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Taking Cold Baths to Promote Health

In the old days, cold bathing meant immersion directly in pools, rivers or lakes where the water temperature is usually below 20óJ. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a long tradition in promoting health by taking cold baths.

The cold temperature is supposed to stimulate nerve endings in the skin to withdraw blood to the body's core. After exiting the cold bath, blood is pumped vigorously back around the body which invigorates and builds up the immune system. The vasomotor responses can positively stimulate the neural and respiratory systems and aid cardiovascular functioning. In TCM understanding, this makes the body surface firmer, and thus enhances the resistance against external pathogens. Long-term benefits of cold baths are help a range of ailments including headache, insomnia or nervousness; it also good for prevention of cardiovascular diseases, flu and airway diseases, stimulating the digestive process and promoting skin health.

Cold bathing can be practiced in the following ways:

1. Washing the face with cold water
First, dip your face into cold or ice water, then fully exhale through the nose; rise up for inhalation, repeat for 5 to 10 times. Next, use a cold wet towel to rub the face, ears and neck, then wipe with a dry towel and end by rubbing the regions with the hands until turn warm and flushed.

2. Scrubbing the body with cold water
This practice incorporates both coldness and massage. The sequence for scrubbing is: face -> neck -> upper limbs -> back -> check -> abdomen -> lower limbs. When rubbing the limbs, it should be from the distal to the proximal direction; this facilitates blood flow back to the heart. Initially, scrub lightly then gradually increase the force until the body surface becomes flushed and feels warm.

3. Taking cold showers
Start by splashing the limbs with cold water, then use a wet towel to scrub the chest and back; then stand under the showerhead and scrub the body at the same time. The water temperature and showering time should be adjusted according to the individual, and it should usually last for 3 to 5 minutes. Dry the body properly, keeping it relaxed, warm and comfortable.

4. Soaking the feet with cold water
Soak the feet in ice water for 1 to 2 minutes, rubbing them constantly. Wipe with a dry towel, and press the acupoint yong quan (see picture) for about 30 times on each side of the soles. Stimulating the acupoint enhances kidney and heart functioning, and also calms the spirit.

5. Taking cold baths
This involves submerging the body in a tub of ice cold water, the water temperature should be carefully monitored depending on the individual tolerance for discomfort. After staying in the water for about 0.5 to 2 minutes, leave the bathtub and immediately wipe with a dry towel, and rub the skin till it turns slightly red. Afterwards you should feel refreshed, warm, and comfortable, be able to sleep easily and have a good appetite.

6. Winter swimming
After practicing indoors to adapt to a cold environment, you can try swimming for a few minutes at a time or taking a quick dip in a frozen lake or sea. Winter swimming improves tolerance of cold and stress.

Individuals with serious or chronic diseases should not practice cold bathing. It should also not be undertaken during a woman's menstrual period, when pregnant, on an empty stomach, after drinking alcohol, after meals or during exercise.