Hydrotherapy is the use of water to relieve discomfort and promote physical well being. The use of water and its application while hot or cold, dates back to the early 1800’s. It was a therapy used across Greece, Egypt, China and Japan. Whether it be in baths with oils, or in nature in springs. The healing benefit of water is vast, and can access the immune, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies.

The treatment and use of water is many and varied. For the purpose today’s topic, I am choosing to focus on hot-cold showers. In the past, I have written many articles on this modality, generally, I speak of it in terms of balancing the immune and physical body. A boost for the immune system. However, for the context of today’s topic related to stress, I am revisiting the therapy of hot-cold showers as it pertains to treating the mental, emotional and perhaps even spiritual bodies.

How to perform a Hot-Cold Shower

A hot-cold shower is an exercise in Mastery. Many traditional cultures did not and perhaps still do not have running hot water. The introduction of the hot shower, is a modern day luxury. It is comfortable, and cozy, however, does very little in terms of treatment of our Nervous System. The cold is a shock, it is meant to be a shock, and it shows no mercy. The healing benefit comes from a temperature jump. This is a treatment where we want the jump from hot, down to ice-cold, meaning zero hot water. Take your typical temperature shower for however long it takes, 5-15 minutes for example. Towards the end of this time, begin to engage in a minimum of 10 deep belly breaths. Then for approximately 1 minute, turn the water to a temperature that is hot, but one that is still comfortable for the skin. Continue to belly breathe; then turn the hot water all the way off, or the knob all the way down to ice cold; continue to belly breathe. Count for as long as you can take it. Be it one to two seconds. The goal is to work up to 30-90 seconds. I personally have currently worked up to 90 seconds of slow counting. Then turn the water off. Always finish with cold. Feel free to do another 1 minute round of hot, but again always finish with cold, then turn the shower off.
Towel off, and you will notice you should feel quite warm, perhaps even hot. Perform daily.

Note: first consult with your MD if you have heart disease; high/low blood pressure; pacemaker; migraines. I do not recommend this treatment during menstrual flow.

3 Benefits of Hot-Cold Showers to Reduce Stress

  1. You can’t spill from an empty cup
    I always say, “the way we do one thing; is the way we do everything.” We may not recognize it, but it is always the underlying truth. There are subconscious programs which are patterns put into place likely in very early childhood, which run how we view the world and how we operate within the world. When we are pushed to the edge of our comfort zone is usually when the “monkey brain” or “protective thoughts” become highlighted. Meaning these thoughts were the underlying tape running our daily thoughts, they were not just created by the cold shower. Our reactions to discomfort are always there, they simply spill out of the cup, when we are made uncomfortable. Which is why we must always push our comfort zones and over-ride this protective programming in order to become truly free. One way to highlight this programming is hot-cold showers. The negotiating voice that comes up when embarking on this not-so-comfortable treatment is the gold. We want to get to this voice and override it. When we do, we do it in other areas of our life. If we do not, this programming rules other areas of our life. The effect of hot-cold showers is brilliant and profound.
  2. Breathing – to stimulate the Vagus Nerve
    The Vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and it is well known for the gut-brain connection. The thoughts we think, the stress we feel, the trauma we hold, are not only experienced in our brain, they are experienced and held in our gut. The connection of the Vagus nerve can heighten or dampen this connection. Hot-cold showers stimulate Vagus Nerve, which decreases our Sympathetic Nervous System, also known as our state of fight or flight response; it then increases our Parasympathetic Nervous System or our calming state. Often in our modern world we are in a perpetual state of fight or flight. It is extremely difficult to heal and to calm the “monkey brain” while in this hypervigilant state. Hot-cold showers, breaks this fight or flight loop. The application of cold water also has what is known as a “hardening” effect. The gradual training of the nervous system to handle moderate levels of stress. It trains your mind to be cool and neutral and in a whole-brain state, while under the experience of stress. Deep breathing while in the cold spray also stimulates the Vagus nerve and puts the body in a calm parasympathetic state.
  3. Regulate Hormones and Detoxification
    Hot-cold showers reset the body into a parasympathetic state, which allows for the regulation or normalization of cortisol levels; as does deep breathing. Cortisol is generally elevated when there is high levels of stress. Cortisol is meant to be heightened in states of fear or panic, ie. being chased by a Lion as per hunter-gatherer times. However, in modern day, we are dysregulated and experience elevated Cortisol levels daily for months and even years. The body can not heal itself, nor can it detoxify in an elevated cortisol state. Hot-cold showers allow for increased lymphatic circulation and elimination of toxins. They also increase beta-endorphin and noradrenaline release, you will feel an elevation of mood or an elated state post cold shower.

Are you up for the challenge? We are collectively embarking on a 7 day Hot-Cold Shower Challenge. Every day without fail, perform a cold shower. Ensure the drop of water is ice-cold, however, you can slowly work up the time. Starting with just one second is perfect! Slowly work your way up. Remember to count slowly and breathe. Please share your experience on the Brio facebook group!

If you are looking for a little extra information, here is one of my favorite Ted Talks: Cold Shower Therapy.

In health, Dr. Neetu