Updated: Oct 10, 2018
It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and we are home from some family time on Vancouver Island. I was fortunate to get a quick chilly lake dip in at Gordon Bay Provincial Park by Lake Cowichan. It was just what the doctor ordered. You know how thanksgiving goes. There was a ton of food and drink and comforts and a lot of sitting around by the fire. It's a grand old time and something I look forward to. At the same time I'm usually a bit stuffed up and starting to feel lazy after a while. This is where a good cold dip in nature comes in.
I'm thankful for the spot we found with a stunning backdrop and a cloudy mist descending down from the mountains - see pics below. I appreciated the scenery on the drive in but I quickly felt connected to and a part of it all when I entered the water. The view of the mountains when submerged in the cold water was next level. From the water I am in awe of the mountains around me. From the car I feel more like a spectator with a nice view. The short hike in was nice but the magic for me was being in the water.
The cold is like a reset. The sluggish feeling and even the slight hangover from the night before eased off or vanished completely. The benefits go beyond recovering from turkey overload too of course. The cold improves circulation encouraging blood vessels to regularly open and close keeping them functioning efficiently. This strengthens your circulation system kind of like a weight training regime strengthens your muscles. This takes pressure off our hearts allowing them to pump blood more efficiently around the body with less strain.
The cold reduces inflammation. We all know to reach for the ice pack after an acute injury. The cold water is like an ice pack on steroids. It cools deep and it cools quick. Inflammation isn’t just present in sprained ankles and the likes. It is common throughout our bodies from the toxins in our environment and the foods we eat. Inflammation is widely believed to be the root cause of a host of illnesses. Fighting it and keeping it at bay is a daily battle that the cold is happy to take on.
Weight loss is another nice side effect of regular cold exposure. The body must work to stay warm which can often result in a metabolism increase. When the body is under controlled stress with high energy demands it learns to be more efficient with energy.
The key with embracing the cold is gradual exposure to it. That way it's out of your comfort zone but not so intense or shocking that you can't enjoy the experience much. This time of year in the fall is a perfect time to practice gradual exposure as the water gets just a little bit colder each week around these parts.
Another important focus is to control your breath with long slow exhales. This helps you relax into the cold by igniting your parasympathetic nervous system which triggers a restful state and counteracts higher stress fight or flight responses. Learning to shift states like this is another enormous benefit of the cold and something you can take with you into other stressful situations. Once you a feel a shift in state and in your breath, you have reaped many benefits. Usually a minute or two is enough but this will depend on the temperature. Cold icy water should be fairly quick. A run outside in the fall with a t-shirt could be much longer. The goal is to just go beyond your comfort zone a little and to be consistent.
There is no need to overdo it. Over time tolerance will improve and I have found that I begin to enjoy nature more and more as it does. The thought of going outside particularly now in the fall as the weather starts to cool feels more attractive. In fact, I now look forward to winter as much as the summer because I can go out and mingle with nature. Another bonus is I can have it mostly to myself too! Most other humans are inside wrapped up by the heaters. That's where I'll be too, later after I've enjoyed some of the elements. Then the heat feels even better. And the holiday beers taste extra sweet too. All thanks to a short burst of cold in the outdoors. The cold water really accelerates and magnifies the experience in nature.
That's why this year, I am thankful for the cold. And I am thankful for nature. The two together is an experience that brings me to life. I'm also thankful for what the cold water does to my appetite :) Well I was certainly ready for more food when I returned.
If you’re interested in tagging along some time, drop us a line and we'll keep ya posted.
Cheers and happy thanksgiving to you all.