EXERCISE: Waterfalls, Rickson Gracie, Wim Hof.
Though made popular by Wim Hof*, the first time I had ever really seen anyone take on the cold (aside from anime characters meditating under waterfalls) was Rickson Gracie* in his legendary documentary, “Choke”*. Granted, when I first saw the doc, I never really thought that I, personally, would ever be able to take on the cold; thinking that it was some sort of uniquely unattainable superpower...
Years later, I saw the same technique being utilized by Wim in his very first VICE documentary* on YouTube. Though, unlike Rickson, however, Wim was using the technique in a more refined and glamourized fashion, breaking various wold records with his breath work and meditation. Naturally, when I learned that Wim would be hosting a series of online courses* to teach his method, I jumped at the opportunity to learn!
Without giving away Wim's entire method, or just talking to you about my experiences while practicing it (you can watch our YouTube mini-series* for that), I decided that I’d write down my own application of the technique and explain, from my perspective, why I think it works/what this type of training teaches you about life.
[Cold Shower Training (when you don’t have a waterfall near you and it isn’t winter).]
Step 1) Stand in the shower and set the temperature to warm.
Step 2) Take in a few deep inhales and exhales.
Step 3) Turn the tap in the direction of cold.
Step 4) As you begin to feel the cold take over you, start to rapidly increase your inhales and exhales, as if to induce even-hyperventilation. You should begin to notice your body adapt and your breathing naturally slow down and become more calm.
Step 5) With your head under the cold water, breathing subsided, take a deep inhale. Hold that breath and close your eyes. You should notice that you have rapidly retreated inward and the cold has become nothing more than white-noise, subtly echoing in the background.
Step 6) When the cold has become comfortable, turn the tap more towards the cold.
Step 7) Repeat this same breathing and retention pattern to acclimate further and further into the cold.
**You should find yourself holding your breath for longer periods of time, hardly noticing the cold at all!**
(Bonus technique: there is also a more advanced technique — that I won’t explore here — called the “Brown Fat Activation Technique,” which you will have to learn about by taking Wim's online course, as it can be quite dangerous if taught/applied incorrectly.)
So, what does this practice teach you?
Those moments of retention while closing your eyes and not feeling the cold water at all; that is the sensation of meditation (sensation, because meditation is a state/feeling). When you’ve shut out the thinking part of your mind and act solely on instinct (or awareness), you have achieved a state of “total presence,” where you are not thinking, but doing. Health properties aside (as I am neither a doctor nor interested in that part of the method), this practice is a great way to learn to manage the breath, to manage the body, to manage the mind; allowing you access to meditation. The genius behind this technique is its rapid-response and instant-feedback due to the external stimuli (ie. cold water). In order to overcome the cold, you must naturally learn how to achieve a state of no-mind; where — the colder the water, the deeper the meditation. In fact (as I’ve personally tried this myself), you can actually use this same technique to manage other sensations, such as pain or the ability to refrain from being tickled! Granted, you should only try this technique on innocuous stimuli, such as being pinched or tickled, in order to not induce lasting harm…
What is the practice's real-world application?
Managing the mind against excessive stimuli is something we must all deal with in life. Whether it be being yelled at by another person, being cut off in traffic, stubbing a toe, or trying to not get choked out while grappling; we must learn to overcome the obstacle of mental stress in our lives. So, how can this technique help you? By managing the breath, you manage the body, you manage the mind. Why do each of the above scenarios result in stress? The stories we tell ourselves.
“They’re yelling at me because they hate me!”
“He must be a jerk, he cut me off!”
“The universe hates me, or else it wouldn’t have put that thing in my way to stub my toe!”
“Oh man, I don’t want to get choked out in front of everyone and made to look like a fool!”
Unnecessary narratives contributing to prolonged mental stress (or suffering). By learning to control the breath amidst these stressors, you can learn to remain calm and assertive, acting more through awareness and not just by what you think.
In the end, the cold is a powerful, relentless and unyielding teacher that most are unwilling or reluctant to learn from. By learning to stand in the face of her, you learn to stand in the face of life. Nature is more powerful than you alone (despite you also being nature), but you can always learn to at least stand your ground.
Now, let go and learn to master the breath, to master the body, to master the mind (the conductor of your experience).