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  • Dr. Allissa Gaul

Are You Feeling the Cold Right Now? Using Cold Water and Meditation for Making Cold Your Friend

I am sure that if you live in Calgary right now, COLD has been on your mind. If you don't live here, well, you have probably not ever had the experience of having the colors of fall suddenly snowed over and going from +15 to -15 Centigrade and then quadrupling your commute time.

Now, we could (and we will!) complain about this for a while.

Wim Hof

Sitting on Snow Naked

We could also take a page out of the book of Wim Hof. A patient recently brought him to my attention. Wim Hof is a Dutch fellow who has been teaching a system of breathing techniques and cold exposures to improve health. He has a big following and he runs courses where you can learn the techniques that he uses to maintain his body temperature while sitting naked in minus 27C weather or plunging into icy water.

Water as Therapy

Now, perhaps it is not a life goal for you to sit on a glacial ice shelf naked. I think I concur. However, I have to tell you that I do have a soft spot in my heart for the use of cold water on the body for health reasons. Using water of various temperatures has a long history in naturopathic medicine and in the rehabilitation medicine therapies of Western Europe. When I first graduated I spent some time in spa hospitals in Europe where cold water techniques were commonly applied to all sorts of medical conditions. My favorite was the technique where a patient holds onto handles while standing naked against a tile wall with a therapist pointing hot and cold water from a hose station 15 feet away. I originally did such hydrotherapies in my clinic in Calgary (well, I didn't get to use the 15-foot water stream) and admittedly, such therapies were a tough sell! Nowadays, I recommend Contrast Hydrotherapy techniques, which can be easily done in the shower and which don't have the same entertainment value (just kidding!).

What Can We Learn from Wim Hof

The successful use of these techniques and the work of Wim Hof brings up two really interesting points:

Firstly, using cold water techniques can have a therapeutic effect on health conditions and can help you to tolerate cold more easily.

And second, meditative techniques can have an impact on your ability to resist cold.

Water Temperature Has a Therapeutic Effect

You can take a look at the article I wrote for Lilipoh magazine about hydrotherapy, or look here for our handout on Contrast Hydrotherapy. Using water of different temperatures can have an amazing impact on circulation through the body. The effect of water temperature is really an effect on the Autonomic Nervous System. I know you all have heard me talk about this system repeatedly in various contexts, and here is one more! The skin is highly innervated with autonomic nerve fibers. These are the fibers that control pain, muscle tension, circulation and lymph drainage. When you subject them to water with different temperatures, you really can push lots of blood and lymph through a tissue, altering pain and improving muscle tone. If you use water of contrasting temperatures correctly, you can improve your cold tolerance and substantially increase your immune system's ability to resist infections.

Using Meditative Techniques to Stoke the Fire

There have been many reports of Tibetan monks in cold and remote locations using g-tummo Tibetan yoga techniques (I think these are what Wim Hof appears to be using) where a combination of breathing and visualization can control the body temperature. The tradition consists of two main approaches. If you what to raise "psychic heat", you use a vigorous breathing, backs of your fists pressed into the crease of your legs and moving your abdomen in and out into the shape of a "vase", while visualizing a flame that rises from below the navel to the crown of the head. To maintain the body heat, a gentle breath is used while visualizing the entire body filling with a feeling of joy and heat. A research article published in 2013 by a group from the University of Singapore (see the study here: showed that even those not trained in g-tummo prior to the study could easily raise their core temperatures. This practice also many other beneficial health benefits. The effect was quite rapid and I'm sure with a little practice, we could improve our inner fires enough to combat any Calgary weather change!

So here is what I think we should do -- let's all OWN THE COLD! I mean, we live in Calgary. We have lots of cold. Let's all try a Contrast Hydrotherapy or g-tummo ourselves out of the shivers!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be vase breathing on my way to the frozen car!

Many warm hugs,

Dr. Allissa

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