Need a boost? Free(ze) your inner Ice Queen
Cold water swimming? So last year, baby! If you want to strengthen your physical and mental health (and get insta bragging rights) ice baths are the way to go.
Need a boost? Certified breath coach and trainee Wim Hof Method instructor, Sara Cain of Devon’s Breathways is launching a short, sharp, possibly quite shocking way of getting you there.
Taking a bath in ice, Sara, what the…?
An ice bath is exactly that, a bath full of, in my case, about 30kg of ice, and some water so you can actually get in it. Think of it like a human size G&T and you are the lemon wedge floating around in it. Refreshing and zingy!
So, it’s like a hot tub, except er, cold, and without the bubbles?
Exactly, but just as much fun for those who are in the know, it also has amazing health benefits!
Apart from the bragging rights, what do people get out of it and why do it?
Bragging rights and a cracking insta post are definitely fringe benefits, but more seriously, the benefits are massive and varied.
Ice baths help both physical and mental health. They strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, boost happy hormones making you feel great, support good sleep, and help you focus, to name but a few benefits. They are even rumoured to be good for skin firming and weight loss.
They teach you to overcome stress and keep your cool in every area of your life.
People often find they hate the idea, but then they come to love the ice and it becomes a massive part of their lives.
For me personally, I feel like I am way more relaxed and have much better coping skills from facing the ice regularly and overcoming the challenge. It’s like a press-up for the mind – you literally get mentally stronger.
Seen any stunning results ?
Most recently I worked with an amazing group of women who all came to the session saying they didn’t think they could do the ice bath. I coached them through it, and they all overcame the challenge. They left with the biggest smiles on their faces and told me how amazing they felt afterwards. It really fed their confidence. That’s why I do what I do.
There’s also a massive range of celeb followers, such as Lady Gaga, Tony Robbins, Justine Bieber, Nicole Scherzinger, Andy Murray, and Joe Wicks, to name just a few.
What got you into it?
I came to ice baths via cold water swimming (which I still do) after the death of a very dear friend. I was in a very dark place and the cold helped me feel alive again and slowly brought light back into my life.
Now, years later, I’m hooked. Whenever I feel my mood dip I head to the nearest source of cold water and it always helps, but it’s never easy to face the cold. There will always be an internal debate, but strength comes from getting out of your comfort zone.
Where do you do it?
I use inflatable portable ice baths and about 30kg of ice for each of my sessions, so I come with kit. I now have four freezers at home – two for food, one for ice, and one that I’ve converted into an ice bath that I get it. My husband thinks I’m a bit mad, but water isn’t his thing, even though he’s a Pisces.
What do you wear?
We just wear swimmers for ice baths, so no kit necessary, it’s really that simple. Although I have a barrel in my garden for ice baths, so no clothes required there, thankfully we aren’t overlooked.
How long do you have to stay in?
Ice baths are all about listening to your body. I normally suggest no more than two minutes the first time you try it, that may seem like a long time, but it flies when you are focused and in the zone.
You’ll see some extreme ice bathers on social media who do 20 minutes or more, it’s just not necessary. Ice bathing is what’s called a hormetic stressor, meaning in small doses it’s really good for you. Small really is perfect in this case.
Right up to your neck?
Neck, or shoulders is ideal. If you’re brave you can go for a head dunk at the end. This has become a personal favourite for me.
Is it excruciating? Does it get easier the longer you’re in?
The cold is always going to be a shock the first time you get in, but I teach breathing exercises and focus that allow you to overcome the fear and discomfort. It’s an incredibly powerful thing to face the fear of the ice and come out the other side more confident and feeling invincible.
I’ve even done ice baths that haven’t felt cold at all, just because I’ve been so focused. It’s all about the power of the mind.
One recent attendee said she even felt warmer after she got out of the ice bath – that’s the power of the mind right there!
Can you have a hot toddy while you’re in – or only ice cream?
We’re all about the ice, ice baby, but do feel free to imagine you’re in that giant G&T, if it helps. But seriously, it’s important to be safe whilst in the ice bath and afterwards. Afterwards you will keep getting colder as the warm and cold blood in your body mixes, so it’s important to warm up naturally, but a warm drink and a dry robe can be a nice addition.
How do you feel when you get out?
Invincible! It really is that simple. The body is designed to respond to the cold, it’s quite literally, human nature. There is nothing like the clarity of mind and body after an ice bath, for pure, simple, unadulterated joy. I describe it as the high of my life. You will be able to take on the world.
We use goddess pose, very aptly named, to warm up and focus on bringing the body temperature up naturally. This trains and strengthens the cardiovascular system.
Can you work your way up to it – you know, start with your big toe and move up?
Would you believe it’s often harder to train with just the feet in an ice bath as the extremities are very sensitive and take the longest time to warm up.
If you want to give it a go you can start by turning your shower to cold at the end, but I personally find this really hard, so at this time of year I recommend either taking a cold shower, or start by dipping in the sea.
Cold water stuff is really trendy at the moment. Why?
I think lockdown has had a massive part to do with it. We’ve all been searching for ways to continue our exercise and get out in nature a bit more, so lots of people have turned to cold water swimming.
We’re so spoilt with the variety of water we have to play in here in Devon, from our beaches, to hidden dip spots on Dartmoor to dark and chilly peaty rivers. We are so lucky to live where we live. It’s an adventure playground for cold water enthusiasts.
Yep, I always see middle-aged women going in their cozzies, rarely men. Are women just braver?
Personally, I think women are definitely braver. It’s a rare thing to see a man swimming in skins. Also, perhaps we are more in tune with our wellbeing and use these as opportunities to connect socially, which is a great benefit.
Is it the colder the water, the greater the benefit?
Any water that is below about 15 degrees is cold enough to get the benefits, but the real experience and high comes from the ice bath.
Is it better to ice-bathe regularly rather than just do the one off, or can you do it every now and then maybe when you need a lift?
The ice baths definitely create a lift. There’s a whole lot of science supporting how it does that by releasing our happy hormones. The effects last about a week, so a weekly cold dip is a great thing to build into your routine and if you need to you can top up with a cold shower or sea dip. I love that it’s such a simple solution to support wellbeing.
Can anyone do it – what about pregnant women, people with heart conditions etc, any age?
If your uncertain, I’d always recommend speaking to your doctor first. I know pregnant women that do ice baths, so it’s all a matter of personal judgement, but as I said, listen to your body and always come out with a bit in reserve.
Some people that have migraines can find they are brought on by ice baths, but others find it helps alleviate them, so it really is a matter of finding what works for you personally.
My main message – always be safe around cold water and ice baths and find what works for you.
Brave enough to free(ze) your inner Ice Queen?
Sara runs workshops for breathwork and ice baths at the Manor House in Dawlish, Tuesdays 9:30 – 11am with the aim off keeping her clients cool, mentally and physically, all summer long. Single sessions are £22.50, with discounts for a package of 5 or 10 sessions, which you can attend flexibly.