Plunging oneself into extremely cold water is something most humans avoid, as it does not feel good, and people like to feel good. It’s quite jarring, but invigorating, and has the added bonus of making you hyper-aware of your breathing, circulatory system, and any other parts of your body that usually function involuntarily. And, when the mild torture is over, you feel really freaking good.
On my last day in Copenhagen, I was abandoned by my travel partners and left to my own devices—a risky move on everyone’s part. I had heard of “winter bathing” — the practice of alternating between a hot sauna and near freezing sea water — and, though it was not technically winter, it was not full-on spring, and I wanted to take the plunge, so to speak.
Access to a both the ocean and a sauna can be a little tricky as a tourist (most spas require membership), but one of the handsome film crew dudes had recommended La Bachina, a small, natural wine-slinging farm-to-table establishment that just happened to be right on the water and in possession of an adorable little spa.
It was not a cold day, but it was also not a warm day. I sat in the sauna, enjoying the view, until I became very flushed, then nervously made my wait to the dock. No one else was jumping in, so I asked a small group of chic women if winter bathing was indeed “a real thing.” “Oh yes,” an intimidatingly confident woman replied. “It’s very Nordic.”
I jumped in, because I never learned how to dive, and reader, it was cold. It was so cold I forgot if I had to take a moment to remember that yes, I had taken swimming lessons as a child, and would not drown. It was so cold I had to focus every part of my brain on calming down and remember those lessons, so I could (while lacking any sort of grace) dog paddle to the ladder, which was about a yard away, a stream of profanity pouring forth from my mouth.
When I emerged, I felt sharp and alert, yet oddly relaxed, kind of how one would expect to feel after an attempt had been made on one’s life. My mild headache (hangover) was gone, and I felt positively healthy. (I think; I’m not super familiar with the feeling.)
I repeated the process twice, then wrecked my newfound feeling of health by getting drinks with a Scotsman I found in the sauna.
Anyway. If your gym has a sauna, you can alternate between sauna and shower for a similar effect. It’s also worth doing a little Googling to see if you have a Scandinavian-style spa (like Loyly here in Portland), Korean spa, or a Russian banya-style bathhouse.
You can also incorporate this hot-and-cold treatment into your morning routine as a very effective and life-affirming way to wake up. I start by turning on the shower as hot as it will go, to get my bathroom nice and steamy. I then turn off the water, stand in the warm steam for a bit, then turn throw the cold on. It feels a little violent, but I only leave it on long enough to drench my hair, then I return the water to my normal showering temperature.
I did it just this morning, in fact, and emerged from my shower so awake, I forgot to make coffee until 10:45 am. I won’t say it obliterated my mild hangover brought on by a few too many “welcome home” martinis, but I will say I was able to eat breakfast, which is rare on a morning after a few too many martinis.