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Yogis and Cold exposure

The popularity of cold exposure has increased over the last few years. Whether it is through cryotherapy or cold water immersion more and more people practice and/or hashtag #coldexposure. What are the benefits of cold exposure for the modern yoga practitioner (yogi or yogini)?

 

Cold exposure as a meditation TECHNIQUE

Those that practice cold water immersions for some time report a sensation of stillness in mind (usually 30 seconds to a minute after the initial exposure). A friend of mine Luke Wills (founder of the Optimal Health Method) said he reached the same state of mind in his 2nd ice bath, with that on the 7th day in a vipassana meditation retreat. Anecdotal evidence like this were confirmed to be valid in a study published in May 2018 titled “Brain over Body” [1].  In this study participants with no previous experience in cold exposure and Wim Hof (a Dutch man with chronic practice in cold environments) were interchangeably exposed to cold and neutral temperatures. One of the most striking differences between the inexperienced subjects and Wim was the Dutchman’s ability to reduce activity in the insular cortex part of the brain during cold exposure. Insular cortex is an area involved in emotional attachment to external stimuli and self-reflection. Activity in this part of the brain has been shown to be linked with meditation and control in emotional eating.

 

Meditation is the 5th of the 8 limbs of yoga.

 

Cold exposure To overcome fears

Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga” has the subtitle: “the yoga journey to wholeness, inner peace and ultimate freedom.” In our yogic journey (our journey to wholeness) we will have to ultimately face our fears. I believe that cold exposure offers a unique opportunity to learn how to do that.

Cold exposure is demanding on many levels; the adrenals, musculoskeletal system, circulation and the brown fat tissue (if existent) are activated at low temperatures. Aside though the multiple biochemical adaptations in the rest of the body, our brain also changes when we are exposed to cold. The initial response is that of: “fight or flight” [2]. A small area of the brain called amygdala (Greek word for almond) – by activating the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis – signals a Stress response to the rest of the body. While this initial stage is universal the way one deals with cold thereafter depends on her experience and ability to use her breath.

By training the body to deal with a stressful situation (ie. a cold immersion) in a controlled environment (such as a shower or a bath) we can reprogram our mind to deal with stressful situations which are out of our control. Our main tool in this process is our breath. Dealing with fear was the focus of a workshop I gave in 2017 to a group of actors. You can see footage from it in the video.

 

Cold exposure to improve Circulation / Cardiovascular Function

The benefits of an asana practice to physical health are far reaching. The improvement of respiratory function, the increase of muscle flexibility and joint mobility are just a few.  Depending though on the style of yoga one practices she may be getting more or less of a cardiovascular workout. Cold exposure is a unique way to strengthen one’s cardiovascular system.

Our cardiovascular system is surrounded by epithelial muscles which facilitate the circulation of the blood. At low temperatures the epithelial muscles surrounding the veins and arteries of our extremities constrict – preserving the blood and the nutrients carried in it for the more vital organs in the trunk and the head. When the body returns to higher temperatures the epithelial muscles in our extremities dilate again allowing for the blood to flow freely there. In a similar way that our biceps get stronger as they contract during chaturangas our cardiovascular system can get stronger through cold exposure.

 

 

Good circulation means no athletes foot, no cold extremities, better cognitive function, ability to heal/recover faster and perform better in sports.

 

Conclusion

The list above is not exhaustive of the benefits one can get from cold exposure; controlling pain perception [2], generation of Brown Far [3], strengthening of the immune system [4], improved tolerance to cold [5] are also good reasons for modern yogis and yoginis to practice cold exposure.

 

Future workshops are listed here.

 

References:

  1. Muzik, O., Reilly, K. T., & Diwadkar, V. A. (2018). “Brain over body”–A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure. NeuroImage172, 632-641.
  2. Kanosue, K., Sadato, N., Okada, T., Yoda, T., Nakai, S., Yoshida, K., … & Kobayashi, K. (2002). Brain activation during whole body cooling in humans studied with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Neuroscience letters329(2), 157-160.
  3. van der Lans, A. A., Hoeks, J., Brans, B., Vijgen, G. H., Visser, M. G., Vosselman, M. J., … & Schrauwen, P. (2013). Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. The Journal of clinical investigation123(8), 3395-3403.
  4. Buijze, G. A., Sierevelt, I. N., van der Heijden, B. C., Dijkgraaf, M. G., & Frings-Dresen, M. H. (2016). The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PloS one11(9), e0161749.
  5. Vosselman, M. J., Vijgen, G. H., Kingma, B. R., Brans, B., & van Marken Lichtenbelt, W. D. (2014). Frequent extreme cold exposure and brown fat and cold-induced thermogenesis: a study in a monozygotic twin. PloS one9(7), e101653.

Fasting Diet: progressions

 

Updated: 26 Sep 2018

 

This article is written with deep respect in the process of fasting and consciousness that its epigenetic effects are far reaching. Fasting in my opinion is something we all need to be comfortable with. There are many disputes on what the healthiest diet is, with advocates of the different diets often trying to support their view using ethnological and ancestral data. It is clear though to everyone that our ancestors had to survive periods of fasting independent of their diet (whether the famine was caused due to lack of game or a disaster in the crops).

My Journey with the Fasting Diet

I have been following a Fasting Diet on and off since September 2009. In my first attempt to fast (after reading my first book on nutrition called: Food Governs your Destiny) I set x3 2hour slots in the day during which I allowed myself to eat. Outside these windows I would consume only liquids. I stayed on the diet for 6 months, during which I:

👉🏻 reduced my waist circumference from 34 to 29 inches.

👉🏻 lost 7.5 kilos.

👉🏻 achieved mental clarity I have never experienced before.

During a big part of these 6 months I was vegetarian.

In 2016 I decided that as a way of monitoring my metabolism I would like to measure the production of ketones in my body. Between October 2016 and February 2017 I monitored my Blood Glucose (BG) and Ketone Bodies (KB) – beta-hydroxybutyric acid on a daily basis. Monitoring can be useful:

👉🏻 as feedback for one’s response to food / exercise.

👉🏻 for compliance when BG & KB targets are set.

During this period there were weeks of following a vegetarian diet but most days I consumed meat.

Fast Diet: Progressions

Bellow I share what I consider to be a natural progression of fasting. Of course everyone’s starting point is different: not everyone starts with a: 3 meals and 2 snacks diet and neither do we all have the same tolerance to the changes each step requires. I imagine you have not been eating the same way all your life, after all. If you are not sure how quickly you should progress from one stage to the next I suggest you err on the safe side. Most people will find progressions comfortable if they spend 1-2 months on each stage. Those with a healthy relationship to food will evolve our fasting practice over our lifespan.

⏱ Time Restrict your Eating

I consider the 16-8h type-diet to be an easy one for most people to adopt. During this diet you restrict your caloric intake over an 8 hour window. The remaining 16 hours one is allowed to have non-caloric drinks such as water, coffee and tea. The easiest way to get into it, is to prolong the overnight fast. Assuming one sleeps for 8 hours and stops eating 4 hours prior to going to bed, she / he can achieve the 16/8h fast by eating 4 hours after waking up. If the idea still feels daunting here are a few tips to ease your way into it:

👉🏻 Start with a 12-12h diet and gradually increase the fasting window. The danger here is not to be consistent. Decide which window schedule suits you and stick to it for at least 1 week before increasing the fasting phase.

👉🏻 Take days off if you find the idea of doing it daily suffocating. However have the days scheduled before hand and do not change them. You know you are ready to proceed when you have completed 4 consecutive weeks with 5 days per week on your “Time Restricted Eating” schedule.

🌞 Eat while the Sun is up

While I acknowledge that many people working in offices have more physically active evenings than mornings; the body’s biological clock will not flip upside down because you signed up at the 20:30 CrossFit class. Neither your sleeping time can accommodate all the digestion you wish just because your gym class finishes at 22:00. As a next step to a “Time Restricted Eating” I consider to be the swift of the eating window earlier in the day. How early is early? – you decide. My suggestion is to finish eating prior to the sunset and ideally by midday. As you can see in the infographic from a 2018 paper [1], time restricting food to the earlier part of the day causes an number of beneficial effects:

Actions that helped me with this transition:

👉🏻 Exercise earlier in the day.

👉🏻 Make sure the quality of my sleep is not compromised. Supplements as well as breathing practices can support a good night sleep. Initially prolonged fasts can lead to elevated cortisol levels which will mess up with sleep. Poor sleep leads to tiredness and erratic appetite the next day.

⏰ Set your Eating Times

That stage could also be called: Stop snaking. Most of us (living a western lifestyle) have constant access to food and numerous stressors during our day. The combination of the two in many cases lead to binging / snaking. Whether you call it comfort food or not, every extra meal (and by meal let’s call anything containing more than 20 calories) requires the activation of the pancreas and the subsequent release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone with multiple roles in our biochemistry other than food metabolism. With that in mind I don’t find strange that hormonal imbalances are common in those with erratic eating patterns.

If one attempts to “Set her Eating Times” while she is eating during daytime only, I expect this transition not to be a big challenge. On the other hand shifting from a 16-8h fast to a “Set Eating Times” schedule can be a bigger step.

Setting the times when someone eats is a personal issue and can be scheduled around her lifestyle. My suggestion is to schedule no more than 3 meals a day and if for whatever reason a meal is lost not to be replaced.

☝🏻 Eat Once a Day

If you have been following the progression described above I would be surprised if you are eating more than twice a day by now. Eating once can be something you want to try occasionally based on your energy expenditure & mood.

😶 Eat only When Hungry & As much as you Need

Even when I eat once a day I sometimes find hard not to overeat. I consider our relationship with food complex and the addictive aspect of it multidimensional. We can be addicted to:

👉🏻 certain foods.

👉🏻 the sensation of fullness.

Whatever the addiction is it will always manifest to emotions which make it hard to break loose off. To that extent I would like to clarify that:

“I consider eating one of the big joys of life & fasting can only enhance this sensation.”

Fasting works as a challenge for the body. This doesn’t mean it makes it makes the body weaker. In the same way that you would not assume a runner to be doing harm to her body just because her legs are weak at the end of a training session, don’t be afraid of fasting.

Fast Diet: Considerations

Most people when they consider fasting, they are worried about their energy levels and muscle mass maintenance. The energy levels may fluctuate initially : that is due not to lack of energy but to poor hormone regulation. Even if you have 9% of body fat, there is enough energy stored in your body to keep you alive for days. Fluctuations in energy levels can be caused because your metabolism has no access to your fat. If you are concerned with maintaining muscle mass I suggest you keep your protein intake high when you eat (~x1.6 gr of protein per body weight in kg)

Those that depend on constant energy supply (ie. 3 meals a day + 2 snacks), are the ones that would benefit the most from fasting.

🔑  Things to consider

👉🏻 Always keep your (AME) Appetite, Mood and Energy levels in check. If one of them is not under control adjustments may be necessary. In most cases soon after one gets out of control the other 2 follow.

👉🏻 Our life changes constantly and so will our mood, circadian cycle, appetite, needs for nutrients etc. I hope this article works as a road map not an itinerary.

👉🏻 Food composition can affect your Blood Glucose and consequently your fasting phases. Fibre, fat, protein can slow down your meals’ metabolism which is necessary initially.

👉🏻 Metabolism is complex and its efficiency depends on many factors including: oxygen availability & insulin sensitivity. Practicing yoga, breathing exercise and cold exposure can be very useful towards improving metabolic efficiency and supporting a fasting practice.

Things to consume while fasting

In order to maintain the calories low during fasting my suggestion is to limit your liquid intake to coffee & teas. If stimulants play havoc in your metabolism & appetite you should avoid caffeinated drinks all together. I have been consuming them freely. Two things that can help a lot in extending your fasting periods are:
👉🏻 Water – in particular carbonated. I think it is easier if one takes sips during the day aiming for 1-3 litters as opposed to drinking 3 glasses when filling peckish.

👉🏻 Magnesium Citrate powder (I like the one from Designers for Health). Its sweet taste can help deal with a sweet tooth while the Magnesium supports the adrenals & promotes gut mobility.

👉🏻 Brushing teeth after eating. Making sure mouth hygiene is in check can help in 2 ways: 1. some associate a clean mouth with the end of eating 2. food leftovers will stop triggering taste buds receptors.

 

 

References:

1. Sutton, E. F., Beyl, R., Early, K. S., Cefalu, W. T., Ravussin, E., & Peterson, C. M. (2018). Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes. Cell Metabolism.

5 things I learnt from Wim Hof

It’s not every day that you meet a 20 times Guinness record holder. When you come to meet him though [ & you train under his supervision in the method he developed], the chances are you will get some insights. Wim Hof (the “iceman”) is a amazing person – like we all are. However there are 2 good reasons why you will hear this expression about Wim all the time:
i. he has stripped himself off what he calls: “the programming”. He doesn’t dress his true self with a politically correct behaviour (i.e. he encourages people to breath, breath deep – not caring which hole the air comes in) neither takes himself seriously.

 


 

ii. he didn’t hold back in life. He “went deep”. I cannot pay justice to the importance of this comment but basically what it means is he went where he didn’t feel comfortable.

 

1. Nature is the teacher

Nowadays, science is, unfortunately in my opinion, perceived as the only source of truth. Science started as an attempt for humans to systematically understand nature.

“Nature is the teacher.” ~ Wim Hof

 

science-then-now

 

He encourages students to go to nature and learn everything he knows.

“Nature is merciless but righteousness” ~ Wim Hof

 

2. Train your body to adapt not tolerate

Up until recently cold exposure was for me similar to weight training. I lift weights → I get stronger → I can carry heavier bags from the supermarket [ i.e. I expose myself to cold → I become more tolerable to cold → I am less likely to get sick in the winter (or something among these lines anyway) ]. While partly true there is a 2nd degree of benefits more significant.

We can moderate our body temperature whether we are exposed to cold or not. Cold offers feedback but the environmental temperature should not determine our body temperature. The day prior to the ascend of mount Snezka Wim told us: It will not be very low tomorrow* but you should go high.

* meaning the temperature will not be very low

 

3. Zorba the Buddha

Osho Rajneesh (1931-1990) spoke about how life should be a meditative practice, which should be equally enjoyed at the same time. Zorba the greek (according to Osho) is the foundation and Buddha is the palace, on top of the foundation.

“If everything goes according to me, every man will die as Zorba the Buddha. Between the Greek and the Buddha there is not much distance, but first you must be the Greek.” ~ Osho

Wim is such a model. The word joy is not foreign to him, yet every breathing practice and exposure to cold is an opportunity to go into meditation.

 


 

 

4. The body’s calling, pick up the phone

Have you heard the phrase holistic approach? Well I do all the time and I have become more allergic to it than dracula is to garlic. The reason is that while in principle the idea is good, it has become a marketing hashtag for pre-prescribed (usually expensive) protocols.

What’s Wim approach then: He gives you 3 basic tools (breathing, cold exposure, focus), encourages you to practice regularly and focus on the problem at hand. If you now think that’s one size fits all approach, I encourage you to go try some visits to a local cold lake or some deep breathing sessions. You will only go as far as you can. And why I am so confident about that?

These approaches are engaging. They are on the opposite end of the spectrum where drugs, vitamin supplements or massage treatments will deal with the problem without your participation.

 

change

 

5. Be humble to be great

Wim is a warm hearted man prior to be an iceman, in my eyes at least. I could list myriad examples I witnessed in 1 week which confirm that. Instead I would bring to your attention the reason WHY he does what he does: To empower people.

He is not competitive or tries to be an illusionist. In his own words:

“What I can do, everyone can do.” ~ Wim Hof

I remind you: 20 Guinness Records.

 

ps: Big part of the training was delivered by Kasper van der Muelen, a brilliant coach.