The secrets to a strong core and radiant health

Inspired by Wim Hof, aka The Iceman, Esther Ekhart offers a routine that will help strengthen your core and give you radiant health.

Secrets to a strong core and radiant health

In this article, I’d like to discuss and outline a routine, inspired by the Dutch 'Iceman', Wim Hof and his cold training method. This simple routine involves Pranayama, a few yoga asanas (postures) and a cold shower. The Pranayama and cold shower should be done first thing in the morning but the yoga part of the routine can be done at any time of the day. They will, in a short time, make a significant, positive difference to your core strength and overall health and energy levels. 

Of course, my goal is to inspire you to join me in this lifestyle change!  So let’s start with my personal experience in the hope that it will motivate you to join in.

The benefits 

After practising this routine every day for the past month, I have much more energy and feel a lot happier overall, I’m more present and my sleep has improved. My core is noticeably much stronger (this is solely down to the Pranayama and cold showers) and my digestive system - which has been my biggest “health” issue for past few years - has never been as good! I’m even able to digest the occasional gluten meal (pizza!) again. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will solve digestive issues for everyone, but perhaps it’s worth a try... Last but not least, I’m not suffering as much from the cold.

I have a lot more energy and feel happier overall, I’m more present and my sleep has improved. My core is noticeably much stronger, I'm not suffering from the cold as much and my digestive system has never been as good! 

The benefits are showing on the outside too: almost everyone who knows me well has commented on how well I look and how much energy I seem to have. Of course, it’s never completely down to one thing, but I genuinely believe this works!

Jennilee Toner, who has joined me in this challenge (we have agreed to do it for a minimum of 10 weeks) has also commented on how she shares many of the same benefits. Although Jennilee was much hardier and tougher than I was before we started, I would now dare to take her on :-)) That's how strong I feel at the moment…!

 

My motivation

I feel we are so spoilt in this modern day society that we forget what our bodies and mind are capable of, which is not necessarily a good thing! We lose some of our strength and stamina because of this and it has an effect on both physical and mental health.

Besides that, I was personally ready for something that would genuinely challenge me, to help me get out of my comfort zone (and a bit of a rut I was in); something that would really push my boundaries. I don’t like the cold at all, so starting a cold training combined with Pranayama and yoga seemed adventurous enough for me!

Keeping it up

Once I decided to commit and go for it, it was just something I did. It wasn’t easy at first (especially the cold shower part!), but within a week it started to get easier and I can honestly say now, I really enjoy it. With all the benefits I described I cannot imagine breaking this routine again. That doesn’t mean I don’t still find the cold showers hard and that some mornings I have to make myself get out of bed in time to do the breathing and hop into a cold shower. But I do it because I know how it makes me feel afterwards. And doing the breathing exercises every day feels sooo good!

Cold shower therapy and Ayurveda

Cold shower therapy in itself is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy with numerous health benefits such as treating anxiety and depression, improving circulation and toning skin. "Ishnan" is the term used in the old days when people in India referred to cold showers (very cold showers). Ishnan is the point at which the body, by its own virtue, creates the temperature that it can beat off the coldness of the water.

Cold shower benefits

The thought of a cold shower may make you wince but the benefits are manifold: 

  • Strengthens the immune system.
  • Increases blood circulation, flushing out your system. This is especially beneficial for the muscles and surface of the skin.
  • Improves sleep.
  • Promotes growth and repair of the circulatory system by stimulating capillary beds often left to "stagnate" with blood.
  • Although this is counter-intuitive, in the winter, cold showers are the best thing to keep you warm for the rest of the day.
  • Builds courage and willpower.
  • Great for your skin and your hair. 
  • They are one of the great anti-aging secrets for keeping your skin tight, elastic and vibrant.
  • Has an anti-depressant effect on your mood.
  • Balances the autonomic nervous system (This makes you feel relaxed and peaceful, yet still alert, when you get out of the shower.)
  • Helps you develop the ability to handle lower temperatures while maintaining your body heat.
  • Cleanses your body and mind of negative emotions that are your own or picked up from others.
  • Contributes to your longevity potential.
  • Wakes you up in the morning!
  • Balances the glands.
  • Corrects imbalances in menstruation.
  • Prevents early menopause.

- Combine this with Pranayama and yoga and you will become a super version of yourself.

Join me!!

By now I hope you have been convinced and want to join me...?!

Here's how: 

Here are the three-step instructions on how to start this new lifestyle, moving towards a strong core and radiant health. 

You can also follow our new programme 'Strong core - Radiant health' and be guided in your daily practice of Pranayama, Yoga and the cold showers for two weeks! The Pranayama video is free (see below) but you'll need an EkhartYoga membership to access the yoga classes. 

Step 1:

Your morning Pranayama/breathing technique

  1. First thing in the morning before eating any food, take a comfortable seated position and sit so that your spine is straight. This could be in a chair, on a meditation cushion or even in bed. Take 30 deep and full breaths through the nose*, a kind of circular breathing that you can keep going. Allow the air to go all the way up inside your ribs and chest. Think of filling the body with energy while you breathe and be present while feeling the body.
  2. The breathing is comparable to Bhastrika breath, just slower than most teachers teach it. After the 30th deep in-breath, slowly breathe out and hold the breath out for as long as you comfortably can (but don’t push too hard and half choke yourself!). 
  3. Once you feel you need to breathe in again, do it slowly, taking the energy from the bottom of the spine upwards. Hold this in-breath for about 10-15 seconds only, then breathe out again.
  4. Repeat this exact same cycle twice more, so in total, you complete 3 rounds of 30 breaths with a retention after each round. After the 3rd round, sit for a few minutes breathing normally and observe the body.

[*This is more of a yogic 'method' but if you want to breathe through the mouth, rather than the nose, or combine both nose and mouth, that is fine too; your body will find its own way.]

A word of note: You could get temporarily dizzy or experience some tingling or even numbness in certain body parts. This is due to the increase in prana (life energy) in your body, which will find its way through blockages and this can cause a little tingling and numbness. It’s nothing to worry about but if it gets too much, just slow it down a bit. Also, during the breath retentions, it’s possible that the body may experience some gentle swaying or even shaking. Just observe it and let it happen.

Step 2:

Next practise a few asanas of your choice. Follow your intuition and go with your own flow.
Another option is to follow the classes recommended by our yoga programme “Strong core, radiant health” - We have options for longer classes and shorter ones because the breathing practice by itself takes some time in the morning. You can also choose to practise yoga at the end of the day and only do the breathing and cold shower in the morning.

Step 3:

Cold shower exercise. Start with a warm shower (as long as you like). Finish with a cold shower (30 seconds). Good luck!!

Tips for regular practitioners of pranayama:

If you have a regular Pranayama practice you can apply gentle Mula Bandha on every in breath, while drawing the air in, then as you exhale really squeeze the air out.

Also for those more familar with Pranayama, at the end of the retention period after the out breath, just before you really need to breathe in again, you can practise Maha Bandha (applying Mula Bandha, Uddhiyana and Jalandhara Bandha all at once) for a few seconds.

Contraindications

The breathing practice and cold shower are not recommended if you are menstruating, pregnant or are sick. When you have an existing medical condition (this counts for either a physical condition or for a mental health condition) please check with your doctor if the pranayama exercise and/or cold shower is safe to do.

The cold is a strong force. Please make sure you gradually build up exposing yourself to the cold. Always train without force and listen carefully to your body. If not practised responsibly, you can risk hypothermia. If you have health issues, please always consult a doctor first before practising. And please don’t do your breathing exercises while in the shower.

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