The other day I was in the parking lot of a yoga studio as a class filed out. Apparently someone had parked in a way that blocked one of the student’s cars. When she saw this, her smile disappeared, she forcefully threw down her mat and blurted out “f***ing great!” Whatever bliss she had found on her mat a few minutes earlier seemed to have moved on. I am not judging her – I have been there. Many times I have gone from being relaxed to needing exorcism in the blink of an eye. This is precisely why I take cold showers.
In fact, I have taken only cold showers for years. While there are some potential health benefits of taking a cold shower, I do it for social-emotional reasons. I do it because my nervous system has a tendency to resist and overreact when I am uncomfortable.
In yoga, shavasana is also known as the corpse pose. In shavasana, people lie flat on their backs with their arms at their side and palms facing upwards. The point is to let the body be open, receptive and relaxed. It is the opposite of self-defense.
Combine a standing corpse pose with nippy water and, voila!, you have cold shower shavasana. This is a practice in letting go when your instinct is to do the opposite. This practice is a great metaphor for the choice we have in life when our conditioned reaction is resistance or aggression. No amount of contraction is going to make a cold shower warm. No amount of contraction is going to make life be the way you want it to be. You can take a cold shower with an open and relaxed stance and you can do the same thing when life is not the way you want it to be.
Here is the practice: Standing outside a cold shower before getting in, feel the tension in your body as you prepare for the cold water. Breathe deep, let go of as much tension as you can, and step into the chilly stream of water. Once under the shower, there is likely to be another urge toward reflexive tightening. Notice this, breathe into it, and let go. It is a powerful practice to do this when what you really want to do is contract.
Where does this help in life? Everywhere that you would normally tighten up and/or push back. When your son tells you that he wants to get a tattoo, when your partner has an alternative plan for your vacation, when someone challenges you during a presentation, when traffic threatens to make you late, when someone in a meeting disagrees…
Life is filled with stuff that is not how we want it to be, people who see things differently, and discomfort of all flavors and sizes. This is just how it is. Life does not require us to spend our energy resisting it. We have the choice of working peacefully and powerfully with life as it is. And a cold shower is a really good place to practice.