The thing that draws me out of my warm, cosy bed each morning is the thought of a freezing cold shower. I've said this to a few people now and it really is a bit of a conversation stopper. To be honest it's not a sentence that I ever thought I would hear myself say yet here I am, saying and doing it.
I have Claire Missingham to thank for introducing me to Ishnaan which became part of the Sadhana project (self study) required for my 300 hour Advanced Teacher Training. Ishnaan is a deeply cleansing and rejuvenating hydrotherapy that has been practised in the East since ancient times. It involves dowsing the body with refreshingly cold water (refreshing is my new word for really!) whilst using massage techniques to enable the body to 'manage' the challenge. As the capillaries contract in reaction to the cold water they withdraw supply from the external surfaces. This contraction stimulates the circulatory and lymphatic systems and flushes the internal organs with fresh blood. Muscles contract in response as they work to keep the body warm creating a massage effect which squeezes out debris and effectively detoxifies the body.
The practice is best summed up in the words of Yogi Bhajan, a spirtual leader who brought Kundalini yoga to the west in the late 1960s:
"We are not fools to tell you get up in the morning and have cold shower, all we want is the blood to circulate through capillaries and there is no way to open the capillaries when to take a cold shower, there is no other way. Absolutely it's called... in west it's called hydrotherapy, in east it's called Ishnaan. And it's the most beautiful thing. But it's very cold in the morning you know. Because when you take a cold shower the blood from inside hits outside to cover the attack. In that fast movement it ends up opening the capillaries. When capillaries are open they feed your glands, when a glandular system is well-fed it secretes, the chemistry of your blood becomes perfect. That gives you a capacity to act, think, know, and it gives you grit, stamina. What is so bad about it?"
The benefits are multiple. Not only is the practice deeply cleansing to the internal systems of the body but as the nervous and glandular system are strengthened regular cold showers can increase energy levels, boost mood, relieve anxiety and mild depression -there has also been research into the positive effect this technique has on improving the symptoms of conditions such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and headaches. If you need some instant gratification then the illuminating effect is has on the skin will have you turning the temperature dial all the way to blue each morning.
1. Rub almond, sesame or jojoba oil onto the body including the soles of the feet - this is an important part of the ritual as it creates a slight barrier of protection.
2. Turn the shower on and starting with your feet, use a sisal brush and make long regular strokes towards the heart. Work your way up the body, (avoiding the groin and inner thighs) and finish by allowing the cold water to drench the face. Try to stay in for at least 2 minutes and no longer than 5, but you can work your way up to this.
3. When you come out of the shower instantly cloak yourself in a big warm fluffy towel and rub yourself completely dry. You can take a few moments to glory in how amazing your skin looks and feels but don't overdo it!
4. Once dry put on warm clothes and rest or meditate for a few minutes.
Try it for 7 days and see how you feel. Do it for 40 days or more and I bet you, like me you'll be hooked. Yogi Bhajan says if you can face your fear of getting into cold water every morning you can do anything and to be honest that is the feeling that envelops me each time I step out and grab that expensive fluffy towel and cashmere socks that I bought with the money I saved on heating.
Note: Women should not take cold showers during their moon cycle, luke warm is advised. Similarly if you have a fever it is not recommended to perform Ishnaan. Should you have a medical complaint or are taking any medication then DO seek advice from your Doctor before undertaking any form of alternative therapy.