Ice, ice baby
Most people think of a hot bath, a glass of wine, maybe some Netflix or quiet time to scroll through social media as relaxation. As we learn more and the world seems to get busier and more demanding, it’s definitely time to rethink the way we relax.
Yes, there is a time for a lovely hot bath and a glass of wine (possibly not for the social media scrollage), but if you really want to get your mind and body to recover from a stressful day, week, workout or run - there are other, and possibly better, ways.
Switch that hot tap to cold and buy a few bags of ice, (I find about five bags is enough) and tip them into the bath. Research has shown that five minutes in an ice bath throws your body into a sympathetic nervous state. Whn you get in, take deep breathes, notice where your body is stinging, tingling, going numb or holding tension and breathe into those areas. Remember, it’s just cold, nothing bad is going to happen, so be curious rather than fight it. You only have to spend five minutes (it may feel more like five hours the first time you try it, but that’s ok too!) to reap the benefits.
Basically, when you get in your body wants to get the heck out of there, so it panics, especially if you can get in so that the water is up to your neck. If you can learn to breathe through the initial discomfort you've already nailed one thing - breathing through and into discomfort. When you get out and get warm, your body will be flooded with "I'm safe and I can relax" hormones which help you to slip into a parasympathetic nervous state. Tim Ferris describes it as being as strong as an elephant tranquiliser.
From experience I can tell you that it really does make you feel totally relaxed. I do it once a week an hour before bed time to help me to get a good night’s rest. The downside? It can have an adverse effect on muscle recovery and it’s also a minor stress on your body, so it’s not a case of more is better! Once every now and again for five minutes should do the trick.
Top tip on saving water: leave your bathwater in and use it to flush the toilet, hand wash your hydration packs, running gear and undies :) Ice bath and laundry combo for the win!
Simply breathing can have a massive effect on your nervous system. It’s the best way to recover after a hard race, workout or stressful day, but more importantly it’s an incredibly simple and easy way to unwind in the evenings, or whenever you feel the need to unwind. There are loads of techniques online, and the best is for you to try some of them to see what works for you. My favourite two are:
- Kettle bell breathing: balance a kettle bell (light at first and then you can always try heavier later) on your belly button and take ten deep breaths pushing the kettle bell up as you breathe in. This teaches you to breathe with your belly as opposed to a shallow chest breath.
- Breath hold: take a normal breath in and then breathe everything out. When there is nothing left in your lungs hold your nose with your thumb and forefinger for up to 90 seconds. You may only manage 20 seconds at first, that’s fine! It’s the same theory as the ice-bath, your body temporarily panics and when you breathe again a) you get the benefit of all the good "I'm safe" hormones and b) your body will naturally take deeper breaths for some time after the breath hold. Double bonus! Don't do more than one a day! Tingling in your fingers is normal and be aware of what you're doing but it’s totally safe to try if you don't have any medical conditions that prevent you from holding your breath!
Happy relaxing everyone!
Most people think of a hot bath, a glass of wine, maybe some Netflix or quiet time to scroll through social media as relaxation.
Not Megan MacKenzie – this elite runner likes to relax in a bath of ice!
In her latest blog post, Meg discusses the benefits that a few easy breathing techniques and ice bathing (not necessarily done together) can have on your mental well-being.
“Remember, it’s just cold, nothing bad is going to happen so be curious rather than fight it.”
Meg MacKenzie gets down into the nitty gritty of how and why ice bathing and breathing techniques can be the ultimate form of relaxation.
Do you think she’s mad?