Last fall a good friend had mentioned she had been going to a new place that had opened where there is a big sauna and an area for cold water immersion; cold water immersion involves immersing yourself in cold water up to your neck or immersing a specific joint or area of the body. Ice baths are a popular option for cold water immersion because you can control the temperature. I was hesitant at first but finally made my way down to check out this new place ~ Othership ~ in the heart of the City of Toronto.
Upon walking in, I felt as though I had arrived in a 'separate reality' from the busy ness of
the downtown core. I was greeted warmly, handed two towels, shown the locker area and enjoyed the calm music that was playing. I headed into the main area past the lounge with flames dancing behind the glass fireplace. I took a shower and headed into the large sauna. Every once in a while, a guide would come in and throw an essential oil infused 'snowball' onto the rocks and proceed to waft, using a towel, the scented air onto those sitting on the benches. it's like they were demonstrating the profoundness of loving action.
After some time, I had one of the hosts guide me through the cold plunge ~ they encouraged me to take a few deep breaths and maintain a long exhalation upon entering the cold plunge tank. The first sensation I noticed was the tendency to hold my breath as well as quite severe pain in my forearms. After 30 seconds or so I took my forearms out of the water but stayed in for a bit longer. While immersed they would play various soothing instruments (singing bowls, chimes) to help you relax.
I bought a two week unlimited pass and tried to go just about every day. Gradually the pain
in my forearms subsided and I was able to comfortably submerge my body from the neck down for 2 to 3 minutes. I was somewhat surprised when, around that time, I found that I was writing much more than I had in a long time. I did some research on where emotions are stored within the body.
When I first looked at this chart I noticed that it seemed as though the forearms were one of the places where anger is stored as well as sadness. I was quite aware that talking about or expressing feelings or even being aware of them was something that was simply not a part of my experience growing up.
Little was I aware, for much of my life, that all those painful and unpleasant feelings I had experienced, especially in my early days, likely had just been locked away within the tissues of my cells and buried 'deep within'. Years of 'therapy' with a very ineffective therapist did not help me get more in touch with my feelings.
My intuition was telling me that the cold was somehow helping to release stuck emotions allowing me to feel more clearly what I was experiencing moment to moment whereas in the past my experience of the moment was likely clouded by these trapped emotions. Had I actually discovered one of perhaps the most effective way to 'get in touch with feelings'? It was like my writer's block was gone ~ I was excited to finish my book I had been wanting to complete for some time.
One day, after quite a few sessions, I was walking on a busy street and heard a loud noise and noticed that I did not have the 'fear response' that I normally would have ~ holding the breath, a feeling of anxiety pulsing through my system. I began to be aware that not only did the cold water immersion seem to be putting me more in touch with my emotions, it seemed as though it was healing a PTSD/trauma response condition that I feel had been almost 'hard wired' into my system for much of my life.
PTSD doesn't just happen to soldiers. It can happen to anyone who experiences an extreme, unresolved stress event.
In the book In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (2010) renowned psychologist Peter Levine, PhD reframes PTSD as neither a disease nor a disorder. He describes PTSD as an injury -- a description that may encourage trauma survivors to pursue healing of their wounds.
"The brains of people with PTSD process "threats" differently, in part because the balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters is out of whack. They have an easily triggered "fight or flight" response, which is what makes you jumpy and on-edge. Constantly trying to shut that down could lead to feeling emotionally cold and removed." (Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors).
Many people with PTSD are likely diagnosed with a 'Chemical imbalance' and prescribed psychiatric medication whereas it appears that this 'imbalance' is caused in an area of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response.
My experience was that the cold water immersion cured this condition that no other branch of psychology or 'healing modalities' that I had explored had even come close to. It made me contemplate that perhaps many of the solutions to the mental/emotional issues that so many struggle with are actually quite simple.
Cold exposure increases the production of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine (focus, attention, vigilance, mood). As a result, cold therapy can produce a feeling of calm, happiness, and well-being, which can support the mitigation of mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
Even for those who may not have struggled with PTSD there are many health benefits to cold water immersion including:
improving blood circulation
lessen muscle aches
Reduction in stress
boosts immune system
improves mental health
improves lymphatic movement
This is an excellent article about the many benefits...
Enjoy the journey and remember that you can even experience this in your very own home by ending a shower with some cold water.