My Experiment with Really, Really Cold Showers

By Kollengode S Venkataraman   

Like everybody else, I have done my share of crazy things in life — like getting married, as most people have done. If that was not enough, I went to graduate school for over four years in my 30s with a wife and a newborn baby. This was after an eight-year gap after my bachelor’s, a long gap in which my grasp of the sciences and mathematics had evaporated.

Then, in my 40s, over two decades ago, I started this magazine while holding on to a full-time job — with no experience whatsoever in editing, proofreading, or copyediting; software skills for myriad things, Bulk Mailing, selling ads, bookkeeping… … And this when my older daughter was getting ready to go to college.

Ignorance was bliss.

What have these to do with Cold Showers?” You may wonder. But this preface sets the stage for what follows. Out of necessity, I use the Internet for fact-checking, etymology of words…  In this, I’ve come across nuggets of fascinating information. This is identical to the story in Yoga Vaasishtha of a man assiduously searching for a lost copper penny, fortuitously ending up with Chintamani, the wish fulfilling gemstone. But in my search, I am content if I get a nugget, if I get anything at all.

The one I got was on the health benefits of Cold Showers, defined as taking bath in really, really cold waters, at temperatures going as low as 50 F or lower. The health benefits claimed are many, some psychosomatic, others physiological: reduced stress, better alertness, long-term weight loss when done daily, increased testosterone and sperm count, better immune resistance and blood circulation, antidote for depression, better sleep, muscle recovery after injury, better skin and hair…  All kinds of information is available on the Internet. Samples:

Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body by A Mooventhan and L Nivethitha (

Here is a website on the subject:

Here is another:

These are only the tip of the iceberg floating on cold waters.  Also, I have seen sadhus in India taking bath in very cold flowing rivers.  I attributed it to their Yogic power for many.  And ganja for others, because I remember reading somewhere years ago that ganja and other addictive mind-altering substances help their users to temporarily become insensitive to their stressful situations and their immediate environs.

I was skeptical, but when I learned more, my curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to try Cold Showers, not in summer, not in fall, but in this winter, when the outside temperatures were in the 30s F (~ 0 C).

Being used to hot showers, I wondered where to begin and how.  The best advice was to phase myself into it. So this is what I did, step by step:

Note: I am in my 60s and what follows worked for me, though my wife thinks I am crazy. So, after reading this, if you want to be adventurous, talk to your doctor before you start.

  • On the first day, before my bath time, I indulged in some serious autosuggestion to get ready mentally. I told myself, “Venkat, after all, you’ve survived forty years of marriage; you went to grad school after a big gap, when you were married and had a baby; you’ve seen two daughters through their teen years. You have seen far worse. Cold Showers can not be any worse. Besides, it is going to be very brief, only for several minutes.”  Getting mentally prepared is necessary.
  • Then, instead of starting with hot water (~120 F, or ~ 50 C, for me), I started  with lukewarm water (~105 F, or 40 C). While under the showers at this lukewarm water, I scrubbed my body head to toe with a washcloth.
  • Then, while under the shower, very, very slowly I lowered the water temperature. I stayed there for about 30 seconds, turning around, completely drenching my head, shoulder, back, legs, and front so that my entire body got used to the lower temperature. This is important.
  • I lowered the water temperature again — again very gently — and drenched my entire body for 30 seconds to get used to the water.
  • I took the water temperature down like this over 6 to 7 minutes.

Our normal body temperature is 98.4 F, or 37 C). So, as the water temperature came close to this, the sense of warmth I experienced vanished.

Then the fun started. When the water temperature was slightly below body temperature (around 92 F, or 33 C), I had the first sense of discomfort. I told myself to get used to the discomfort. I stayed at the lower temperatures for 30 seconds, turning around for my entire body to get used to the colder water. Surprisingly, I got used to it, and I felt OK.

Then, I made the water colder by one more small decrement. I went through the cycle of experience. As the water got colder, I had a initial discomfort for each step down, but I got used to it. Strangely, I even felt a sense of mild exhilaration. The temperature-time profile was something like shown in the sketch on the side.

Then, as the temperature got colder (in the 70s F or 20s C , much colder than 98.4 F, or 37 C), the initial discomfort became acute. I was gasping for breath, breathing deeply and more frequently. But I got used to this too after 30 seconds, till the temperature was low and the discomfort was unbearable. This was my lower temperature limit for that day. Along the way, I screamed with choicest profanities in Tamil, Malayalam, English and Hindi, even Kannada, them language of my early childhood in Coorg, Karnataka. After the showers, I completely dried myself.

During this whole sequence, I was fully alert, living every millisecond in the ETERNAL NOW. At the lowest temperatures, five seconds seemed like eternity. I was mentally detached and unconcerned from everything else, simply because, honestly, I could not think of anything else.  Believe me, five seconds seemed an eternity at the lowest temperature limit.

After my shower, I felt incredibly fresh and energetic. I was exhilarated, almost euphoric for no reason. Strangely, paradoxically, and contrary to my fear, I felt a great sense of warmth in my body. I did not feel cold at all. I am sure there are physiological explanations for this in terms of blood circulation, better use of oxygen through diaphragmatic breathing, and hormone secretions…

With each passing day, I lowered my bottom temperature a little. I am now around 50s F or 10 C, for over a month . I intend to stay on this for several months. My goal is to go all the way to ~40 F. I don’t know if I can reach there though.

In any case, getting used to Cold Showers is not as difficult as it appeared to me before I started, and perhaps it is not as intimidating as it appears to you from outside.  It is just a matter of mind over matter.  But that is what Yogic power is supposed to give to its practitioners.  But it certainly does NOT need ganja or other mind-altering substances!!!!!

I already saw another benefit: My wife, who showers after me, now does not complain about not having enough hot water for her shower, and we no longer have disruptive behavior towards each other!!!!

I am in my 60s, and Cold Shower worked for me so far. But then, I’ve done many crazy things in life.  So, if you want to try this, talk to your doctor first. The experience — the sense of exhilaration, energy, euphoria and the sense of well-being that stays for hours — is worth it.  You will help reduce the carbon footprint, too.       ♠


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