The Dao Does… Cold Water Immersion
As Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners, we emphasise the consumption of warm and previously cooked foods to optimise digestion, we encourage our patients to use heat for the management of pain and we promote the use of appropriate warm clothing to protect the body and its meridians from the environment – all in effort to promote optimal health and wellbeing. So why, you may ask, do I occasionally practice the odd cold showers?
Cold water immersions, such as ice baths and cold showers have become popular after the Dutch inventor Wim Hof invented ‘The Method’ which involves breathing exercises and controlled exposure to the cold to help with a variety of diseases. Evidence suggests that cold exposure can increase metabolism, reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and speed up recovery after physical exercise.
So, how does cold immersion feed into Chinese medicine’s principles of prioritising heat and warmth?
Yin and Yang are two competing and complementary forces, Yin is black, cold, feminine, and characterised by inward, slow energy; Yang is white, hot, masculine, and is characterised by outward, dynamic energy.
It is said that when either Yin or Yang reaches its maximum strength, it will transform into the other. We can see this depicted in the Yin and Yang circular symbol; when the black teardrop (Yin) reaches its maximum width, the small white teardrop (Yang) eventually widens to become the larger area of the symbol.
This principle is applied to physiology in Traditional Chinese Medicine; using a short dose of Yin to the body; in the form of a cold-water shower, an early morning ocean swim, or a cryotherapy session, will stimulate the body’s dynamic activities of Yang, such as increasing the metabolism, activating the immune system, and promoting blood flow.
I do not recommend long periods of cold exposure, nor do I have the “guts” to practice true Wim Hof Methods of ice-bath immersion in glacial water, but I do like to add a 1–3-minute cold shower at the end of my normal shower routine on the days I may feel a little inflamed and post vigorous exercise – trust me 1-3 minutes is more than enough to see the benefits of cold-water exposure.
We do not recommend practicing cold water exposure whilst menstruating or during the initial postpartum phase, please chat with your TCM practitioner about this more at your next treatment.
By Clarice Berry