Bathing is more than just a process to help us get clean. Bathing is an essential ritual for healing the physical, emotional and spiritual self.
Earlier healthcare protocols understood that water was not only the basis for life, it's also responsible for creating health and wellness. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees illness as “disharmony within the person” and water plays a central role in the restoration of health and balance.
In TCM, water is the mover of Chi (energy); similarly in Indian Vedic healing, water is said to contain "prana" (life-giving energy) that restores and strengthens the body.
One way to activate the natural healing powers of the body is to immerse it in cold water. In this article, we’ll explore the history of therapeutic bathing/ hydrotherapy, as well as five surprising health benefits of taking a cold shower or bath.
The History of Bathing as a Water Cure (Hydrotherapy)
Highly-evolved bathing practices have existed for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians, Babylonian people, Arabians and Sumarians all revered bathing for its healing properties.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, saw bathing as a process that would strengthen the constitution and raise us to a higher level of health.
In the 18th century, Vincenz Priessnitz popularised bathing in mineral-laden waters and is now considered the father of modern Hydrotherapy.
He owned the Water University of Grafenburg, where people would come and eat a simple diet, exercise, drink five litres of water a day and were immersed in hot and cold baths to stimulate their circulation.
The Cold Water Cure
Vincenz Priessnitz was also the visionary that brought cold water therapy to the masses. Early morning cold showers are often used by modern-day millionaires and billionaires as a way to invigorate and bring the body to life. This seemingly torturous pursuit was actually used as a therapy as far back as the 18th century.
Fast forward to 2019 and outdoor swimming is a growing trend. The Outdoor Swimming Society now has 40,000 followers. The founder Kate Rew states that outdoor swimming “gives you such a feeling of mental calmness and physical robustness that it turns people into missionaries.
“Everyone who tries it tells their friends and they bring another five people.”
And Wim Hof (the Iceman) has popularised ice swimming, which is swimming in waters that are 0-5C. Wim Hof states:
“We have become alienated from nature. But the cold is capable of bringing us back to what we once had lost.”
Cold Showers For Healing
If you’re not overly keen to jump into an ice-cold bath or go swimming in the sea during winter, then you can get the same healing benefits of cold water by taking a cold shower every day.
Contrary to popular belief, immersing your body in ice water can have some profound effects on your health and wellness.
Doing so has become extremely popular in recent years with sportspeople, with a 2016 meta-analysis of ice bath studies finding that athletes achieved the best results after soaking in water temperatures between 10 and 15 °C (50 to 59 °F) for 10 to 15 minutes.
The ice baths are said to expedite recovery time between workouts, specifically by lowering pain and inflammation
5 Surprising Health Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower
Cold water immersion naturally activates the body’s healing powers. Here are five scientifically-proven benefits of taking a cold shower.
1. Activates Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is the body’s sewage system. This system doesn’t have a pump, like the blood, so it relies on movement to circulate lymph fluid. It’s activated when muscles move, and as such, the lymphatic system can get stagnant if we don’t exercise.
A cold shower or cold water immersion instantly contracts your lymph vessels. This, in turn, activates the lymphatic system, boosting the immune system and flushing out waste. Removing harmful waste products is a great approach to boosting overall health.
2. Boosts Your Metabolism
Taking a cold shower can help you with weight loss. It both invigorates your system so that you can remove waste matter and also promotes healthy brown fat production. Brown fat is the “good fat” which is filled with energy and disposes of the white fat, the “bad fat.”
When you take a cold shower your heart rate will raise and your breath will become short. This is a sign of your metabolism speeding up and burning more fat.
3. Increased Willpower
By doing something moderately unpleasant, like taking a cold shower first thing in the morning, you’ll boost your willpower for the rest of the day. It’s best to take your cold shower first thing in the morning because willpower is highest in the morning.
Books like “Eat that Frog” play on scientific evidence that has proven that willpower and self-control decrease throughout the day, known as “Willpower Depletion.”
4. Improves Mood and Reduces Stress
Taking a cold shower has been proven to reduce stress and boost happiness. Having a cold shower promotes mood-regulating neurotransmitters and boosts dopamine production.
Cold water swimming in winter has also been shown to boost mood and energy.
Cold water makes the skin cold, which in turn sends signals to the HPA axis that oppose the conditions of stress. For example, when we’re stressed, or emotionally out of whack we sweat; this process is reversed with cold water immersion.
If you’re feeling down, a swim in the ocean, a dip in the river or a cold shower could be a fantastic addition to your daily routine.
5. Reduces Inflammation
Ever tried a new gym routine, only to find out your muscles ache the next day? This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Taking a cold shower reduces muscle inflammation, constricts blood vessels and helps reduce swelling. While a cold shower is best in the morning, if you take part in any form of strenuous exercise, a cold shower, or an ice bath can numb the pain and reduce DOMS.
Cold water constricts blood vessels, restricts blood flow and inhibits inflammation. Cold water also sends blood to the internal organs, helping them function better.
The Bottom Line
If taking a cold shower or going for a swim in the ice-cold sea literally brings shivers down your spine, you’re probably in the majority. Take it slow.
Try turning the temperature down on your shower for the first 10 seconds, and then turn the temperature up. Like anything else, your body will need to be trained to acclimatise to being immersed in cold water.
Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification and personal development.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, saw bathing as a process that would strengthen the constitution and raise us to a higher level of health