Calm your lizard brain by dunking it in freezing cold water

Dunking your entire body in a trough of freezing ice water in the middle of winter might seem like the last thing that would calm you down, but this new tool in my quiver is helping people find peace, power and some pretty funny dance moves to warm up.

Nobody likes being freezing. Each time I dunk I have a fit with myself over this whole new part of our training. I demean my husband for his tenacity and simple commitment to everything he does, for getting me into this mess*. I almost talk myself out of it each damn time. And then I don't because I want something. I want to have the best tools in the world to help people heal from chronic stress and pain; tools that empower them to take charge of their own wellbeing. And because this technique is clicking for me and everyone I'm sharing it with, I start my stopwatch and slide into the ice water to kick my lizard brain into gear. 

The lizard brain is the part of your noggin that stores your experiences and teaches you when to turn on the fight/flight reactions to stress. It is not a bad thing. It keeps you from setting your hand on hot stoves, helps you pay attention on dark paths at night, and gives you reflexes that make you powerful without thought. But sometimes it goes into overdrive and becomes a danger to our peace and power.

By working with Wounded Veterans since 2009, I've learned a lot about how combat stress can train the Lizard Brain to react even when the higher mind (the part of you that can reason and find creative perspectives and solutions) knows there is no present threat. This can lead to chronic anxiety, insomnia, depression, weight gain, and a lack of self-love and control. Anyone can develop an overly reactive Lizard Brain if stress is mismanaged.

If you are feeling unreasonably stressed and feel the symptoms listed above, managing nerves can be the difference over time between functioning well in life and suffering, sometimes greatly. The breathwork I teach helps people coax the nervous system for desired states of calm, energy, focus, and sleep. It forges a calm bond between the Lizard Brain and Higher Mind helping you access the best of yourself and the moment. The cold water is a fast track way to create this bond.

Here's the counterintuitive, very cool reason why: when you dunk your entire body in freezing water, you make your lizard brain turn on and fast. Survival engines in the brain tell you that this is not a stable, calm place to be. So what do you do? You have two choices. You can freak out, or you can breathe. If you freak out, you'll shiver, suffer and likely flee. If you breathe in a certain way, you can control the shivers and reactivity to cold, and even learn how to turn on your internal heat to hang out in relative ease. Basically, you have to breathe to deal with the environmental stress of freezing cold. And so you do. 

If you follow the coaching and training, you'll start breathing in control using your nose and belly. This patterns your lizard brain to see that it isn't running the show. If it were, you'd have a shallow, chest pattern through the mouth helping you panic your way out of the water. But instead you have found the Master Switch and you are in control. Your breath starts to fuel a deep calm inside the threat of the deep freeze. Synapses are firing in the higher mind to control your breath, and they are wiring down to the Lizard Brain to tell it to stand down because now you've got this under control. 

If you start dunking your Lizard Brain in cold water to hijack your breath for calm, the next time you are in a stressful situation you will have a reserve of inner peace to draw from and the breath patterns to face any situation with more power. We are our best selves when we can override chronic stress and respond from a place of peace and power instead of fight or flight. 

* Thanks to our dear friends who brought us into this world of cold dunking after they attended an XPT retreat with Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece in Kauai. Thanks to Wim Hof who's course we are taking to enhance our understanding of the neurology and to do this work safely!