I Cold-Plunged Every Day for a Month—Here’s What I Learned
One yoga teacher immersed herself in freezing water for 31 days. Here’s her advice for how you can do it, too.
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This article was first published by YogaJournal.
As the owner of a hot yoga studio in Rhode Island, Brooke Finocchiaro spends most of her days sweating. But for the first 31 days of 2023, she started them by freezing—voluntarily.
For the month of January, Finocchiaro subjected herself to a daily cold plunge in the ocean and chronicled her efforts on TikTok. She had started practicing regular cold water immersions at the beginning of the pandemic, inspired by the Wim Hof method, as a way to help manage her seasonal depression. She saw her mental energy increase with each plunge.
This winter, as a byproduct of her anxiety and the stress of being a small business owner, she saw her mood drop even more. “As soon as you turn your passion into your career, it’s not as easy to relax during a yoga class,” she says. “So, I’ve had to turn to other coping mechanisms for my anxiety and depression.”
In an attempt to better her mental health, Finocchiaro decided to embark on a monthlong challenge of doing a cold plunge every day. She headed to the ocean most early mornings for her immersion although sometimes squeezed her plunges in during the afternoon due to her work schedule. Once on the dock or sand, she would ditch her warm puffer jacket, strip down to a bathing suit, and wade into frigid waters.
For the yoga teacher and studio owner, it’s a part of her day when she’s focused on doing something for herself.
Her elevated mood kept her coming back to the water—even on the coldest days. “Once you’re done with a plunge, you have all this energy,” she says. “For me, it clears my mind and gives me the energy to get through the rest of the day.” Throughout the month of January, she found herself able to forego that afternoon cup of coffee, revitalized instead by her quick dip.
The Science Behind Cold Plunging
Chris Minson, a professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon, conducts research on thermoregulation—the impact that extreme heat and cold have on the body. While most of his studies focus on the benefits of heat, he says there’s some evidence that a euphoric feeling may follow an acute cold immersion. However, he says more research needs to be conducted on the topic in order to find out more about how long these feelings can last and the mechanisms behind them.
The impact of the freeze may go beyond that feeling of joy. In a new study that has yet to be released to the public, he and his team of researchers found that when looking at a positive-negative affect (i.e. how good you feel about things versus how bad you feel about things), people felt less negative following a brief cold water immersion, he says.
Not ready to subject yourself to a cold plunge? You may be able to reap similar benefits from extreme heat immersion, such as a sauna or hot tub. Evidence suggests that even one session of heat therapy a week reduces rates of depression, Minson says. Ultimately, it’s about find the right kind of temperature treatment for your body.
With her her month-long challenge behind her, Finocchiaro says she’ll still continue to regularly plunge, even if it isn’t every day. “I’m not trying to prove something,” she says. “For me, it’s about connecting to nature and getting outside even when it’s 30 degrees and snowing or raining. It’s about embracing the winter.”
It’s also about introducing others to the joy of cold immersion. During her monthlong commitment, she started leading community plunges with her students after her Saturday yoga class, a practice she plans to continue throughout the winter.
What You Need to Know About Cold Plunging
Cold plunging isn’t nearly as simple as a summer dip. Following are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about heading out for an icy immersion.
Don’t Dive In
Your front dive may be gorgeous, but you’ll want to forgo it when entering cold water. Minson says if you immediately immerse your head in freezing water, you’ll experience an instinctive “gasping response,” which causes you to try to breathe in a lot of air. When this occurs in deep water, the possibility of drowning increases. Instead, slowly wade into the water.
Focus on Staying Calm
While you may be excited (or nervous!) for your cold immersion, Finocchiaro says it’s essential to remain calm in order to avoid hyperventilating. For her, that means moving into the water with presence and ease. “My first few times, I ran in and was so excited, but then I started hyperventilating and couldn’t get myself to calm down,” she says. She alleviated that by walking in slowly and mindfully, drawing on the very same breathwork that she teaches. A meditation practice can also be beneficial in grounding you in the present moment.
Test Your Cold Shower Tolerance First
Finocchiaro recommends getting used to the concept of a freezing plunge by testing out a cold shower. Even just tacking on a few initial seconds of cold to the beginning or end of your daily rinse can help you acclimate to the frigid temperatures of a cold plunge. If you don’t have access to a body of water, a regular cold shower can also replace a plunge.
Minson encourages his students to try the cold shower challenge by foregoing the typical hot shower for an icy one. While many of the students stop taking the cold showers after the challenge, a few report that they continue for the sense of elation after the ritual.
Short and Effective
Your cold plunge doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t) be lengthy. Finocchiaro says she’ll typically stay in the water for no more than a minute or 90 seconds. It won’t take long for you to feel the affects.