Drinking Ayahuasca is an initiation of enormous proportions. The brave souls who answer her call come full of strong intention, no doubt too, each one of them feels resistance to taking that deep dive into the unknown.
I must be some kind of sadist, as the morning after the first ceremony, following a session of processing, I lay another initiation at the feet of my guests. Cold water.
It’s the surprise card in the deck that gives so much and yet is so simple. Admittedly, the spot for our pre lunch swim is incredibly beautiful, and the weather in the south of Portugal is nothing like a winter’s day in the North of England. That said, not surprisingly, I see a huge amount of resistance from people when the idea of swimming in cold water is floated.
So why do I do it?
For all the sheepish looks I receive beforehand, the aftermath could not be more different. Smiling, shining, ecstatic grins. The benefits of the cold water immersion element are endless:
A study by scientists in Prague found that cold water immersion increases dopamine levels by 530%. By stimulating the dopaminergic pathways it also increases related hormones such as serotonin and endorphins. This natural, intrinsic response is also a key reversal for the stress hormone cortisol. This incredible impact on the endocrine system helps the body overcome any tendencies towards depression and anxiety.
In the Moment
Part of the anxiety reduction is linked to being completely in the moment. I remember someone shouting, “This is better than sex!”
The all consuming nature of being immersed in cold wild water is like a complete reset that brings you slap bang into the present moment. For those moments nothing else really matters and pure bliss can ensue.
The body responds to the cold by flooding the brain and other vital organs with a huge amount of blood and electrical impulses. This simultaneously detoxifies and nourishes all the vital organs. In particular the rush of blood to the brain reduces inflammation, which has been linked by many studies to depression. It’s one of the reasons cold water treatment is gaining in popularity as a treatment for depression.
The benefits extend into all kinds of areas such as immunity and weight loss. Mentally the whole process comes as a challenge for most people and overcoming that challenge also brings about its intrinsic rewards.
I’m specific about working with wild water. A major element of the work I do with the plants, is re connecting people with themselves and the nature all around them. It’s important to mention that wild water is not without its dangers and due care plus supervision is always thoroughly recommended. In today’s world of environmental destruction and pollution, access to clean swimming water is also a big ask for some.
As an alternative, something that is available to almost everyone is Wim Hof’s cold shower challenge. If you’ve never heard of Wim, how he loves the cold and he loves breathing, he’s so good with both he was able to climb Everest unaided in a pair of shorts. Here’s his guide to getting comfortable with the cold and harnessing its health benefits.
Both the cold and Ayahuasca are powerful healers but they share something else in common. They ask us to step outside of our comfort zones. They ask us to let go and stop controlling. They ask us to trust.
When we do this, we truly step into the present moment, where it's all waiting for us.