of submerging the body into cold water has been used for a couple of millennia.
Look up Wim Hof, Jonna Jinton, and Nordic Ice Baths to educate yourself and get psyched up to try it. Ice baths are thought to:
- Support a healthy immune system
- Increase metabolism
- Improve circulation
- Ease muscle aches and fatigue
- Decrease inflammation
- Enhance deep sleep
- Sharpen mental focus
- Boost your mood
Now, if I’ve convinced you to try ice bathing for yourself, let me also give you some tips. You don’t have to do a lot, but minor preparations will make your experience more pleasant. Please note: do not try ice bathing alone. You don’t know what your cold shock response will be and you should have a buddy with you at all times.
Chances are, if you take a dip into Lake Champlain anywhere along the Burlington waterfront, you’re likely to run into one or more of the Red Hot Chilly Dippers who will gladly show you the ropes. If that is too far in proximity, Vermont has many beautiful lakes and rivers in which you can wash your worries away.
You may want to bring:
- Cozy hat and gloves
- Water shoes, preferably neoprene
- Yoga mat to stand on when changing
- A dress or poncho to discreetly change underneath
- Warm water in a jar to pour on hands and feet post-dip
- Your favorite tea to drink on the way home (optional, but nice)
In terms of actually getting into ice water, here are my tips:
- Wear your bathing suit under comfy clothes that are easy to remove and put on again
- Arrive and lay out a yoga mat near the water but where it won’t get splashed. Put out a towel, warm water, and anything you want to re-dress in afterward
- Strip down to a bathing suit, water shoes, and hat
- On an exhale, take a step into the water, followed by another and another until you are waist-deep
- Dip your body down until you are immersed up to your shoulders or neck
- Stay there as long as you can
- Did I mention, breathe?
You may be tempted to hold your breath. Don’t do this.
Taking deep, full breaths actually changes your brain activity. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth, deeply but not forcefully, relaxes the nervous system and even inhibits pain receptors in the body. This calming technique can be applied any time you experience physical or mental stress.
You may be tempted to run in and run out. Don’t do this.
A short dip is a thrill, but prolonged exposure to the cold water allows you to experience the health benefits of ice bathing. It may take time to build up your tolerance to ice water. When you do, two to three minutes submerged is ideal. You want to feel the rush and the release.
You may feel competitive about this experience. It is really critical that you listen to your body and do what works for you.
Ice baths are not for everybody. You might get one toe in and say “No, thank you” Or you might get your whole body in for two seconds and think you saw God.
Either way, why don’t you give it a try? I’d love to know what you think. Following my first ice bath (which was all of nine seconds) I slept better than I had in years. Restfully, comfortably, uninterrupted, and sound.
The amount of energy I get afterward each ice dip is astounding. My mood lifts, my mind clears, my heart opens, my cells breathe new life and I feel divine. I am hooked.
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Cold is merciless but righteous