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Take the Plunge to Alleviate Stress In Your Life

Ice baths and focusing on breathing has benefits that go beyond the physical.

Let me preface this by saying I hate the cold. Give me temps over 85 and even humidity over below freezing temps and snow. With this in mind, I surprised myself when I took part in an ice bath and breathwork session with Lauren Schramm. The Global Nike Trainer hosts workshops in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, but for this, she drove to the Catskills for a friend’s birthday. How could I not participate when everyone else was eager to take the plunge!

During our session, I learned so much about the benefits of ice baths and how breathing a certain way can calm oneself instantly. Oh, and I found out I’m more resilient than I thought! Schramm hosts the MVMT Podcast where she discusses how to reframe fitness and wellness practices in everyday life. Here she goes into more detail about the benefits of submerging in water that can range from 35 to 60 degrees as well as centering ourselves by simply breathing.

Lauren Schramm prepares the ice bath.

Lauren Schramm prepares the ice bath.

Taking the plunge with Lauren Schramm.

Taking the plunge with Lauren Schramm.

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When and why did you first get into ice baths and breathwork?

“I have a background in yoga. I did my teacher training 11 years ago and fell in love with the way breathwork techniques can alter the state of your mind and body. In using different techniques, you’re able to energize, focus and center yourself or calm yourself down and some even put you to sleep. A few years ago, I came across Wim Hof [Dutch motivational speaker also known as The Iceman] and was intrigued by the intensity of what he was doing. I found a workshop teaching the Wim Hof Method and had an amazing experience. I then certified with XPT and have been hosting workshops in Williamsburg ever since.”

Can you describe what happens in the workshops and what the benefits are?

“Simply put, we submerge ourselves in a tub of ice-cold water (between 35-60 degrees) with the intention of purposefully stressing the body (physically and mentally) so that we’re able to increase our stress tolerance and better handle stress in the near future. When I say stress, I mean everything from traffic and feeling overworked to intense workouts and long-distance runs. Many people don’t consider their workouts to be stressful because often they find relief from their mental stress after completing them, but it’s helpful to think of it this way because the body is being asked to recover from physical stress in addition to any mental or emotional stress you may be experiencing. This consideration should inform how much you allow yourself to recover before stressing yourself again. We need adequate recovery or we won’t make positive gains (meaning our body and mind won’t benefit from the stress we’ve put it under).”

“The most common approaches to a plunge are three rounds of three minutes or one round of six minutes, but it’s safe to stay in for up to 15 minutes. It’s safe to do a cold exposure every day, but you always want to avoid exposing your body to the cold for longer than 15 minutes at a time. More isn’t necessarily better. I’ve found my sweet spot to be a weekly exposure for the mental and stress-reducing benefits. I always find it best to listen to your body and see what it’s craving. It’s really up to how accessible and convenient it is for you to get into an ice bath.”

How is this different from cryotherapy?

“Cryotherapy essentially tricks your body into thinking it’s freezing so that healing occurs in the tissue through reducing inflammation and pain. Since you remain dry during the experience, it’s not as shocking to the system, therefore this method doesn’t elicit those same mental-stress coping mechanisms that you have no choice but to deal with when you submerge yourself in the discomfort of the ice bath or a freezing cold shower. If you’re looking to reduce inflammation, speed physical recovery and help with pain management, cryotherapy is an accessible option.”

If someone doesn't have a nearby place for an ice bath, how can someone do this at home?

“If you’re looking to create an at-home set-up, you have a few options. In my workshops, we’re pretty low-tech and just use a 100-gallon tub which can be found at a hardware store. I fill that three-quarters of the way with water, then add 80-100 pounds of ice. If you’re looking to do exposures regularly and don’t want to have to dump/refill the tub constantly, there are some new options on the market for tubs that filter the cold water so you can hop in whenever you please!”

How about a cold shower for a set number of minutes? Is that a good alternative?

“A cold shower is a great alternative if you don’t have regular access to a tub full of ice. Turning your water to cold at the end of your shower and breathing through the experience is a very similar stress to the ice, though the water likely won’t be as cold and your body won’t be fully submerged. If you are using daily cold showers as your only cold exposure, staying in for 60-90 seconds should be sufficient per day—most people doing the six-to-nine minutes of ice baths aren’t doing them on a daily basis.”

With the ice bath, you really focused us on our breathing. Can you explain the benefits of controlling our breathing?

“Breathing is a function of our autonomic nervous system, which is automatically controlled by the body. You don’t have to think about breathing in and out, your body just does it. But we are also able to control our pace of breathing, which in turn has the ability to impact or reverse-engineer these other automatic functions of the body we wouldn’t normally be able to have control over like heart rate, blood pressure and digestion.”

What are some easy ways for someone to calm down through breathing?

First off, start breathing in and out through your nose. If you can lie down, that’s great, but usually when we know we need to calm down we’re in the middle of a situation, so it’s fine if you can’t lie down. Next, you want to increase the length of your exhale; this helps to put yourself in your parasympathetic state (rest and digest) and pull you out of the sympathetic (which is fight or flight or freeze). Maybe you can try inhaling for three seconds and exhaling for six seconds. Then, try directing your breath to your belly, filling the belly with air helps to activate the diaphragm which also supports the parasympathetic state. These small tweaks have the ability to majorly impact how you’re experiencing a stressful situation within seconds. Also no one knows you’re doing it, so it’s a secret superpower. I also love the 4-7-8 breathing technique: inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, exhale for eight seconds. In and out through the nose and breathing into the belly.”

When you combine breathwork with an ice bath, what is the outcome?

“The breath is really the only thing you have when you get into the ice. It’s also the first thing you’ll lose if you’re not concentrating on it, so before getting in, we practice a few breath techniques to get you comfortable with the ways in which you can help calm yourself down as you’re dealing with the shock of the cold.”

Is breathwork different from meditation?

“Breathwork is a form of meditation. I find concentrating on the breath allows me to more easily settle into my body and allow my mind to relax. Just like in a meditation practice when you’re observing your thoughts, in breathwork a thought might pop up and pull your attention away from what you’re doing. I find having the breath count and keeping to a set pace allows me to quickly bring myself back from that thought.”

Is there anyone who shouldn’t do ice baths or this breathwork?

“If you have a history of heart disease or stroke, personally or in your family, I would recommend checking with your doctor first. It never hurts to check with your medical professional before starting something new and I would always recommend trying out the cold shower before coming to a workshop to see if it’s something you can manage. Some people just really don’t like the cold, so there’s no need to force yourself through anything you don’t like.”