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Blowing hot and cold

By February 21, 2023No Comments

Coming in to land at DIA.

Blowing hot and cold

A flight from New Orleans gave me this shot out of the window; sunshine on the horizon breaking through the snow storm. I’d left a city that had trees still draped with discarded Mardi Gras beads, and now I was looking out at snow covered plains below, dark clouds above, and sandwiched in between, a distant promise of warmth.

I’ve been playing with that contrast on a more somatic level, recently. I’ve started going to Othership, a place for saunas and ice baths in downtown Toronto.

I start with 20 minutes in the sauna. They dramatically throw a scent-soaked snowball down onto the heat, so fresh steam roils towards you: citrus, or vanilla and mint, or eucalyptus.

Then, the ice bath. There are four big tubs in a low-lit room. Often there are ice-cubes floating in them, just so you know that this isn’t just coldish, it’s icy.

The first time I tried it, I spent the first minute pretty much hyperventilating. My wrists hurt. My ankles hurt. In fact, all of the outside of me hurt.

The guide dinged a bell to signal a minute had passed, and that was more than enough for me. I got out as fast as I could, silently cursing the person who’d invited me along.

Things have changed as I’ve gotten used to what’s happening. The first thirty seconds remain pretty intense, but now I’m mostly able to get my breathing under control by the third or fourth exhale. I “box breath:” in on a count of four, hold for four, out on a count of four, hold for four again, and repeat.

My last trip, I practiced laughing on the exhale. I think the idea occurred to me from “laughter yoga,” where you start by “fake laughing” and you end up “laughing laughing” because it’s impossible not to.

I’m not sure what those around me thought: the random guy soaking in ice and laughing to himself with just an edge of hysteria.

But I thought about how exposure helps build endurance; how the state of your breath tells you the state of your equilibrium; how laughter helps keep it light; and when the time was right, how good it was to get out of the cold and go back into the heat.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.