juillet 19, 2014

Beginning the day with energy and courage


Here’s the way that, every morning, I boost my courage and vitality far past the level I woke up with.

I dare you to try the following.


I emerge from sleep gummy, pasty, amorphous, sore, knowing that a few minutes later I’ll be in top form. That I’ll shed my 47-year-old skin and feel ten years old again.

Happy to be alive. Enthusiastic. Sparkling. Ready to shout and sing (so different from my spirit as I stumble to the bathroom after dragging myself out of the bed).

I also feel — in the moment at least — like I can face anything life throws at me. I am totally awake, lit, ready to start the day.

Before I describe it, a few preliminary notes:

  • It takes just a few minutes.
  • Now’s the perfect moment to start (in the northern hemisphere at least).
  • It poses no risk, except perhaps if you suffer from acute back pain or you’re on the verge of a heart attack.
  • Regular practice strengthens the immune system wonderfully, increases pain tolerance, and fights chronic fatigue.
  • Other research suggests it also helps you lose weight.
  • And finally, the anti-depressant effect is unmistakable.

If I’m beating around the bush, it’s because I can already hear your response: “Oh no, not that, I could never do that, no thanks!”

So I want to emphasize the advantages and pleasures associated with the thing. So that you don’t reject out of hand the chance to try it for ten days. To discover whether, surprise, surprise, it may work for you after all.

« Ok, Yan, out with it. »

Okay. So, without further ado, what I do and what I invite you to try is:

Take a cold shower on waking

Yeah, I know. Not such an exciting idea. There’s a reason that we say “It was like a cold shower” when our expectations are crushed by reality.

Who would be masochistic enough to inflict the torture of a cold shower just after leaving the arms of Morpheus? Especially if you’re chilly, right?


I have always tended to be cold — that’s why I’ve always hated winter, during which I always have cold hands and feet.

Except last winter.

Last winter was especially harsh here in Quebec. But I don’t remeber ever feeling less tested, less stressed than this winter when I maintained the habit of taking an icy shower every morning.

Thanks for the stress

Which isn’t surprising, once you realize what the stress of exposure to the cold does:

  • (after a minute) thermogenesis, in other words, the body starts generating heat;
  • (after a few weeks) a process of habituation, in other words, the body starts adapting to the new situation.

This is called hormesis: the repeated exposure of an organism to a light dose of a stressful agent strengthens it.

Why I continue

I first tried this in May 2013 and haven’t missed a morning. Even though I am cold and not particularly brave (or masochistic).

In fact, I should say: because I tend to be cold and because I don’t consider myself especially courageous.

Initially, the challenge was real. Even though I knew very well that it posed no risk to me, my body seemed to think otherwise, and did everything it could to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea. That I couldn’t stand it. That it was too cold.

In truth, it was indeed too cold. But I could do it anyway. First I put in my face. Then the head. The the whole body, for a minute, doing a jerky dance and crying out while I soaped and rinsed myself furiously.

I emerged each time in indescribably good humor and with a wealth of vigor and courage — because, in the end, I was indeed capable of it.

One minute gradually became five minutes (the first minute is the hardest). I shortened the time a bit during the winter, when I stopped counting (and when I mixed in a scant bit of hot water to the cold to be able to tolerate the excrutiatingly cold water during wintertime here).

And I am still doing it a year later for the pleasure of it — even though, before opening the tap, I always think, “oh no, not that again this morning!”.

The thought comes, but so what. I open the tap, and it’s on.



So, up for a challenge?

Come on, it’s summer, it’s hot anyway, it’s easy.

The challenge: try it for ten days. Pure cold water. Start with one minute, then add 15 seconds each day until you’re up to four or five minutes.

Thrills and good humor guaranteed… You even have my permission to curse at me 🙂

I’ll be curious to hear about it!


p.s. Thanks to Todd Becker for introducing me to the cold shower and the principles of hormesis, and Joel Runyon for the initial push to try it. Recommended reading for those who want to learn more before plunging in…

photos: Panayiotis Filippou, derekbruff