Okay, so let’s first understand what a “Thermalist” is. It is the title of the new book by Dr. Susanna Soberg, the Danish internationally leading expert on Cold and Heat exposure. Here is her definition: “A thermalist uses deliberate cold and heat therapy (contrast-therapy) right after one another or on different days – in one or more seasons.” Dr. Soberg wrote the bestseller “Winter Swimming” which inspired me for my cold water swims, and now I am ready to read “Thermalist” (I believe currently only available in Danish).
My title here might be a bit grand but why not have some fun! I have been doing two-minute cold showers in the morning for more than two years, and for the last five months I switched from showers to going into the sea for my cold water exposure. It is heaven! I am living by the sea, it is right outside my doorstep, so no excuse. I go even when I don’t feel like going. I am also very lucky to have access to a sauna a few hundred meters away, and that is where I go to get my regular “heat shocks”.
Combining heat and cold turns out to be exceptionally good for the health of our cells (they get stronger), for how our bodies regulate temperature (we get to activate the brown fat in the body), and is also a brilliant way to expose ourselves to stress in a controlled manner. There are other benefits too – can’t list them all here! As Dr. Soberg explains: “The Thermalist approach is to stress up to stress down”. It is a “holistic way to build physical and mental health”. This means you meet stress on purpose, so that when you have stress around you in daily life you can stay calm. You have trained your body and mind to be okay and not overact.
I certainly feel the stress factor with the cold and heat. Luckily it has changed over time. With my cold training I easily accept the cold water now and fear of being cold in daily life has pretty much disappeared. When it comes to heat and time spent in the sauna – I stay 19 minutes three times a week (recommended time from Dr. Soberg’s research) – I still find it challenging. The restlessness I feel the last 5 minutes reminds me of the stress I used to feel when sitting in longer meditation and the body just wanted to get up and leave… So I turn my awareness to my breathing to find calmness. This helps me accept the heat stress I am putting on my body.
By the way I do one more thing that thermalists do: I always end a hot shower with cold water and have a cold shower after sauna time. I follow the Soberg Principle, which is: “To enhance the metabolic effects of cold, force your body to reheat on its own”.
Finally, how cool to notice we are more capable of handling big variations in temperature than we thought! I use “we”, as it is the union of body, mind and breath that comes into play (just like in yoga), and it is something we can all benefit from. I hope you somehow feel inspired to go deliberately into cold and heat after reading this. We can all turn the shower to cold, and if you know it is good for your overall health then why not try it. As Dr. Soberg puts it, it is not just a trend anymore, it is about optimising your health.
Wishing you well! Annette X