Cold Showers and Baths
Stimulate Yang and Qi
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- What's the best way to take cold showers so that they hurt least and do most good?
- What's the best temperature?
- Who should NOT take cold baths and showers?
- When should you take a cold shower?
Benefits of Cold Showers and Baths
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: many men have been doing this for centuries, so why not you? (See above: Samurai Girl©Ioana Grecu at Dreamstime.com)
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 Shower Benefits?
If what you're looking for is modern scientific research, click on cold shower 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
- 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
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.
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.)
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.
Image details : Frozen LakeID: 108321 © Ichtor | Dreamstime Stock Photos
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.
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
- your skin glows
- you feel alert
- you start to feel warm
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.
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!
A Right way and a Wrong way
The correct way to take a cold shower, if you are new to this, is as follows.
- 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. 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. At the same time, bend your knees slightly, so you can bounce up and down as you breathe. To generate a bit of energy as you do the breathing, 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!
- 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.
- 11. Then turn the water off and return to normal breathing.
- 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.
What next for your Cold Showers?
- 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 ...
- Always do the bellows breathing.
- Gradually extend the time in each area, from 10 seconds to 20 or more seconds.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and Do's and Don'ts
Don't take cold showers if:
- You are pregnant (although I know many pregnant women who think regular cold showers keep them in better health than during earlier pregnancies before they adopted the regime). But even done gradually this can be a shock to your system if you are new to it. So if you are pregnant and have been taking cold showers for some time, OK, you know your body best!
- But for beginners who are pregnant, perhaps it would be better to 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!
- You are tired or chilled. For example, although many people do take a cold shower before bedtime, in general it is probably better for most people to take a warm (not hot) shower before bedtime and gradually cool down from it in bed. The reason for not taking a cold shower at bedtime or if tired or chilled is that you may find it harder to raise your Yang energy with the bellows breathing. Also, for some, raising our Yang energy at bedtime is counterproductive because your are trying to settle, and having too much Yang around 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 assailers to protect the Yin area.)
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.
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.
Summary for Cold Showers
- Not if pregnant, cold, ill or tired.
- Take warm shower and wash with soap/shampoo first.
- Bellows breathing.
- Turn water temperature down.
- Start on scalp (if you washed your hair) or upper back.
- Then on other Yang surfaces: back and legs, sides.
- Only then on Yin surfaces: front and abdomen.
- Finish with a brief return to most Yang surface - upper back.
- Dry yourself vigorously and dress immediately.
A small warning! DAMP!
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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