Skip to main content

RSW Living Magazine


Jun 30, 2023 09:44AM ● By Klaudia Balogh

TOTI writer Klaudia Balogh goes all in on the benefits of cold-water immersion. PHOTO BY KRISTIN WEITZEL

Her face was calm, eyes closed, breathing slow and subtle, hardly noticeable. It’s as if she was fast sleep. But she wasn’t. She was sitting in a 45-degree Fahrenheit water bath up to her
neck, going on three minutes. No sign of shivering, no hyperactive breathing, no panic. Just calm, peaceful, and content.
After four minutes, she opened her eyes and with a genuine happy smile on her face, slowly stood up and stepped out of the tub of near-freezing water. The skin on her arms, legs, and torso exhibited a slight red tone. Instead of reaching for the towel to warm up, however, she started to move. Squat down, then back up, move the arms side to side, with calm and controlled breathing.
Seeing Kristin Weitzel endure the cold was inspiring and a little scary, but she made it look easy. She’s also the founder of Texas-based Sherpa Breath & Cold, so it wasn’t her first time.
She studies and teaches this practice around the world. Then it was my turn. She guided me through a few minutes of breathing exercises, which, she said, would help calm my nervous
system and prepare it for the shock of cold water.
I didn’t know what to expect. What I did know was that I was never a winter person, and I even drink my water at room temperature. But here I was, about to sit down in a tub of cold water
filled with ice.
Weitzel told me I must decide to go all the way and just do it. It was not an option to put my toe in the water just to see how cold it is, then quickly pull it back out. I took a breath and as I
exhaled, I stepped in with my left leg, right leg, then confidently sat down so the water would cover my shoulders. I crossed my arms to sustain some heat, as I had learned that touch signals
safety to the mind.
I instantly felt goosebumps cover my body, head to toe. With my eyes closed, as my physical body sank into the water, my soul sank into the present moment. To my biggest surprise,
instead of slipping into panic mode, I was able to take control by slowing down my breathing.
Then the minutes began to pass by. One minute, two minutes, three minutes, and then four. I took another deep breath, stood up, and stepped outside to move around the same way
Weitzel had done earlier.
The hard part was over. I’d done my first ice bath. The rewards came shortly afterward: mental clarity, joyful mood, lack of hunger, and I felt physically leaner.
All of that was not a coincidence. This “intentional cold exposure,” as Weitzel calls it, triggers several physical and psychological processes in the body.
“The biggest and more profound change I see when combining breathwork and cold is we’re doing this to get better at stress adaptation,” Weitzel says. “We’re doing this to get better
at playing the game of life. It’s mind-blowingly simple but not easy, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Getting out of the cold evokes a physiological response called the parasympathetic rebound that makes you feel better, boosts your neurochemistry for better mood, helps you sleep better that night, and makes you social. The parasympathetic activation is the part of the nervous system that’s responsible for adaptation, recovery, and healing.
With our always-running schedules and lives, most people spend time in a parasympathetic state only during sleep. Since one in three people do not get enough sleep, many don’t spend
enough time in that state at all, which may lead to accumulated
stress over time.
Additionally, Weitzel says, “If you’re with other people, you have the oxytocin response.” Oxytocin is a bonding hormone, the so-called love chemical. “You’ll feel trust, safety, and security
in stepping out of the cold with people around you,” she adds. “What else do we want more right now and in life?”
The benefits don’t stop at better state of mind and stress resilience. Researchers have shown that short-term—between two and four minutes—of cold exposure activates a special type of fat called brown fat, which helps burn more calories, improves metabolism, supports weight management, and enhances insulin sensitivity.
If sitting in icy water feels too off-putting at first, Weitzel suggests starting off with a cold shower. “A cold shower will definitely give you short-term benefits,” she says. “But most of the long-term benefits we see from a longevity and cellular health standpoint exist in cold-water immersion.”
A cold-water bath may sound like a refreshing idea if you’re in Florida in the summer, but this is not only a warm-weather trend. People are choosing to sit in near-freezing water even in
the dead of winter for several minutes.
Whether you start with a cold shower and work your way up to a cold lake, ocean, or ice bath, Weitzel advises that “the anticipation of the cold shower or ice bath is worse than each in
and of itself. Once you’re in and through, you will experience a shift in the body and boost your mental well-being too.”

Texas-based Sherpa Breath & Cold has certified instructors who conduct workshops and community and private sessions around the country.
Klaudia Balogh is a health and longevity contributor for TOTI Media.