You might have to overcome cold feet to try cold therapy.
THE DIP IN Green Lake lasted maybe two or three minutes; the mental part of the plunge started weeks before.
I have tried cold therapy. I am a believer in the benefits of challenging your body’s ability to handle various temperatures, including cold. Research shows that it might stimulate brown fat, and it’s also said to reduce inflammation and support healthy immune function, among other benefits.
I can’t say I find cold therapy pleasant. Plunging into Green Lake felt more ordinary, and also more daring, than a recent encounter with cryotherapy, though the latter is far colder. I don’t like cold water in summer, let alone midwinter.
But I had seen my friend Jess Frank extol the virtues of cold-water plunges, and how invigorated she felt. In addition to plunges, she takes cold showers. I asked her to take me on a plunge.
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Jess emailed me a list of things to bring: warm clothes, hat, gloves, socks and a hot beverage. She also mentioned we would be going in slowly, to make it a somatic, meditative experience.
My body prickled. Slowly? We weren’t going to jump in? The night before the dip, I tossed and turned in bed, my mind full of anxiety and weird dreams about cold lakes.
Once we met at Green Lake, Jess, who teaches yoga, talked me through. We did jumping jacks to warm up. She told me we would make it a mindfulness practice. If we could relax our thoughts, our bodies would follow.
I know minds and bodies are connected, and it still felt like getting into Green Lake would be an extreme test of my ability to relax.
Now or never.
Jess walked into the lake without hesitation, so I did too, though I secretly wanted to test the water or delay in any way possible.
My feet soon went numb. The air temperature ranged from 41 to 43 degrees. I couldn’t find a current temperature for the lake, so I chalked it up as frigid.
Jess encouraged me to breathe, feel the rocks under my feet and let the cold sensation remind me I was alive. I wanted to wrap my arms around myself and shiver. She told me to drop my arms and breathe more deeply.
I followed her instructions, letting my tense shoulders soften, and was surprised that it wasn’t so bad once I relaxed. The sensations were even tolerable. I looked out across the glassy lake and noticed the trees across from us.
Next, we dipped our faces in the water to help our bodies acclimate. Then we sank down to our chins.
The sharpness of the cold almost made me gasp. I felt my lungs contract and clench. My outer limbs went a little numb. I took some deep breaths and looked around. Jess grinned at me. This wasn’t so bad. I could do this.
Just like that, we were done. We walked out of the water, and I felt blood rush back into my hands and feet, my arms and legs tingling. I felt warm.
I wanted to towel off. Jess steered me to stand by the lake and do some cat-cow spine exercises to move our blood. For an hour afterward, she will bounce her knees to keep the blood flowing.
My toes felt numb for a while, despite hot tea. I also felt invigorated, and proud. I had done it.
For Jess, cold plunging is nature therapy. It was surprisingly quiet and calm in the water. Many people walked around the lake; we were the only ones in it.
The other day on a walk near Lake Washington, I contemplated getting in. I can’t say I will cold-plunge every day, but once a month is a possibility. I might even turn the shower to cold once in a while, too.