Insights from the Morning Ice Bath
Posted on 29th January 2020 at 16:37
Recently I’ve been taking an ice bath first thing in the morning, three times per week. The purpose was not to adapt to cold exposure and gain the physical benefits of training the cold. Rather, the focus was to train my mind. Train it to do something hard first thing in the morning. It’s been a fascinating journey. Fun at times and hard at times too. Essentially, this is an experience of fear and of understanding our body’s wiring to safety. It is an experience of what happens when you move through this fear, become friends with it and find out what’s on the far side of it. By sharing this story, I hope my insights give a glimpse of your own innate strength, the battles that exist to become strong inside and out and the mechanisms we have to pass through to find peace and joy in life. Enjoy. Now let us begin….
Think about it.
I’m in a nice cozy, warm bed. The heavy winter duvet is pulled up over me and I’m snuggled up to my little girl with my wife on the far side of us. The alarm goes off on the bedside table. I hit it a smack, crack open my eyes and give them a moment to adjust to the light – it’s 6am, time to get up. I lie there and remember the commitment I gave to myself, an ice bath 3 times per week first thing in the morning. Today is the day. I lie there in the warmth of the bed, I feel the touch of my little one’s hand on mine and I think to myself ‘just one more minute’. I also know that if I give myself that minute, it will turn into three and four and even twenty. Then there’s no way I’ll take the bath. It’ll be too late because it’ll be time to go to work. I argue with these thoughts internally for a few moments. Then I snap out of the trance. ‘Get up Leo. Get Up.’ I haul my ass out of bed. It’s not so bad though because the central heating is on and the air temperature in the house is a toasty 25 degrees. My rationalizing brain continues its chatter. I wish it would stop but the raging argument is just getting heated. I could so easily jump straight back into that nice warm bed. Enjoy another 30 minutes snooze time before work, but I also know that I can’t. That is, if I really want to master my life, I know I have to keep moving toward the one thing I want to run from, the ice bath.
In the darkness of the room I change into my swimwear and grab a towel. Then I begin to make my way cautiously down the stairs, avoiding the creaking floor boards for fear of waking anyone at this ungodly hour. Apart of me wants to step on those floorboards, wake the baby, and take care of her instead of doing this ice bath. Every step I take I’m still fighting with my rationale mind. My thoughts are giving my 1,000 reasons not to get in the bath today: ‘you don’t need to get into the ice bath now, do it later’; ‘you’ve done this for three years, what’s the harm in missing today’ and on and on they go. As I open the sliding door in the kitchen and step out into the back garden, I am hit with the first sense of the morning cold. It’s freezing outside. In the moonlit sky, I can see the grass was visited by Jack Frost last night – this is going to be a real test I realise. Goosebumps jump out of my skin and the fear of what I am about to do hits me in the face like a snowball. The chatter is strengthening in my mind. The thoughts remind me of a time when I was a kid.
As a kid, I used to love climbing trees. One day I was jumping from tree to tree on a green next to our house. The distance was pretty great for me. I would climb 6ft high into a tree and jump maybe three or four feet from tree to tree. It was tall scary enough, that when I looked down, I would feel my stomach in my mouth. My little sister was with me. She wasn’t quite as adventurous as me at the time and she was petrified I was going to hurt myself. Both of us knew my parents would kill me if they knew what I was up to but I was having so much adventure and fun I was doing it anyway.
‘Stop Leo, you shouldn’t be doing it’, she said to me; and ‘That’s it, I am telling mam and dad on you’ were the most common phrases she’d use to try and get me to stop. She wouldn’t let it go either. On and on she nagged at me right up until the moment I was in mid-air. Only a scream from her soul at seeing me mid-flight stopped her chatter in its tracks.
It is only as I write this that I wondered why she ever acted like that. I now realise, it was because she loved me and she didn’t want to see me hurt. Her fear of harm for me was driving her to nag me in an attempt to stop me from jumping. Her nagging came from her rationale mind, just as mine was now. She couldn’t help but think those thoughts. It was a part of her DNA. She just wanted me to ‘be safe’. And so it is with my mind now as I’m stepping across the icy cold grass this morning. On and on my mind is nagging me. It’s reverting to what it was built to do, it’s trying to find a way to get me to stop and return to my bed. It just wants me to be safe. My mind loves me as my little does. They both have safety as their priority for me and it thinks what I am about to do is going to harm me.
But jumping into the ice bath first thing in the morning is not going to harm me. I know this because I can choose to get out of it as quickly as I chose to sink into the ice bath. It is a controlled fear environment. On the other hand, it is going to harm something. It is going to ‘harm’ those rationalizing thoughts that are trying to keep me ‘safe’, trying to keep me playing small. As Marianne Williamson said so eloquently ‘it is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us’. Deep inside me, beyond those rationalizing & fearful voices, there is another voice. This voice is the voice of my soul. It is the one that wants me to embrace the cold, embrace the fear and live life for all it is worth.
This deeper voice knows that taking the ice bath this morning is going to strengthen the strands of courage in my body, mind and spirit. It knows that doing the hard thing this morning will rewire my brain to want be able to do more courageous acts in any area of my life. It knows that life is about expanding my comfort zone, no matter how difficult that task may seem. And that voice knows the ice is the way.
And so I continue my long walk to the ice bath. With all these battles raging inside me, I feel like the walk is an eternal one. Yes it is a walk of a few step and it is also a walk of life and death. I think I feel as Neil Armstrong did when he was landing on the moon: ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’.
In one last ditch to save me, my rationalizing mind is screaming at me now. It’s latching on to any and every motivational reason to get me to stop. The difference between my little sister and the rationalizing voice inside me is that this voice knows me too well. It is me after all and so it knows my deepest darkest fears. It knows exactly which buttons to press:
• You’re feet are already freezing Leo. Don’t do this. You could hurt yourself!
• You’re already shivering – you’re going to be sick if you get in there today!
• You haven’t slept well. Your immune system is weak – it’s too much for today, I’m telling you, you’ll be back at the doctors before you know it!
• Why not wait till later on, when you’ve done some work first?!
• All this ice bath crap is just sucking your energy for the day.
• Why aren’t you focused on growing your business or doing something which is specific to improving your life?!
• You’re not Wim Hof, who are you proving yourself to?
‘Feck it Leo’, I say out loud to myself. ‘You’re here now, it’s now or never’….
And without another thought, I step quickly into the ice bath. One foot, then the next. Sit down – don’t think, just do it.
“I told you, this was too much this morning!” The mind chatter still persists. ‘It’s feckin’ freezing’, it says again.
‘Breathe. Relax.’ I tell myself.
I look up to the stars.
‘Breathe. Smile. ‘ I am now dropping into my trained state.
I tense and release my muscles. Relax – tense and squeeze – Relax - Breathe – relax – look to the stars – Relax – smile.
No little sister protecting me.
No rationalizing mind chatter.
No tension in my body.
Not even a breath.
All is calm. Peaceful…..cold.
I feel it. I am at one with it.
My ‘little sister mind’ starts again “get out Leo, it’s too cold”. I ignore her though. It’s easier to do that now because the strands of courage have been forged into a rope of strength. The deeper part of me is now way stronger than my rationalizing mind. The rationale mind is dead – for now.
Quiet consumes me.
I stay with the cold until I feel its time for me to leave.
I step out. I start moving – slowly and lightly, maintaining an internal focus.
My body is reeling from the cold exposure. As I begin to shiver, the mind chatter starts up again. “I told you it was too much for you Leo”, it says.
“ Shut up.” I retort. Focus inside. Move, Breathe. Concentrate. All is good.
After 5 minutes, I am warm and strong and confident. I am awake, alive and energized for the day. I feel more courageous. Ready to take on whatever the day brings me.
And when all is said and done at the end of the day. When the sun rises for tomorrow, we’ll begin the games all over again.
Thank you so much for reading this far. If you enjoyed the story. If you feel a pull to have a similar experience then please check out my Wim Hof Method workshop page here.
All the best
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