The Healing Experience of a Mountain Cold Plunge

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As the melting snow turns into flowing streams and brimful mountain lakes here in Colorado, it’s prime time for a good old-fashioned cold plunge. But why is now the prime time to take the plunge? The colder the water, the more you’ll benefit. The snowmelt runoff makes the water just painfully cold enough to reap all the healing properties.

Cold exposure has been all the rage lately. Largely due to the rising popularity of the Wim Hof Method, people are finding life-changing outcomes from practicing temperature regulation through cold plunging. The act of submerging your body in cold water for three to ten minutes can have a variety of benefits. Some of these include reduced inflammation and soreness, rushes of endorphins and dopamine, strengthening of the immune system, a sped-up metabolism and more. Most importantly, it’s good for the mind and soul.

A proper mountain cold plunge in Lake Isabelle.
Proper cold plunge in Lake Isabelle, CO. Photo by Christine Stadnik-Poteroba.

Justin Weiss is a certified breath work & cold exposure instructor, as well as the founder of the Ice Church. He says cold plunging is instant meditation if you let it be. “Even someone who’s never meditated before can just get in an ice bath or a cold body of water, and as long as they can take over their nervous system response and stay in there, it’s a pure single-pointed focus,” says Weiss. He believes our ability to exist in a momentary or sustained single-pointed focus, is the most valuable skill a human can have.

When Weiss was 18, he developed a chronic pain disorder called Fibromyalgia. For years, he tried various treatments, and nothing was helping. One day, his friend sent him a documentary about Wim Hof. He started practicing breath work and taking cold showers and felt immediate relief. “It then became kind of a new obsession that changed the course of my life,” says Weiss. He believes that practicing cold exposure can help people change their relationship with pain.

Justin Weiss ice bath.
Justin Weiss in his element. Photo courtesy of Justin Weiss on Facebook.

According to Justin, “Cold exposure allows people to have a deliberate stressor that enables us to have a balanced stress response.” So instead of dwelling on that embarrassing thing you said in third grade, your body will save that reaction for when there’s an intentional stressor, such as freezing cold water.

The Ice Church is a community in Boulder that is all about transformation through cold therapy and breathwork. They meet up every Sunday to take ice baths and heal as a community. Justin says, “for some people it’s a social event, for some it’s a healing event, and for some it’s a religious, devotional practice.” Visit their website to get involved.

Ice Church cold plunging together.
The Ice Church doing a nature immersion plunge. Photo courtesy of Laura Nelson via Ice Church on Facebook.

Cold therapy can look like a cold shower or an ice bath in your house, but as Coloradans who have mountains as our backyard, we have the unique opportunity to seek out natural bodies of water. If you plan out the plunge in the right way, it can turn into a healing experience, physically and emotionally. It is a unique and powerful form of mindfulness. When submerged in cold water, the intense physical state of the body pushes the mind to focus in on the moment. In turn, you’ll find yourself completely present.

How to take a Colorado Mountain Cold Plunge

Find a body of water that speaks to you. Whether it be a river, creek, or lake, submerging into natural water makes the experience all the more spiritual. There are hidden spots along Boulder Creek and the Platte River that are perfect for a nice solo moment. The water can be two feet deep or 10 feet deep, just find a location that feels right.

Submerge fully into the water, head dunk and all. Your body will experience initial shock and likely some discomfort but take deep breaths and let the adjustment happen. After about two minutes, you’ll feel a lot better. Focus on the earth around you and breathe through the experience.

Stay submerged for at least three minutes. Anywhere from three to ten minutes will suffice. It’s recommended that you work your way up. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll find it to be much easier.

After you finish the plunge, find a nice spot to post up and reflect. This is arguably the most important step. Lay out in the elements and let the sun soak your skin. You’ll feel euphoric.

Whether it’s every day, or just when you can find the time, incorporating cold plunging into your life is a great step to becoming your healthiest and happiest self.

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