I visited my Naturopath last fall to establish a holistic approach to improving and reclaiming my mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing after almost 3 years of near-sedentary living, a hyper-focus on intellectual work, and plenty of neglect for healthy eating and exercise. I had been working full-time on an M.A. in Counselling Psychology, teaching far less yoga than I had pre-COVID (so both less active and experiencing financial stress), and, like many, had turned to comfort foods and behaviours through the pandemic.
Most of the appointment went as might be expected. After I described my situation to her, it went something like this…
ND: [offers advice on what to eat more of and what to reduce]
Me: “Great. No problem.”
ND: [offers advice on getting better-quality sleep]
Me: “Great. No problem.”
ND: “It might be good to try alternating hot-cold showers… about 2 minutes hot, followed by 30 seconds cold, more than one cycle, and ending on cold.”
Me: [cringing, squirming, and likely scowling, before slumping in my chair] “Damn!”
This was not the first time I’d heard about the health benefits of hot-cold showers or cold-water immersion, but if there’s one thing about me it’s that…
(and I strongly dislike the word “hate,” so the fact that I’m using it here says a lot)
But I’m highly motivated to make the changes I need. I accepted my Naturopath’s advice and agreed to at least give it a try.
So off I went and tried. My efforts were (deliberately) feeble at first… I tried hot-COOL showers, ending on hot. I skipped showering some days just to avoid the displeasure.
After a couple of weeks, I hunkered down and committed to making a better effort. Many of the cycles were still cool, but I added cold to the mix, with my response usually being swearing loudly enough that my wife rushed into the bathroom to see if I’d hurt myself.
Enter Limitless, a new documentary series on Disney+ featuring Chris Hemsworth (Thor in the Marvel movies). This 6-episode series is about the things we can do to live longer and healthier lives. It puts reality-TV-style drama and a charismatic and handsome lead to work on educating us mere mortals about managing our stress, improving our memory, building our strength, and boosting our immune systems, the latter of these through fasting and, you guessed it, exposing ourselves to extremes in hot and cold.
My Naturopath’s words and the educational aspect of the Limitless episode on extreme temperature exposure reinforced my commitment to the “shower-torture” approach to wellness.
And there’s the gem.
I had viewed my showers as torture, as something I had to resist and fight.
But one day, as I got into the shower, I said to myself, “This is a practice that I am choosing to pursue, and I’ll work through it by focussing on my breath.”
And I did.
And you know what?
It was still incredibly physically uncomfortable.
But it was also completely different mentally and emotionally.
Changing my mindset from one of “I hate this” and “This sucks” to one of “I choose this” and “This is important to me” made a world of difference.
“It’s all in your head,” is a dangerous and often mis-used statement.
But sometimes, for some of us, it IS all in our heads. And sometimes changing what’s going on in our heads completely changes our physical, mental, and emotional reality in surprising and positive ways.
I now do four hot-cold cycles when I shower. I still don’t enjoy the bracing, catch-my-breath shock of those cold cycles. But I don’t hate them either.
And I’m feeling the benefits: I have tons of energy for several hours after my showers. I’m not as sensitive to the cold winter air on my walks into the office. I enjoy the mental challenge of the cold in the shower. And so I’ve grown to look forward, not to the cold during the shower, but to the benefits I know I’ll feel after it.
It might seem that my purpose in writing this is to promote the benefits of hot-cold showers, and to some extent I am. But my main purpose is to share this experience to illustrate how much our mindset can influence our experience, how powerful reframing something we dislike to view it from a more positive perspective can be. This may not work for everyone or in every situation (I’m still trying to figure out how to view shovelling my driveway in a more pleasant light!), but I offer it for you to consider when facing something you don’t want or like to do.
Image source: https://wallpapers.com/wallpapers/marvel-superhero-thor-ovo9jb4lelf1n6zi.html