Lessons From The Ice

I didn’t pack a towel. I knew that doing so would mean that somehow, I partly committed myself to submerging my body in 40-something degree water with a fairly large amount of ice floating around its surface. Furthermore, there was the voice of reason, really the voice of resistance, that asked me in so many ways WHY would I do such a thing again? I had already experienced it once before to at least be able to describe it. I gave myself a random future date to get in an ice bath and released the idea of getting in this time around. So I left my towel and thus “secured” my excuse for not being able to get into the water. 

This was my second time participating in the Wim Hof Method Workshop with lead facilitator Bob Soulliere. This time however, I didn’t register as a participant, so there was no personal commitment on my part towards getting into the ice bath, or at least I hadn’t assigned myself one. Still, something other than spending quality time with Bob, called me back to experiencing the cold, even if from the sidelines as a co-facilitator. For all participants, there’s no obligation to submerge fully into the water. One could choose to stick a body part in the ice bath for a bit before pulling it away. Or one could submerge their entire body before deciding to get out immediately. The choice is always up to the individual. There was no pressure from Bob. Still somehow, everyone committed fully to the process. I wondered if like me, part of what called them to the process had anything to do with their ego binding them to it. Even if it was simply to explore what could occur out of sheer curiosity. I felt supported by my ego for that very reason. If not for my ego, I’d feel largely indifferent about not getting in the ice bath. I’d feel really relaxed about not meeting an opportunity to grow. My only conscious intention for signing up was to support the lead facilitator. I gave myself a get outta jail card as co-facilitator, only planning to assist with setting up the space, passing out materials, perhaps answering some questions, coaching the new participants as they experienced the ice bath for the first time and then helping with packing up. Evidently spirit had other plans for me, because I layered up, wearing two outfits technically. I hadn’t considered that the second layer of clothing would replace the entirely wet clothes I’d worn that morning to keep warm. 

During the lecture and discussion portion of the workshop, I felt no pressure about submerging myself into the ice bath. There were 7 participants -all of them new to the ice bath experience. Each of them had varied backgrounds with breathing practices, etc. When at last it was time for meeting body to ice, I was front and center, watching each participant enter the cold water and simply commit. They went into the bath like pros. Most of them were very calm, at least visibly. I wasn’t impressed because yes, it is possible to sit in an ice bath, but I was amazed witnessing each of them in their personal unfolding. I stood next to Bob who was squatting eye-level with the participants coaching them through. From time to time, I’d speak encouraging words to each of them while thinking, “Wow look at him! Look at her! They’re not panicking at all. They’re so quiet… so still.” I remember saying a few times to the more quiet ones, “Be raggedy with your exhales.” or “Feel free to make sounds.” Hearing those words felt like lifelines to me sitting in the ice bath my first time. 

One of the participants in particular was so still. It didn’t seem to phase him even a tiny bit. I couldn’t detect an ounce of resistance as he sat in the bath. I watched him thinking to myself, “Could I get in and be like that? If he can do, I can do it.” It fueled a willingness within me to have a second go at it. Again, something I was not intending on in the least. 

With every round, a new participant would have their turn and my thoughts became more and more pronounced, all of them pressing me to participate. It was as if my thoughts had a set of eyes that were locked with mine while asking, “What about you?! You getting in?!”

And exactly like the first time, I couldn’t come up with a legitimate reason quick enough for not getting into the ice bath. To me, not even the fact that I’ve purposely neglected to bring a towel was a good enough reason to stay out of the cold water.

More thoughts came… “Look at this set up though! It’s so beautiful. The sun is out. There’s light this time. Remember last time you got in? It was dark by then. When are you gonna have this opportunity again? It’s not like you own a tub where you can facilitate this yourself. And even if you did, you don’t have a crew helping you through it. I know it’s comfortable not to do it, but you’re gonna feel unsettled about not doing it after you leave here. You know you are. You’ve been taking cold showers at home. Wasn’t it to do this again?”

The thoughts wouldn’t let up until I changed my mind and decided yes to getting in the ice bath. Just as soon as I decided to commit, other thoughts came… “Really? You’re doing this? Are you gonna take off your leggings or keep them on? No seriously… you’re doing this? Oooh here she comes yall! Whew! She’s actually doing this! Ok.”

After everyone had their turn, Bob stood up and asked if anyone wanted a second round? Even though I decided I’d get in, I remained quiet. There may have been a sliver of a chance I’d be overlooked. He then looked to me and excitedly asked, “Jasiri!?”

I sighed internally. Something I couldn’t ignore -an audible voice with witnesses around to hear it, asked me if I wanted to meet with the ice? Again, no qualifying reason came up quick enough to not get in, and so I readied myself. I removed my shirt from around my hips, kept my leggings on and climbed in thinking the first time was surely the hardest and so my second experience would be more forgiving. As I stepped into the ice bath, I immediately realized I was wrong to think so. I quickly submerged my body into the cold bath, not out of excitement, but to bond myself to the process before possibly changing my mind.

The ice must have invisible claws reaching to pull every inch of you into its grips. But something profound happened. It brought me directly and squarely into the moment as it was, as I was and kept me there, fully present. There’s no escaping something so in your face, so in your body and breath. Your whole self must be present. And you’re the one that chooses it to be so. It gripped at me while daring me to show up to every single ounce of both my inhales and exhales. I closed my eyes. There’s only one reason why I do so -to get away from the snaring cold.  But even with closed eyes, the ice is still there. The cold is everywhere all at once. With every inhale I took, I was choosing to be there. I chose to commit with each breath. But what was I committing to? Partly my ego for certain. I wanted to have something to celebrate about meeting the process with resilience and commitment. I also wanted to beat the pattern of starting and stopping a thing without seeing it to completion. It was certainly personal. The thought of not having gone through it, after we’ve packed up for the day kept me sat in the cold water. The missed opportunity to expand and continue learning how to live with discomfort comfortably kept me sat in the cold water. 

My breathing was raggedy. I may have made sounds to help me acclimate to the cold. It’s highly likely. Somehow, the same as my first experience, it brought me back to laboring with my son Zen. Part of me nursed myself through my breathing, letting it be what it needed to be, initially untamed, and the other part of me clung to Bob’s voice. Both kept me sat in the cold water until I was calm. And yes, gradually I became calm. I smiled eventually. Even giggled. It was a complete wonder. I’m certain most of what makes this process wondrous, still lies beneath the surface of the ice bath.

I appreciate how effortlessly, this process encourages my primal faculties to activate instinctively, fully feeling without boundaries like amazing love making. There’s a total willingness to be as I am -a willingness to allow what must be expressed to have room to be as it needs with no hiding. Only the truth of what is, surfaces more and more while simultaneously diving further and further inward towards my depth sustains the unfolding. It’s as if I’ve moved aside and observed life do the wondrous thing that it does. The pure intelligence of the body doing what it’s designed to do is overwhelmingly miraculous to me. I could still hear Bob’s voice coaching me to be raggedy with my exhales and to witness the feelings. It helped tremendously.

I recalled several times wanting to exit the ice bath before getting to the 1 minute mark. The thought of it was quite persistent. What kept me in? Well I wasn’t dying right there in the moment. I was just uncomfortable. And so I told the body we’re going to stay in until we arrived  at a calming, until there was coherence between mind and body. And we did. We got there. I felt the switch that Bob consistently mentions with each participant. Yes, there’s an actual turning point when the body no longer resists the cold. Both mind and body are coherent and present towards the objective at hand. It’s quite exhilarating. I imagine there are so many parts moving, so much that’s occurring beneath the surface of the skin, deep inside the body that comes together to ensure your success of meeting with calmness, clarity and yes, dare I say joy. What a process!!!

This is one of those ultimate experiences that calls you to show up between a heck yes and a hell no! But there it is -a wide open door in service to your growth, seeing and feeling in ways that are more refined with every participation and active practice. 

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