Long before the newest social fundraiser swept the globe, there was an age where dumping water on your head was not only a common practice but was promoted as a way to boost strength, health, and mind alike. Although most will cringe at the very thought of dumping cold water on yourself, this has actually been a practice within various civilizations for aeons and has numerous benefits. Stemming back thousands of years, this ancient formula of simply submerging your body in cold water has been used by cultures all over the world to train warriors and to sky rocket the health of commoners alike. One of the earliest known forms of dousing comes from the days of the Roman Empire in which the elite soldiers would take scorching hot baths in custom made saunas leading to an eventual freezing cold rinse off. The vikings also had a similar practice in which after a long hot bath they would rinse off by rolling in the snow. In Finland there is term known as ‘avantouinti’ which translates to ‘ice hole swimming’. This was done first by drenching yourself in sweat in a souna and afterwards plunging yourself into freezing water. The Samurai warriors in Japan also used dousing as a way of clearing your energy aura of any baggage as Samurai factions were known to say that dousing clears the spirit. There is also a process in Japan known as Misogi which is a series of rites and training to reach spiritual passage, one of these are of course the act of immense cold water dousing. The most recent explosion of popularity of use of this technique actually began in Russia in the form of RMA or Russian Martial Arts. Created by Vladimir Vasiliev, the Russian Martial Art of Systema incoporates five essential principals which are:
1)Cleaning the body through the use of fasting.
2)Health through correct movement.
4)Interaction with nature.
5)Strengthening the body with water.
All of these steps are equally important but for the purpose of this article,we will only delve into the fifth principal. Aside from the many health and mind benefits we shall explain in detail later, the fifth principal of water dousing actually ends up relating and strengthening all the previous steps. At first cold water dousing is a shock to the body but this is actually developing a threshold of stability changes in which no sudden changes in nature tend to reach, therefore preparing the body for the harsh elements present in the wild. Natural changes in temperature and climate will seem like child’s play after enduring vigorous cold water training. The chilling water creates an environment for the lungs and throat in which air flow is much more clear, allowing a greater feeling of relaxation. Mastering the dousing technique teaches the body to keep a steady upright posture while under uncomfortable and painful (depending on the level of chill you choose to undertake) physical stress. The Systema teaches that the ability to handle the dousing training directly correlates to the type of person or character the individual has become. For example if you avoid cold water altogether, rather staying nice and cozy in the warm water you will be viewed as someone who is a quitter and has many weaknesses. While on the other hand if you rise to the challenge your self image will also reflect that, with the makings of a true champion. Classic dousing involved cold water in a bucket and pouring it over yourself, this signifies the initiative and determination needed to master the arts. Many enthusiasts have described dousing as a liberating and freeing type of feeling in which near the end of the session your body feels alive with warm hot energy. Vladimir Vasiliev wrote in the Systema guidebook describing dousing as follows,
“It’s almost like having a mini-explosion take place inside of you.Your body temperature rises to nearly 42.2 degrees Celsius (that’s nearly 108 degrees Fahrenheit). It feels like a pleasant warmth and surge of energy inside. Meanwhile, this explosion of warmth will kill off most bacteria and viruses. Indeed, 40 degrees Celsius is deadly for most viruses and bacteria and this procedure raises body temperature 2 degrees Celsius (and nearly 4 Fahrenheit) above that.”
Hot water draws blood to the surface of the skin, sort of like a protective wall from the heat which causes the vessels to expand. Cold water instinctively causes the opposite effect, with the vessels tightening, draining blood out of the extremities with all of the lactic acid and built up toxins along with it. Within moments the skin and muscles are bombarded by fresh new blood coupled by loads of oxygen. The sudden rush of blood and oxygen has a few peculiar effects such as: stimulating glandular activity, increasing muscle tone and nerve force, improved digestion and increased metabolism, boosting the immune system, increased blood count, stimulates the brain and central nervous system, and of course improved blood and oxygen flow.
There was a study done in 1993 by the Thrombosis Research Institute in England which showed that cold water dousing caused an increase in virus fighting white blood cells as well as testosterone and sperm count. According to the study, the heightened metabolic rate which is caused from the bodies attempt to warm itself, activates the immune system which then releases more white blood cells to combat the threat. White blood cells are a key factor in warding off dangerous free radicals, virus, and bacteria. There is a growing body of researchers who are looking into the correlation between cold water and stroke patients. There was a study where 19 stroke patients who’s conditions were not improving from the use of medical grade drugs were monitored over a period of three months. Ten of these patients were given cold water treatments that are identical to dousing. At the end of the three months the ten who underwent the water treatment had significantly lower disability with higher motor skills and kinesthetic awareness. There is new research also looking into whether lowering the temperature of stroke victims immediately after the stroke could reduce brain damage and whether continued use can limit further damage through pharmiseutical drugs. In Russia scientist are also studying if applying mild hypothermia to stroke victims would be beneficial. In the United States a new theory is making its rounds stating that diabetics submurged in dry ice baths have had a decrease in symptoms and an increase in muscular performance. Ice baths are also becoming a staple in the treatment of heat stroke.
Cold water dousing is on the verge of becoming the next big trend within the ever prevailing health conscious and athletic culture alike. During the 2003 Rugby World Cup, many athletes were noted to have used ice baths in order to hasten recovery time and keep fatigue at bay. Coupled with proper eating and frequent physical activity, cold water can accelerate your weight loss due to the boost of metabolism. Cold water showers have proven to be an excellent treatment for depression and insomnia due to the relaxing properties. On the flip side, having a cold shower in the morning can act as an energy shot.
The only risks involving cold water dousing are if you have had a history of heart issues. If this is the case I would suggest subtly cooling your showers over time so your body doesn’t get quite the shock effect. After continuously cooling down your showers, try implementing only cold showers and view the results.
Based on the evidence, cold water dousing could easily sky rocket to become a staple in our daily lives. The pros of prolonging a healthy happy life vastly outweigh the cons of having a scorching hot shower which is ultimately deteriorating your health. Next time someone nominates you for an ice bucket challenge, you’ll be happy to oblige.
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