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Note: These wellness articles do not replace medical guidance.



Cold Water Immersion


I recently had the pleasure of surfing in the cold waters of the NorthWest Coast. I felt recharged, repleted, at want for nothing.

During my visit, I discussed the powers of cold water during with several people, and these conversations inspired the post below, which is a section from a prior post on The Ocean Element.


Cold water enlivens and brightens.

Why and how is that? 

Cold water rituals for health and longevity have existed since ancient times.  The Spartans of ancient Greece took only cold water baths to fill the body with vigor.  Finnish people in the first century took saunas then jumped in an ice cold stream or lake, which they called "avantouinti", swimming in a hole in the ice.  Several First Nations tribes in North American would sweat lodge then jump in a snow bank or stream.  Ancient Russians bathed in cold water to cleanse themselves of poor health and negative vibes.  Shinto Japanese stand under an icy waterfall to cleanse the spirit. Now, in our modern times, whether we choose to imbue a cold water practice with ritual or not, science demonstrates that cold water has certain benefits.



What is the magic that we feel after a cold water surf?

Cold water creates significant changes in the body. Heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism increase. Blood flow to the brain decreases. So the mind’s focus is shifted away from thoughts, to simply the sensations of the body. A powerful antidote to too much thinking or time spent on the computer or on your iPhone, where you are mentally but not physically aware.

When you immerse in cold water, a flow of catecholamines to the edges of the body occurs. Catecholamines comprise the activating part of the nervous system - the sympathetic nervous system - and include noradrenaline and adrenaline. These molecules increase alertness, vitality, and a sense of vigorous energy.

The increased energy, in addition to the way cold exposure helps the nervous system quickly access motor neurons, thus increasing the activation of muscles. This can make us feel more in tune with our bodies. More easily able to connect to the physical form, more agile, more safe, more able and with physical agency.

Cold water can also decrease pain. Beta-endorphins increase, and this can reduce pain.

In addition, cold water may accelerate muscle recovery (1).



You optimize your cold water experience when you immerse in the ocean.

The ocean contains negative ions and salt. Negative ions are molecules in the air that carry an extra negative charge. As our bodies are electromagnetic, theoretically, the negative ions and salt can recharge and rebalance us. Modern day to day life often has too many positive ions that unbalance and fatigue us - positive ions are generated by pollution, air conditioning, and electronic devices. Crashing waves and waterfalls create an abundance of negative ions, improving energy, mood, increasing alpha brain rhythms and oxygen absorption (2,3). Boosting our antioxidant defense system, lowering blood lactate levels, and improving aerobic metabolism, the enhanced blood flow generated by negative ions detoxes our bodies (4). Lactate is a molecule in the body that is associated with inflammation, and leads to aching muscles and stiffness after intense exercise. So surfing has a built in recovery effect. Less physical and emotional stress and no need for pain medication was observed in negative ion air environments in a hospital study on minor skin surgery patients in an article published by the Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia (4).

The other impactful aspect of ocean water is the quality of the sea salt. Sea salt water may have many benefits: magnesium, potassium, and bromides may help soothe muscle aches; sea salt is a mild disinfectant and can reduce skin conditions such as rashes and psoriasis; sea salt water massaged into the scalp may improve hair growth; sea salt water may promote moisture retention in skin so thus may reduce wrinkles and aging of the skin; circulation improves; lung health improves (5).



So what can you do with this information?

Some of the answers are obvious. Gradually try making the end of your shower time colder and colder and colder until you get the benefits from cold water simply in your daily shower. You can try this with a bath also, gradually making the bath water colder until you tolerate a full immersion at home. Adding minerals or seaweed to the bath may be of benefit: magnesium salts, epsom salts, himalayan salt.

Consider a regular trip to the ocean several times as year and try boogie boarding or surfing to fully immerse in the elements that the ocean provides.

Wishing you the best always,

Dr. M.

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Join me for informal workshops on creating your own mindfulness practice.



1 / Moovenham A & Nevithita J 2014. "Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body." N Am J Med Sci 6(5): 199–209.

2 / Negative Ions create Positive Vibes. Popular literature: WebMD

3 / The Power of Negative Ions. Popular literature: Pranaview Australia.

4 / Selhub E & Logan A. "Your Brain on Nature" (book)

5 / "Sea swimming may add years to your life." Popular literature (with research references): Mail Online.

Dr. Maia Love