On The Tolerance Of Cold

I don’t get cold anymore.


Well, that’s not quite true. If you throw me naked into a blizzard, I’ll die. But I can walk around in freezing weather wearing a t-shirt and feel comfortable. I also finish most of my showers with a 60-second blast of water at my shower’s lowest temperature*.

I learned to do this in New Haven, which gets chilly in the winter. This was annoying, so I tried to trick myself into not being cold. To my surprise, it worked.


Here’s the mantra I stumbled upon after a bit of experimentation:

“The air is cold. That’s a fact about the air, not about me. Am I cold? No, I’m not cold. I am not the air.”

The words vary a bit, but the thought process is always the same: some variation on “the air is cold, but I’m not cold”. I think it when I’m surrounded by low temperatures, and it considerably reduces my discomfort. There’s nothing mystical about the mantra; it just helps me reframe the situation and redirect my attention.

In the shower, I think (or chant, quietly) a similar mantra:

“Air’s cold // water’s cold // mind isn’t cold // body isn’t cold.”

That last line is a bit of a lie — my body does react to the water — but the mantra still helps. And a cold shower is a low-risk environment, with no real threat to my physical safety, so my body’s reactions don’t need to control my brain’s response. The water may be cold, but that doesn’t mean that have to be cold.


(I’m sure some Zen practitioner invented similar mantras thousands of years ago. I don’t claim to have discovered something original — just something that works for me.)


The words aren’t the only thing that power the mantras: You also need to work on separating your mind from your surroundings. I’m sure meditation helps, though I didn’t start meditating until long after I stopped being cold.

Here are a few mental techniques that help with this “separation”:

  1. Imagine a thin force field beneath your skin, which separates the outside part of you (which is touching something cold) from the real you (the person inside the force field)
  2. Project a warm glow from your mind, which is safe inside your brain, which in turn is nice and cozy inside your skull. You are your mind, and your mind doesn’t feel the cold.
  3. Think about the way cold air and water flow around you and past you, touching you but never sinking into you. You are a comfortable, solid presence, someone who is fundamentally not cold, and whose fundamental not-coldness can’t be affected by something as temporary and mercurial as the passing particles of wind or water.


You Don’t Have To Be Cold, Either

If you’d like to practice this, please don’t do anything that will give you hypothermia. I’d recommend starting with a shower, alternating hot and cold water, and making the cold periods progressively longer and colder.

Another option: Turn the water off completely between cycles and let your body temperature normalize, so that you’re practicing the full act of a cold shower (just like this guy practices getting out of bed).

You could also walk around for a few minutes without enough clothes if you live somewhere cold and aren’t worried about looking silly. (Though if you’ve made it this far, and are seriously considering the use of a mantra you found online, I suppose “looking silly” may not be your top concern.)

Either way, good luck! Let me know how it goes!


* Why? It offers a few mild health benefits and gives me a bit more energy. Burns a few extra calories, too. This writer’s experience is similar to what I felt when I got started.


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