During the last two years, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with cold showers. I love them because of the myriad benefits I’ve experienced. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t experience the temptation every morning to turn the nozzle a few degrees more counter-clockwise. Cold showers are something I tolerate because I know they make me better. And I have no intention of going back to my old regimen.
There’s one benefit of cold showers that I have yet to address–and it surprisingly has to do with meditation. A few months ago, I published an article on the three important life skills of meditation—concentration, clarity, and equanimity (emotional stability). Nothing will make you concentrate and think clearly faster than a cold shower. And, when you take them regularly, you learn to be less reactive to physical and emotional pain and discomfort. It follows that cold showers are meditation in the same way that exercise is meditation.
Recently I was feeling distracted as my mind wandered from this responsibility, to that chore, to the other commitment. Being my own doctor, I knew that a solid cold shower was just the prescription I needed. The longest cold shower I had ever taken was on January 2, 2019. It lasted 20 minutes–a lot longer than the usual 2-3 minutes. I had just completed a workout that day and the water didn’t even feel that cold. I learned a long time ago that no two cold showers are alike. There’s the subject’s body temperature prior to entering the water (did you just hop out of bed or did you just finish working out or sunbathing?) And then there’s the temperature of the water itself (is it cold, frigid, or downright icy?). I would place my typical cold shower somewhere between cold and frigid (I’ll get back to you when I invest in a water thermometer). I have found that the colder the shower, the easier it is to be mindful — and the more caution and common sense you should exercise.
Back to the cold shower itself. I knew I wanted it to be on the longer side to see what I was capable of and to experience maximum therapeutic effect. I started with the nozzle in the cold range and slowly turned it clockwise. As always, the first few minutes were the most uncomfortable. But in the midst of that discomfort there was a fascinating side effect: supercharged mindfulness. Within seconds of my skin touching the water, I wasn’t thinking about the assignment I had to complete for university. I wasn’t thinking about my car that needed fixed. I wasn’t thinking about the research I’ve been working on. I wasn’t thinking about relationship problems. I wasn’t thinking about what’s for dessert. In fact, I wasn’t thinking about anything–except being there in that shower under that cold water. And it was powerful in the most down-to-earth, die-hard fashion.
Fast-forward several minutes and I felt like I had got what I came there to get. I could have stayed in the water longer and pushed the envelope on my previous record, but at that point it would have been more about ego than therapy and I wasn’t feeling particularly ego-driven that day. The mindfulness effect of my cold shower carried over into the rest of my evening. My brain knew that I had accomplished something and generously rewarded me with endorphines. And the experience sharpened my conviction just a little bit more that mindfulness was possible in every moment.
Stress has more to do with perspective than it does circumstances. The human mind has the power to make a mountain out of a molehill and a molehill out of a mountain–and it does it all the time. Sometimes life experiences empower us to see this crystal-clear. People who have near-death experiences commonly come away with a whole new outlook on life. Suddenly the worries that consumed their mind don’t mean as much in the conscious light that death is imminent. Cold showers similarly minimize the important ascribed to the petty disturbances of life. But the most beautiful thing is the fact that anyone can change their perspective right where they are with no outside help.
If a single cold shower can contain so much insight, imagine taking one every day for an entire year.