Catching Cold for Health

By Garth Brown

As days have turned cold and nights colder, as snow has once again come to cover the land, I have returned to intentionally getting really, really cold. You can read a bit about my introduction to the practice in this post, and you can see me at the peak of my powers in this holiday video just below. But though it’s clear that this is a perennial impulse, I’m still not entirely sure why I choose to go lie around outside in icy weather.

In the first post, linked above, I mostly justified it on utilitarian grounds. Improved comfort in very cold weather or a freezer, where I spend plenty of time, is great, and the possibility, however remote, of a more robust immune system is certainly appealing. But I don’t think these are the main reason I keep doing it.

One aspect I’ve been thinking about is the way it’s a sort of forced mindfulness. It is impossible to worry about the future when lying in a snow bank. Quite the opposite; the real challenge is accepting the cold. It’s not particularly painful, but neither is it at all pleasant. But it demands acute attention, a mental awareness and management of a physical state, which is something modern conveniences do quite a good job of insulating most of us from.

I usually only experience anything similar when I’m sick or in pain, but both of these are uniformly negative experiences. Being in the cold is a bit more ambiguous, because while it’s a bit unpleasant, it also triggers a physiological response; as I work to control my breathing and let the cold wash over me, there’s a simultaneous something going on that lets my body compensates, if not quite totally.

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