By Jennifer and John Burkhart
No doubt you’ve heard by now about all the people taking dips in water fit for polar bears
and penguins. For some reason, John and I thought that sounded like a good idea, and
that we should sign up for this toe-numbing experience at a local health spa. Who wouldn’t
want to gain some benefits like boosting immunity, mental clarity, and stress resilience or
decreasing inflammation, depression and anxiety?
She Said: I was SO not looking forward to this. I have an aversion to being cold. Give me a tepid Arizona pool or a hot tub and I’m a happy camper! So imagine my delight when John lost at “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and had to go first. He was less enthused, but he took it like a champ and dipped in the water. Watching him focus and chill out helped my motivation — dipping my hand in the too-cold water did not. Way too soon, it was my turn.
I dropped in fast — the only way to do it. And honestly, in hindsight, the hardest part was the anticipation (dread!) of getting in. Don’t get me wrong, the shock of the cold was startling for sure, but I didn’t want to leap out like I thought. I focused on slowing my breath to calm myself right away, but also to pull my attention away from my poor skin screaming at me, telling me to stop what I was doing. Alas, I still needed to sink further down, to dunk my upper body, which was a whole new kind of pain in that chilly 52-degree water. Fortunately, I did reach a calm state of mind way faster than I figured. As long as I didn’t move a muscle, kept my eyes closed, and focused on slow breathing, I could avoid feeling the cold. I was even able to open my eyes around the three-minute mark. I never thought I’d make it that long! I saw videos, and was sure I’d be one of the few that jumped right back out! Granted, those baths had ice in them, but let’s not focus on details. At three-and-a-half minutes, John said, “You need to get out!” and boy he didn’t have to tell me twice. I felt so warm after getting out, no towel needed. I just stood there, waiting to thaw a bit before trying to walk, and just enjoyed the feeling of the tension releasing throughout my muscles. I slept like a rock that night, by the way. Would I do it again? Yes, because the challenge of the colder baths, at 45 degrees, is calling to me. I’m ready!
He Said: This was by far the most uncomfortable and traumatic experience we’ve tried for this magazine… and I loved it. I really couldn’t even trick myself into thinking this would be fun while we were scheduling it. I knew it was going to suck, but I have fond memories of swimming in the cold, snow melt rivers of northern California as a kid, so in my head I was Mr. Tough Guy thinking, ‘No big deal, I got this.’
I was so wrong. I didn’t even fully realize what we had signed up for until I was hovering over the 52-degree tank of water about to jump in. This was my moment of clarity, as they call it. “Oh crap am I really about to do this?” Then boom! I plunged into the water and time stood still. I remember two things happened immediately: One — my breathing changed so much that I sounded like Michael Jackson at a Lamaze class. Two — every nerve in my body screamed at me to get out. I focused on my breathing and managed to calm the initial panic attack and a sense of realization came over me. My hands and feet started to really hurt in my bones so after about a minute and a half I hopped out. I was slightly tired and sleepy after a long day’s work going in and completely exhilarated and energized after getting out. There are multiple physical benefits of doing regular cold baths, like improved circulation and weight management. But I think I liked the psychology of it most: Forcing my brain to deal with that momentary stress increases my resilience. I will do this again with both excitement and dread.
Read more articles like this on our Health and Wellness section.