Stefanie Broes ice bath

Four things we learned in an ice bath

Written by: Stefanie Broes



Time to read 5 min

At moonbird, everything is about breathing. We focus on it all day, talk about (almost) nothing else, follow the latest scientific insights closely, do research on the impact of breathing on body and mind, and above all, we also want to experience the impact of breathing. Since experience provides the most valuable insights.

Recently we, as a team, decided to enroll in a Wim Hof Method workshop, including an icy cold ice bath. It gave us the opportunity to test the power of calm breathing in an unusual (read: extreme) situation.

Spoiler alert: calm breathing turned out to be our best friend. And for some even the rescue… We like to share four things we learned in the ice bath.

1. Calm breathing is an absolute superpower

Everything we do at moonbird is backed by science. The workings of our breathing tool are based on the proven effect of calm breathing on your autonomic nervous system. Breathing slowly triggers the natural relaxation response and strengthens the body's stress management mechanism. You can therefore influence your level of relaxation and calm - through breathing. That is essential knowledge for every stressful situation in your life.

We know from experience that slow breathing is very powerful for relaxation and managing your stress levels. That it also turns out to be the ingredient for success in 'surviving' an ice bath, became apparent when we stepped into one ourselves...

An ice bath can be seen as an extremely stressful situation. Apart from the fear you may have of it, exposure to cold immediately triggers a severe stress reaction in your body. It's a startle response: your muscles contract, your heart starts beating faster, and your breathing skyrockets. If you give your body free rein, you won't last long in the cold. Fortunately, there is the breath. When you consciously start to breathe very calmly, you will see that you manage to relax in stressful circumstances.

Okay, that's nice to know, yet we weren't all too eager to get into the ice bath. Some curse words might have flown around, because let's be honest: the cold is just anything but comfortable. Yet we all did it, and it was - in the end - not so bad. Our skilled Wim Hof instructor Dirk Janssen (also: Boempatatman) guided us in the ice bath, and especially through it. “Slow down your breathing, calm down, calm down, calm down…”. And even though the cold continued to feel icy cold, everyone - even the biggest cold avoiders - showed a big smile on their faces.

Calm breathing - again - proved to be a superpower and provided serene silence, peace, and relaxation in the ice bath.

2. An ice bath works as a metaphor for any stressful situation in your life

Stepping into an ice bath will never be comfortable. That is exactly the intention. It teaches you to deal with stress, fear and limiting beliefs (“I can never do this!”). Exactly what you will come into contact with every day in your ‘normal’ life.

An ice bath may seem like an extreme activity that you won't do every day, yet there are a few things you train that you can benefit from in any situation in your life. First of all, you learn to control your breathing in stressful circumstances and you experience how you can immediately reverse your physical startle response. Simply by breathing. You also train your brain, by keeping your composure and focus at a time when you are confronted with a major challenge. As a result, you learn (or are actually forced, long live the peer pressure) to get over your fears, so that you find that it is actually a fantastic, unique experience to sit in an ice bath.

It is a matter of trusting yourself and your body. You experience that you can handle much more than you think. An ice bath makes you mentally stronger and more resistant to stress.

3. The cold is actually quite nice (and good for you!)

It is not only the mental resilience that is enhanced by the cold, it also makes your body stronger. Moreover, it makes you feel extremely good and energetic, as we experienced. Why exactly is this?

First, the cold has a refreshing and clarifying effect. An ice bath switches you 'on' and makes you 'sharp'. Your heart rate and blood pressure rise, your muscle tension increases and your breathing accelerates (source): the ingredients for increased alertness and better focus.

Another advantage is a strengthened immune system. A study showed that people who take a cold shower for at least 30 seconds every day (let's compare that with an ice bath) call in sick 29% less often. The shock of the cold water causes blood vessels to contract and muscles to tighten. This movement puts your lymphatic system to work, which performs indispensable functions for your immune system and also ensures the removal of waste from all tissues. The ice bath was a real boost for our resistance.

Even though ‘your heart might skip a beat’ when you step into an ice bath, the cold does make your heart happy. Cold training improves your blood circulation and stimulates your cardiovascular system, which is very good for your cardiovascular health. This reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease - the number one cause of death.

Another nice side effect: you produce happiness hormones in the cold. One study showed that exposure to cold increases neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and endorphins. This would make you less likely to develop depressive symptoms. This was certainly true for us, we were very happy after an afternoon of ice bathing.

Exposure to the cold also stimulates the physical recovery of your body. Research has shown that the cold helps to combat fatigue and promote muscle recovery. It also provides relief from muscle pain. It is therefore not surprising that more and more athletes take cold showers, dives, and baths to improve their physical performance.

4. The cold connects

In our experience, an ice bath workshop is a great team activity. You may step into the icy water alone (one by one), but there is nothing to it without the support and encouragement of the people standing around you. This afternoon each of us has encountered his or her own internal struggles, but also those of the entire team. There was laughter, cursing, cheering, clapping, and even some tears. Due to the cold shock and the pain, but also tears of joy.

We all had to go through our own personal processes, while the connection as a group was only strengthened. The ice bath was really something we conquered as a team, thanks to everyone's support and enthusiasm for each other. It has resulted in a wonderful group feeling and pride. Not that we didn't already have that… But still: such a workshop is highly recommended for every team!

Conclusion: we are ice fans

You receive a lot of physical, mental, and social benefits when you learn to embrace the cold, that much became clear to us during this Wim Hof Method workshop. We are therefore happy that we were able to tick this experience off our list, together with the entire moonbird team. Perhaps we should do this more often...

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