Nothing makes one feel more comfortable with the capabilities of something than understanding it’s origin. It’s like a non-scientific way of reverse-engineering it. Today, our wellness agents went deep undercover around the world for traces of ice baths in the evolution of mankind, and here’s the gist of it all.
As some of you might already know from our previous blog posts, the history of ice baths stretches back thousands of years, with ancient civilizations showcasing their credence in the power of cold water plunging as a form of rejuvenation and healing for rounded wellness. One of the earliest recordings of ice baths can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Amidst the lavishness and grandeur of their civilization, Egyptians held a sophisticated practice of cold baths, materializing in their elite social establishments as a ritual of both purification and contrast. Bathing, basically, held deep significance for the Egyptians, extending beyond physical cleansing to cover a sacred ritual for body and soul. The practice of cold baths, set against the desert's scorching temperatures, symbolized a harmonious balance through opposition, a ball between hot and cold. This practice was so valued that these ice baths were often found within the premises of grand temples, symbolizing the intersection of physical and spiritual well-being. The legacy of ancient Egypt's ice baths endures as a testament to their elegance, foresight, and commitment to balance in the pursuit of both physical and spiritual rejuvenation for overall wellness.
Moving forward into the chronicles of time, the ancient Greeks transpire as sagacious trailblazers, their cultural taste woven with an appreciation for the revolutionary merits of ice baths. Esteemed for their all-inclusive approach to well-being, the Greeks viewed the act of immersing oneself in cold waters not merely as a physical ritual but as a journey that revitalized both mind and soul. We were hoping our snoops would dig up some lines on cold water therapy or ice baths coined by Poseidon, the Greek god of waters, but we failed on that front. We, however, found out this: Within the grand tapestry of ancient Greece, public bathhouses stood as sanctuaries equipped with ice-cold plunge pools, where the waters served a dual purpose: a medium for bodily cleanliness and a sacred arena for spiritual rituals.
We also found that the incorporation of cold water immersion transcended mere routine; it assumed the character of a therapeutic and ritualistic experience. The Greeks, in their wisdom and awe-inspiring fashion designs, attributed to cold water plunging not just the power to cleanse the corporeal form but also the capacity to purify the spirit, bestowing mental clarity and spiritual revival—something believers would have shouted “AMEN” to.
Public bathhouses, ingrained in the fabric of ancient Greek society, transcended their functional role as facilities for physical purification. They metamorphosed into communal theaters where individuals from diverse walks of life could partake in the practice of ice-cold plunge pools. These spaces transmuted into arenas not solely for the cleansing of the body but as communal grounds for rejuvenation, encapsulating the ancient Greek philosophy that underscored the inseparable interplay of physical and spiritual well-being.
In retracing our steps through time, the ancient Greeks emerge not merely as historical figures but as early visionaries, their insights into the therapeutic virtues of ice baths echoing through the ages. Their comprehension of the general impact—from the revival of the physical self to mental recalibration and the rejuvenation of the spirit—resonates as a perennial understanding of well-being, a timeless echo that persists in our contemporary pursuits of health and harmony. And as the saying goes in Greece, “"Νερό και ψυχρό πρόστυχο, και φίλος πάντα ωφέλιμο," which loosely translates as, "Cold water is always useful, and a friend is always beneficial." The saying can’t be any truer.
Similarly, the traditional Japanese culture also embraced the therapeutic merits of ice baths, weaving them seamlessly into the fabric of daily life for both purification and recovery purposes. Within the demesne of Japanese onsen, revered hot spring baths, a distinctive practice known as "rotenburo" took center stage. In this contrast bath technique, individuals artfully alternated between plunging themselves in bracingly cold water and the warmth of natural spring water. Far beyond a mere ritual, this practice held weighty significance, as it was believed to not only stimulate blood circulation but also alleviate muscle soreness and foster an overarching sense of healing among the Yakuza and the Samurai.
The practice of "rotenburo" summarized the Japanese appreciation for the faint balance between contrasting elements, embodying a belief in the harmonious interplay of opposing forces for general well-being. The juxtaposition of frigid and warm waters became a ceremonial dance, not just for physical rejuvenation but as a conduit for spiritual and mental refreshment.
In the traditional Japanese onsen culture, rotenburo was more than just a physical cleansing; it was a ritualistic journey. Moving beyond the surface, it became an experience of recovery where the energies of cold and warmth came together, offering a complete sense of vitality and renewal for the Samurai. Samurai warriors embraced cold water therapy as part of their discipline. It was believed to toughen the body, increase mental fortitude, and enhance overall resilience. Cold water baths were an integral part of their training and purification rituals…but there was more.
Ancient Japan also had the Misogi - a Shinto purification ritual that often involved cold water immersion. Participants would stand or sit in a river or waterfall, allowing the cold water to cleanse them physically and spiritually. This practice aimed to remove impurities and promote a sense of renewal. Some of our snoops reported disturbing, or rather funny rumors too. Legend has it that when Samurai and Yakuza warriors failed to see a mission through, they were expected to say, “I’m sorry, and I won’t do it again,” standing under a cold waterfall. The practice is called “Seppuku,” which basically involves a warrior murdering himself in cold blood. That must have been their only understanding of, “I won’t do it again.” It also underscores the relevance of cold water plunges in ancient Japan.
As civilizations advanced, the use of ice baths shifted from spiritual rituals and pre-suicidal statements to medical treatments. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, hydrotherapy became a popular therapeutic approach, with ice baths being a prominent component. Doctors in Europe and North America prescribed cold water immersion for various conditions, including arthritis, muscle injuries, and even mental illnesses. Specialized clinics and sanatoriums were established, where patients would undergo a series of ice bath treatments in the hopes of improving their health.
Today, with advanced technology and improved research, ice baths have found their place in the world of sports and athletic recovery. Many professional athletes and fitness buffs swear by the benefits of cold water immersion to reduce inflammation, enhance muscle recovery, and improve overall performance. Popularized by athletes such as five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Tottenham fullback Emerson Royal, who spent almost a million dollars to add a cold exposure room to his home, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who famously included ice baths as part of his training regime, this ancient practice has garnered attention as a modern recovery technique.
Ice baths are practiced worldwide, with sports facilities, spas, and even home setups catering to those seeking the invigorating effects of cold water on their bodies. Regions with a colder climate, such as Scandinavia, Finland, and parts of Russia, have a long-standing tradition of ice bathing as part of sauna rituals. These cultures have even organized annual events, like the Finnish Sauna World Championships, where competitors endure icy plunges to test their endurance. Some have so much as bought these cold plunge baths solely for practice.
The history of ice baths is a testament to humanity's enduring fascination with the power of cold water to heal and rejuvenate. From ancient Egyptian pharaohs to primeval unrelenting Japanese warriors to modern athletes, the practice has evolved and adapted to different cultures and contexts but remains rooted in the belief that plunging oneself in cold water can have profound physical and mental benefits.
Whether you’re Tutankhamun's descendant, a seppuku-bound warrior, or just a simple Simon seeking holistic wellness this year, we have a cold plunge bath here that fits your needs. Click here to experience benefits of cold water therapy