The Uses of Cold

Mount_Erebus_4.jpg

I have been practicing standing meditation and martial arts in the cold wearing only light clothing. I credit Wim Hof, the Ice Man, for getting me started on this experiment. It may be an effective strategy for managing looseness in the joints. 

I have been kicking over my head for forty years. As a dancer I did bridges and splits every day, and through Daoyin I achieved some contortion-level flexibility. In my early twenties when I was studying with Zhang Xuexin outside in the San Francisco fog, I noticed that he was wearing three pairs of long underwear. I wanted to be more loose at that time and did thousands of hours of loosening exercises. But noticing Zhang's underwear got me thinking that staying warmer might help. So I started wearing long underwear all the time. And it did make me looser. (If you want to be looser, try staying warmer.)

Fast forward to age forty-five and I started losing muscle mass. Suddenly my joints were too loose. Having now read some science books on the subject, I realize that some of my nerve cells have been dying with age, and they do not re-grow--when they go, they are gone. Which means, in order to have the same neural recruitment of muscle I have to stimulate new neural pathways in the brain by using resistance training. But cold might work too.  

 How ligaments work.

How ligaments work.

What does too loose mean? In my case I think it means that my ligaments are fairly stretched out, which gave me a large functional range. But as I lost muscle mass I probably also lost  static holding power in my ligaments. In other words, my ligaments are more like bungie-cords than the nylon webbing they should be. That means I need more muscle to hold the joints together, because my ligaments are unlikely to recover their youthful stiffness. (Ligaments, by definition, transfer force from one bone to another and they are organized in such a way as to hold joints together, like Chinese Handcuffs.) I now get some ligament pain, or joint pain if I put a lot of stress on joints without adequate muscle engagement. The trickiest spots are writs and sacrum where there is not much muscle mass. But the good news is I have solved this problem with cold (and a few strengthening exercises).

My first experiment was inspired by Wim Hof the Ice Man. Watch this video, if you haven't already, about how he cured depression with cold! 

Wim's method is similar to Tibetan Tumo (which I wrote about here with Daniel Mroz). Wim's breathing method works perfectly with Daoyin. Before this Winter, I had not tried doing Daoyin in my underwear at below freezing temperatures, so I didn't know Wim Hof breathing is perfectly natural and spontaneously arising. The breathing keeps me warm on the inside and it feels great to have cold skin on the outside, even when I am standing perfectly still doing meditation. 

Anyway, I did this experiment off and on during the Winter. I burned a lot of calories and had to eat more because of it. So I pulled back, it is fun, but a little excessive.

Another experiment I have been working on involves keeping all my muscles engaged, this is called metal element training in Daoyin. This syncs up with Neigong perfectly. As well as circus stuff. I have been doing the Circus Abdominal workouts and lots of handstand work. The trick is to transform the metal element into liquid gold. To do this one must be able to keep all the muscles engaged simultaneously while moving from outside the body. 
Then, I figured out that simply by practicing in the cold my muscles will stay engaged. Right now it is 50 °F in Boulder, and I am practicing in shorts and a t-shirt. This is the best thing for loose joints, and it feels great. Miracle. 

I don't know if this will work for other people with loose joints, but please try it and let me know. Nor do I know what I'm going to do in the other seasons, but it is great for Spring!