The old adage, “come inside before you catch a cold,” may fall into the realm of folklore as adherents to cold therapy continue to gain scientific credibility along with popularity. A growing body of research and anecdotal testimony reveals that exposure to cold may boost health and ward off disease while it stimulates nerve endings and improves mood.
The recent cold trend in health and fitness espouses the virtues of cold immersion to stimulate a suite of benefits including immune response, heightened metabolism, higher energy, more focus and better sleep. Followers of the Wim Hof method, a Dutch extreme athlete known for his cold showers and baths, attest to this approach. Cold baths have also become the “coolest” new addition to spas and fitness centers where cold therapy can be utilized to lower inflammation and reinvigorate energy.
The practice of plunging into the cold water isn’t novel. For centuries, northern European and North American communities, especially Canadian, have participated in polar bear plunges to ring in the New Year. Many of these plunges have become traditional gatherings and fundraisers to raise awareness around a charitable effort. Whatever the impetus, a few valley residents took the plunge this year to start 2021 refreshed.
For two Twisp families, 2020 started the tradition, and while perhaps the calamities of 2020 didn’t bode well for the practice being a harbinger of good luck, they were committed to try again in 2021. During a New Year’s walk along the river in 2020, Kate Posey described to her daughter Posey Hannigan, then 10 years old, the time-honored tradition of submersing in cold water for the New Year. Out of the blue, Posey looked at her mom and unsuspectedly said, “like this?” Fully clothed she embarked into the frigid waters all on her own volition … yep, Posey, just like that!
Similarly, last year was the beginning of the plunge for the Ramsay-George family. Jen Ramsay, a Canadian who grew up in Nova Scotia, decided to reinstitute the Canadian polar bear plunge with her family here in her American home waters of the Methow River. This year, Kate reached out to Jen to join her.
The two families including Jen’s husband, Lance George, and children Clara, 10, and Alex, 13, met at the Twisp Park swimming hole for the chosen plunge pool. Both families appreciated the co-motivation of having each other’s moral support as they took turns plunging in.
Kate grew up swimming in the cold waters of Puget Sound year-round, so cold-water immersion wasn’t too exotic. For Kate, the most difficult part is the cold feet on the snow and the walk back to the car while your body is readjusting. Not so for Christi Bobst, who took the plunge with her partner, Steve Jones. They are recent students of the Win Hof Method. Committed to taking weekly plunges, they claimed their walk back to the car didn’t feel cold at all — it’s definitely a mind-over-matter thing.
For Christi, the plunge is a lot more than a physical activity. It’s a way to let go of past emotions and mind traps that don’t serve a purpose moving into the new year. It’s a kind of spiritual practice as they send prayers and intentions down the river. Christi’s mantra for 2021: “Please come help, heal, cleanse, and clear me.” Part of the cold immersion method is training to be able to stay in longer aided by slow breathing techniques. They practiced the breathing technique and intended to stay in a few minutes but “panic flooded me, and I got out fast,” Christi said. Despite the quick retreat this time around, their weekly practice has taught her that “it’s definitely not as cold as our brains tells us.”