Cold Showers and Baths Stimulate Yang and Qi

Cold Showers in the snow
Photo by Jorge Fernández on Unsplash
  • What’s the best way to take cold showers so that they hurt least and do most good?
  • What’s the best temperature, and when to take them?
  • Who should NOT take cold baths and showers?
  • Cold showers and Anxiety; Blood Pressure; Testosterone; Weight Loss and … Dry Skin!

Cold Showers Benefit (Cold Baths too!)

Cold Showers?! You don’t have to be a Samurai or Keep-Fit warrior!

Men: once women understand the benefits, many get into the habit and love it! It’s really not that hard to begin.

Women: men have been doing this for centuries, so why not you? 

From the Chinese medical point of view –

  • why might you benefit form them? and
  • what is the right way to take cold showers?

 

What Scientific Evidence is there for Cold Showers Benefit?

If what you’re looking for is modern scientific research, click on cold showers benefit evidence then come back here for the Chinese medicine theory and advice. 

Why Cold Showers benefit Yang

For health, your body strives to maintain balance between Yin and Yang. At almost every moment, one or other predominates.

For example, if you are talking to a friend, you are displaying more Yang energy than he is. When he talks and you listen, you are more Yin and he is more Yang: you are receptive and he is active.

In your own body, your body is

  • either warming you up, for example on a cold day by physical activity or inclining you to wear more or seek a source of external warmth, or to eat something, or shivering
  • or on a hot day cooling you down by perspirating and sending blood to just under your skin surface, nudging you to bare your skin or to drink more

 

There are many cold showers health benefits as you’re going to discover! Read on for why cold showers are good for you!

Compare Cold Showers with what happens in a warm bath!

In a warm bath, your skin goes pink, you perspire and relax. These show your body doing its best to cool you down.  Here it exerts Yin Qi, doing its best to dissipate the heat. 

Conversely, in cold showers, you shiver, the pores of your skin close up and you tend to contract muscles. Here your body exerts energy (Qi) to keep you warm, specifically Yang Qi. 

You may notice that, save in exceptional situations, after a warm shower or bath lasting more than a few seconds, you will feel less energetic. Your body has to work quite hard to cool you down.

That’s why a warm bath before bedtime helps you to become soporific and, from the point of yin and yang, it temporarily warms you up – more yang – but gets your yin energy going to cool you.

As you get into bed, this yin energy is ‘motoring’ and helps lower your yang to calm your mind and body and thereby ‘subdue’ yang to the point where you easily fall asleep.

 

Car Engine
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

 

Similarly, if in hot weather you turn on your car’s air-conditioning, in small cars you can hear the engine labouring. It certainly uses up fuel faster with the air-conditioning turned on, and it’s the same with your body in a long, hot bath.

(Similarly, swimming fast in a warm swimming pool is very tiring because your body also has to work hard to cool you down, using your energy faster.)

What about in Cold Weather?

In cold weather, your car’s engine doesn’t use up much extra fuel, because the heat it generates anyway is simply diverted into the cabin instead of being cooled in the radiator: less fuel is needed.

So here’s the result. Cooling you down uses more fuel than warming you up. Both require Qi which the body finds from its own resources, but in or after heat you feel more tired than in cold.

Of course, I’m not talking about very long exposure to cold, which exceeds your ability to maintain warmth and ultimately might kill you, but about short controlled bursts of cold exposure.

If you have been exposed to cold for some time and have lost core temperature, you will feel slow and stiff until you can be warmed again, in a bath or in the sun. That’s not the situation I’m talking about here.

Chinese medical theory sums this up more succinctly:

  • In extreme Yin you create Yang. Yang energy is used to move, change and protect your body. (If you are short of Yang energy, ie Yang deficient, you tend to feel cold.)
  • In extreme Yang you create Yin. Yin energy is used to nourish and rest your body. (If you are short of Yin energy, as in Yin deficiency, you often feel a little warm or restless.) Yin deficient people are more exhausted by hot humid weather than Yang deficient people.

 

In cold showers – and baths – which are short bursts of cold, your body produces more Yang.

Yang Qi protects You

‘Wei’ Qi, the kind of Yang Qi that seems closest to the Western scientific concept of Immune Function, is boosted if your Yang Qi is increased.

This is a bit like irritating someone to react. Depending on their parents’ self-discipline small children quickly discover how this works to their benefit or cost: the child makes a noise and someone comes to check he’s all right. He asks the same question again and again until he gets a reaction.

Our bodies are the same. Give them a stimulus and they react. A small stimulus produces a good reaction. A huge stimulus can kill.

For example, if in the dead of a winter’s night you are snatched from your bed and dropped into the freezing Arctic sea wearing little or nothing, you will survive for hardly a minute. Then you’re dead.

However, if after a good night’s sleep you are still slow and sleepy, splash your face with cold water and you will quickly wake up.

 

The Hustler Movie Poster

 

Remember “The Hustler”, where Paul Newman played a small-time pool player? He learned to keep awake and alert by splashing his face with cold water rather than drinking alcohol.

This is a demonstration of an old observation, almost a ‘law’, that small stimuli benefit, but huge stimuli destroy.

Another example: a bash on your head with a mallet might be the end of you. A slap on your face provokes you.

 

Cold Showers are sources of Yin which provoke your Yang to respond

If you wonder what the result of a cold shower or bath is, the result is this:

  • you feel energised and cold showers may even help depression (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17993252)
  • your skin tightens and glows
  • you feel alert
  • you start to feel warm
  • your immune function should be enhanced, so cold showers help prevent colds, for example

 

Here’s another advantage! – Whereas emerging from a warm shower or bath into a cool bathroom or bedroom makes you feel cold, you won’t notice it when you get out of a cold shower. In fact, often the cool air feels warm!

Long-term, the scientific evidence supports the contention of people who take cold showers regularly that their circulation improves and they get ill less often. Also, they feel more positive. Probably, cold showers encourage mental toughness.

 

Yang Qi warms, moves and protects

Yang Qi can be stimulated, as described. A slap on the face, an irritating jibe at you, an insect bite … all provoke a Yang response of one kind or another.

But a dose of Yin does it too and, unlike a slap, a jibe or a bite, which can all be disturbing, cold showers just leave you feeling great!

(By the way, we’re writing a page on how to improve your circulation and warm up if you’re always cold. We’ll put the link here when it’s ready.)

How to take a cold shower: A Right way and a Wrong way

Cold showers for Health!
The Right way to take cold showers is to start with a warm one!

The correct way to take a cold shower, if you are new to this, is as follows. 

The First Stage…

1. Have a warm shower, as normal. Use your normal shampoo/soap and clean yourself as you usually do, washing off the soap afterwards with warm water. If you wash you hair too, even better.

2. First, bend your legs slightly. Then you’ll be able to bounce up and down as you start doing what I call the ‘bellows’ breath. This means you start taking deep breaths, in and out, as fast as you can. Doesn’t matter if it’s through your nose or your mouth, use both by all means, though nose-breathing is harder but thought to be better. But generate a bit of energy as you do it, so do it fast and vigorously. Anyone standing outside the bathroom should be able to hear you! This process generates Yang Qi and, if you continued it for long, it would be tiring.

3. But you’re not going to do it for long! – Because as you do it you turn the shower half-way to cold. (Personally, I think it’s even better turned all the way to as cold as possible, but if you’re reading this in winter and your cold water is near freezing, that might be a bit of a shock! So, beginners, turn it to cool, not cold. Later, be braver!)

4. As you turn the temperature down, turn your back so the water plays directly onto the top of your spine, between your shoulders, just below your neck. You’re aiming for the first of your thoracic vertebrae if you want to be exact but don’t worry too much exactly where as long as it’s at the top of your back. If you washed your hair, train the water first on the highest point on your scalp as you stand upright though I prefer to start with my upper back before going to my scalp.

5. Keep doing the bellows breath, pumping away!

The Next Stage …

6. If you started on your scalp, after say ten seconds there, let the water play next on your upper back for 10 seconds (probably about 10 quick pumps of the lungs.)

7. After say ten seconds on your upper back let the water play on your lower back for 10 seconds, then on your shoulders, next on your bum  and anal area (ten seconds) and backs of your legs (ten seconds each).

8. Keep bellowing the breaths!

9. Only then turn round and transfer the shower first to your  upper chest, just under your neck at the front. Ten seconds.

10. Finally, train the water onto your lower chest and abdomen and genital area – ten seconds before quickly again on your upper back for a final few seconds.

The Last Stage

11. Then turn the water off and return to normal breathing.

Rub yourself vigorously for maximum benefit after cold showers!

12. Feel the glow! Rub yourself down vigorously including your hair. (Over time, if you are brave enough, you’ll find drying your hair with a towel produces better-looking hair than with a hair-drier. However, you can’t shape your hair so well this way.) Get dressed and enjoy a day with more spring in your step than coffee could ever give you.

13. I’ve said 10 seconds everywhere, but the first few times, by all means make it 5 (five) seconds in each place.

 

A small tip: will save recriminations from the unenlightened…

After you turn off the shower, return the water temperature level to where you found it – probably warm or hot.

Otherwise the next user may wish to discuss the matter with you, possibly assertively.

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What next for your Cold Showers?

  1. When ready, next time, after your warm shower, immediately turn the water down to cold, ie as far as possible. Don’t do it slowly, do it fast! But …
  2. Always do the bellows breathing.
  3. Gradually extend the time in each area, from 10 seconds to 20 or more seconds.
  4. Don’t allow yourself to get cold. (What? I hear you say! What?!!!) Yes, stop immediately if you find yourself shivering violently for more than a few seconds. I don’t mean goose bumps or a mild shiver almost of anticipation, but uncontrollable shaking. If this happens you’ve exceeded your body’s limits and should get out of the shower, dry yourself vigorously and get dressed to warm up. I don’t recommend turning the heat up again although many do. 
  5. Why did the uncontrollable shivering occur? Probably because you hadn’t generated enough Yang energy with the bellows breathing, or you are suffering from an invasion of Wind-Cold or other disease picture, which would have been present before your took the shower.
  6. Don’t let this put you off! Just go back on the regime (unless you are suffering from Wind-Cold or other illness) and go through the steps with more caution. But always do the bellows breathing.

 

Cautions, Do’s and Don’ts 

 

Don’t take cold showers if:

Pregnancy and research on moxibuston

  • You are pregnant (although many pregnant women think regular cold showers keep them in better health than during earlier pregnancies before they adopted the regime). But even starting gradually can shock your system if you are new to it. So if you are pregnant and experienced with cold showers, OK, you know your body best! 
  • For beginners who are pregnant, better wait until after your baby is born.
  • You are ill – ie not feeling well, or with a fever, or other problem. In these circumstances a warm shower or bath may be better, without the cold shower. Remember, if you’re ill, there are other rules. Also, ‘sick people take sick decisions’ so you’d probably do something wrong!
Tired Man - don't take cold showers if you are tired.
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash
  • You are tired or chilled. Here you may not have enough yin resources to supply the yang energy to warm you up. For the same reason, if you slept very badly and feel exhausted on rising, don’t take a cold shower until you are more properly rested.
  • What about Cold Showers Before Bed? Although many people do take a cold shower before bedtime, in general it is better to take a warm (not hot) shower then and gradually cool down from it in bed. The reason for not taking cold showers before bedtime or if tired or chilled is that you may find it harder to raise your Yang energy with the bellows breathing. Also, raising Yang energy at bedtime is counterproductive when trying to settle, as too much Yang makes you wakeful or restless.
  • If you are tired or chilled and it’s not bedtime or anywhere near it, by all means take a hot shower to warm up. After you have warmed up properly then by all means take a quick cold shower as explained, but with much shorter time intervals in each position: not 10 seconds in each place but just 2 seconds in each place.

 

Why take Cold Showers this way?

The reason for taking cold showers as explained is that this method concentrates on building Yang energy in your body. That Yang energy makes you better at responding to all sorts of stimuli, nice and nasty.

  • The bellows breathing generates Qi. When you use a lower gear in your car to ascend hills or pull a caravan, you rev the engine. That revving generates heat and power. By doing the Bellows breathing you do the same. It makes your body ready for anything.
  • Your scalp and upper back are where all your Yang channels of acupuncture assemble. By starting there you utilise your body’s most natural Yang area first. 
  • One of the most Yin areas in our body is in the front low down, ie your abdomen. You play the water there only after you’ve ‘summoned’ Yang energy everywhere else. 
  • (In the same way, if you are attacked by someone, the natural response is to turn away from them, or to run away. If you can’t run away, you curl up, round that important Yin centre in your abdomen. That turns your back on your assailant. In other words, the natural response is to turn Yang areas to assailants to protect the Yin area.)

 

Cold Showers benefit both yin and yang deficiency!

What if you are Yin Deficient?

If you are Yang deficient, obviously this regime is excellent because it boosts Yang.

But if you are Yin deficient, won’t increasing Yang make your condition worse?

Answer:  No. Because you need Yang to create Yin, and doing this helps whizz your Yang energy around your body, encouraging it to get balanced again.

The benefit here comes in the hours after the shower, not so much during it, although being Yin deficient you probably feel slightly warmer than usual so the cool water can feel pleasant.

However, Yin deficient people should start with shorter intervals: not 10 seconds in each place but just 2 or 3 seconds.

And stay with cool showers for longer before venturing to cold.

Cold Showers for Anxiety?

Cold showers for anxiety will help some but not all kinds. Read our page on Acupunture and Anxiety to see the different ways Chinese medicine sees and treats it.

I think Cold showers for anxiety would help most syndromes unless there were already great signs of Heat or stress. So cold showers might not help, for example, extreme cases of Liver Fire, Heart Fire or Diaphragm Heat, and likewise it might not help all cases of Qi Stagnation.

However, try cold showers for anxiety, even if yours is one of the kinds I am doubtful about! And let me know the result, good or bad! Use the comment box at the food of the page. That way, I learn and can pass it on.

Cold Showers & Blood Pressure?

Although cold showers mainly benefit your yang energy, they also benefit yin, and so, for most people with high blood pressure, cold showers will have a regulating effect, tending to bring it down if it’s too high and bring it up if it’s too low.

But this assumes you take the cold shower regularly as explained. Just doing it once, to experiment, won’t make much difference and might exacerbate the condition briefly. Make it a habit!

Cold Showers and Testosterone?

Cold showers and sexual energy

Yin-yang theory suggests cold showers boost yang, which would include testosterone, but this assumes you aren’t ill or tired, as explained above.

While I can’t definitely prove that testosterone increases after a quick cold shower, the glint in your eye definitely will, and as we all know, getting your head and mind in the right place is your prime objective.

What we do know is that cool testes tend to promote better DNA processes leading to more sperm volume, motility and quality. See also this research.

However, taking more exercise is even more effective, and of course, good nutrition and eating habits are vital.

One study found that winter temperatures benefited sperm morphology.

What about Cold Showers after Workout?

Cold contricts and tightens, so if you’ve damaged any muscles during workout, cold could worsen it – see next paragraph – by pulling ligaments and tendons further apart, potentially damaging them more. Also cold inhibits circulation and with compression, stops supplies of healing Blood circulating to the hurt area.

However, if you’ve done no damage, it is still better take a warm shower first, then follow with a cold shower as explained.

For damaged tendons, sprains and strains, ontrary to ‘received’ opinion, which advises the R.I.C.E. protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) in most cases I advise Rest, Warmth and Elevation.

  • Rest, because you may cause more damage and pain by forcing movement
  • Warmth because it relaxes you and helps blood flow to the damaged area. Also, avoid compression if possible, because in effect you’re preventing the formation of a bruise, so prolonging healing.
  • Elevation, because this helps your body drain away old damaged tissues as your body replaces them with good new blood, and also because elevation usually reduces pain. But listen to what you body tells you! Very occasionally it may hurt more to raise the damaged area, in which case – don’t!

 

I suspect that inhibiting the body’s natural ability to warm the area and let blood flow freely to and from it, as you do when using ice and compression, has a long-term deleterious effect, possibly leading to rheumatic problems years later. Read our page on Suppression for more about this.

Cold Showers for Weight Loss?

I doubt if cold showers to lose weight make much difference, I’m afraid.

Exercise, not cold showers, is usually better for weight loss.

You have two main kinds of fat cells, ‘brown’ and ‘white’. Some of the white cells can sometimes be persuaded to turn brown, and these are called ‘brite’ (brown/white)cells.

Browncells have lots of mitochondria, the energy furnaces that keep you warm, and they lie around your neck, above your collar-bone, along your spine and in your upper back. So training cold water there first may encourage them to stoke their furnaces – yang!

Your white fat cells are mostly either round your inner organs (visceral fat) or under your skin, all over (sub-cutaneous).

White fat cells convert excess glucose from food into fat (‘lipid’) droplets, usually as molecules called triglycerides. These help to regulate appetite and energy balance. But they also show up as what we recognise, for better or worse, as ‘fat’. This is the ‘fat’ that people want to reduce. (‘Most’ people?! Many of us thinnies would like a little more ‘fat’, even muscle!)

Brite fat cells are white fat cells that have been persuaded to turn ‘brown’.

How do you help them to do that? Answer:

  • eat the right foods (basically this boils down to avoiding most, especially refined, grains, instant foods and sugary or sweet food and instead eating whole foods, lots of vegetables and so on – more about this under Nutrition)
  • take more exercise
  • expose yourself for long periods to temperatures a couple of degrees above the point where you shiver. In other words, acclimatise yourself to cold. (How long, you ask is a ‘long period’? Two hours for sure, and daily. No point doing it just once!)

 

A Story I remember from Childhood (about 9)

He was a scientist and his work required him to work out of doors. His job took him from the UK to Northern Greenland in the summer.

 

He couldn’t believe how COLD it was there. He said he needed all the clothes he’d brought with him, and he had to borrow others’ clothes too!

 

It took him around 6 weeks to acclimatise.

 

He worked there through the winter, the next summer and returned to a snow-covered UK in late January, some 18 months after departing.

 

He couldn’t believe how HOT it was in the UK winter!

 

It took him many weeks to re-acclimatise to the British temperatures!

 

I was too young to know about the Ayurvedic Doshas, but my dim memory is of someone well-built, perhaps a Kapha type.

It takes time to acclimatise to colder climates: not cold showers.

On another page (How to Warm Up if You’re Always Cold) I argue that exposing yourself to Cold may work better for Pitta and Kapha types. The third type, Vata, seldom needs to lose fat and would probably benefit least from long exposure to cold.

So, it seems that the only other way to get rid of white fat cells is by increasing your need for energy and/or to fast: ie take more exercise, or starve – or both. If you do one or both of these, your white fat cells eventually turn into fatty acids which your body can burn for energy. But it’s not a very pleasant method, you’ll soon find. And scientists are still arguing about this whole process of ketogenesis.

Taking cold showers the way I describe does not stimulate your white fat cells to turn into brown fat cells, so is unlikely to cause weight loss.

What Else and What about Cold Baths?

  • Hydrotherapy has many benefits, worth reading about
  • Cold baths are the next step. Rather more thorough. Start with Cold Showers. Also, you might break a toe jumping into the cold bath, like my father did once.

 

Cold Showers & Dry Skin?

This is a big subject, not easy to answer quickly.

  • If habitually your skin dries and cracks in cold weather or winter, cold showers may, given time, help a bit. But make absolutely sure you get really warm in a warm shower before your very brief cold shower. More important – for you – is adequate clothing, avoidance of extreme cold exposure, the right nutrition for your type (emphasis on warm food, plenty of oily food and green vegetables and not much fruit if it’s winter) and, if you can accept homoeopathy, receiving from an experienced homoeopath a remedy for psora. And don’t forget exercise, both to build muscle and to maintain circulation. If you can, build some muscle, and get in the habit of exercising it so you warm up. That warmth will go some way to maintaining enough heat in your system to keep your skin warm and flexible.
  • Cold showers contract your sweat and oil pores. Hot showers, on the other hands open them, so can drain out the oils you need.  So if you have dry and cracked skin and you are in the habit of having hot baths or showers, and then applying copious creams, you may be better reducing the hot baths and showers (and their level of heat) and instead taking a cold shower after a brief warm showwer. If you briskly rub yourself down afterwards, you’ll stimulate your skin to produce more oil. Do this often enough and your skin will improve. But … ! I know it’s not easy if you’re very used to your hot baths and ample unguents!
  • For deeper understanding check Spleen Yang deficiency. Although cracked, dry skin isn’t listed as a symptom there, it certainly could be.
  • Read up on Kidney Yang deficiency and Kidney Yang foods.

 

Summary for Cold Showers

  1. Not if pregnant, cold, ill/sick or tired.
  2. Take warm shower and wash with soap/shampoo first.
  3. Bellows breathing.
  4. Turn water temperature down.
  5. Start on scalp (if you washed your hair) or upper back.
  6. Then on other Yang surfaces: back and legs, sides.
  7. Only then on Yin surfaces: front and abdomen.
  8. Finish with a brief return to most Yang surface – upper back.
  9. Dry yourself vigorously and dress immediately.

 

A small warning! DAMP!

 

Swan Lilo in the Swimming Pool: too long a cold shower may increase DAMP.
Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

 

Swimming is a great sport, and helps millions of people enjoy their bodies and keep fit. 

But too long in wet conditions, hot or cold, (or even just sitting too long in a wet bathing costume) can produce a syndrome in Chinese medicine called DAMP

Nobody wants Damp. Look it up!

From this page on Cold Showers find out about the Scientific – and Anecdotal – Evidence for cold showers.

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2 Responses

  1. The information and the way it’s arranged, presented and linked here is excellent, but unfortunately the experience is marred by a multitude of popping adverts that make reading the sections and paragraphs very jumpy and frustrating. Even as I type this the typing window keeps jumping about. A pity.

    1. Thanks Thea for your praise, and yes, we are aware of the annoying way the adverts make reading jumpy. We are investigating ways of improving this, but don’t hold your breath, it’s more complicated than we thought.

      Of course, we could get rid of the adverts altogether, but then we wouldn’t have funds with which to improve the site – and we have lots of plans for that. Ultimately we hope not to have to advertise or to do so in a less intrusive way.

      Thank you again for your contribution. Obviously we are sensitive to criticism, but we need to hear it, even so. Best wishes, Jonathan

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