Why would I pour a bucket of ice-cold water over my head in the middle of the winter? The concept isn’t as crazy as it sounds, as people have been doing cold water therapy for eons. Reporting benefits of improved circulation, healthier skin, overall vitality, and faster recovery from injuries, people from many cultures still swear by the age-old practice and it is recommended by Russian Systema teachers and some of the Asian (including Akido) Martial Arts practitioners.
Dousing in this manner is not the same as taking a very cold shower. The water is much more frigid (almost frozen), and the impact of the “pour” is sudden. The body quickly reacts by raising core temperature slightly as the blood vessels dilate from the cold, and produces more white blood cells. The theory is that this raised body temperature is similar to a “mini-fever”, where the antibodies seek out and kill pathogens: harmful things that can cause colds and the flu. In other words, the experience is supposed to be a great immunity-booster.
As to the immunity-boosting theory, I’m not aware of any clinical evidence proving dousing’s ability to ward off sickness, but I can say from personal experience that it makes you feel great! Maybe I’m somewhat de-sensitized by my Polar Bear Swim experiences every January 1st, but I actually enjoy the sensation. Once I had doused a few times, I came to the realization that the result was not so much a feeling of intense cold, but rather one of warming heat. As soon as the initial shock is over, you can truly feel your skin getting warmer. And you stay warm, anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours later.
Perhaps the whole dousing phenomenon will become more popular now that best-selling author Tim Ferris has discussed his experiences with the ritual in his latest book, “The Four Hour Body”. I’m proud to say that I’ve been dousing on and off for several years. In fact, some people say that dousing should not become a regular habit — breaks are recommended so that your body doesn’t become acclimatized to the shock.
This morning, Toronto had a fresh snowfall, and it seemed a fitting day to douse after our Martial Arts class held at the StrengthBox. The night before, I had left a large bucket of water outside, so that it would be super-cold by the next day. And cold it was. The below-freezing temperatures ensured that the top of the water-bucket had frozen over with chunks of slushy-ice. Perfect! I won’t lie and say that there isn’t a psychological element to dousing, as it does take some courage. But my MovNat training has taught me that we need to expand our comfort zones by making ourselves uncomfortable from time to time. So, as my instructors Edward Wilson and Oded Levy watched, and fellow trainer Cynthia filmed, I braced myself for the event and started the “pour”. You can see for yourself how things unfolded…
Immediately following the douse, I felt a warm glow inside that radiated out to my skin. I felt energized and ready to do another training session, but I also felt like I could go to sleep (and would sleep like a baby), so it seems that the experience can either energize or relax you depending on how you channel it.
There are some other things about dousing that is part of the ritual according to some of the leaders in Systema. One rule is that your feet have to be touching the earth, regardless of the weather conditions. And there are some specific breathing exercises and movement patterns that are recommended (I have yet to try those). Overall, I can say that I’m a fan — no matter what the neighbours may think.