I Went Coatless for 3 Weeks in the Middle of Winter – Here’s What I Noticed
I find it just as strange that I didn’t manage to run away from this winter as I did the last two years. Stranger than that, I’ve come to enjoy the cold in some masochistic and mindful way. Ever since I came across a peculiar character on YouTube by the name of Wim Hof, promoting his breathing technique and freezing acts, I have undertaken a small experiment with my body to see what would happen if I altogether stopped wearing warm winter clothing.
My motivations for starting this were not very thought out as one might think:
- Lastly, do we actually need warm clothes to stay healthy or is this a luxury we thought up to escape suffering?
- They say cold showers are healthy, what about cold everything?
- My mom would never let me do this if she were here.
- It won’t cost me anything to try, hell I’ll have less laundry!
- What’s there to lose besides body heat?
With that in place, the masochist in me ditched my sweater and gloves and decided to continue doing everything I do outdoors, but also looking like a lunatic in the winter. The weather here has been between 28° – 45°. Not too hot and not too cold for an experiment. I rarely take public transportation and work a 10 minute bike ride from work so I told myself I will stop as soon as I catch a cold. It’s been three weeks, here’s what I’ve noticed:
Are you Cold?
I’m fairly accustomed to the notion that I’m either a little crazy or ridiculous. I have fond memories of being called either in Germany and in the US. Just the same throughout these past few weeks I’ve gotten the question many times “Are you cold?” That is a time dependent question with a time dependent answer. I’ve timed my walks and I’ve noticed a pattern until I’m no longer thinking about the cold. Within 10 minutes I’ve noticed three stages and I’ve broken them down with some mental narrations & notes.
0:00 – 4:30 “It’s cold. I know it, you know it and my body knows it. Crap, guess I have to keep walking.” – This is always the most difficult stage because you’re usually going from a place that is heated and comfortable and you’re conforming to an environment that is raw, cold and often windy. Your body undergoes the most notable change here.
4:30 – 7:30 “My body is doing it’s thing! I’m still cold but not as noticeably as before.” – This is the first noticeable change for me, my limbs are losing temperature and my body’s habituating.
7:30 – 10:00 “I Still feel a little cold though it’s much easier to distract my thoughts away from this uncomfortableness.” – It’s a similar difference as in the previous stage.
10:00 – “Cold? Me? No I’m fine thanks for asking!” – Though my hands and arms are cold to the touch it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s like my body’s reached a level of equilibrium where my body is numb enough to the cold that it feels no different than it was a moment ago and it doesn’t bother me. My fingers are numb but not like they’re about to fall off due to frost bite. Just numb…
Then back inside – The first thing I notice after walking indoors is the sauna like difference in temperature on my skin. If I return to work after a post lunch stroll at the office, I notice my fingers are very slow on the keyboard and it takes a good five minutes until they feel normal again. It feels surprisingly good switching between the hot and the cold and I get a kick out of it.
I never realized how much time I spent looking for a sweater, putting on warm clothing or disrobing and how many minutes I shave off here and there just by being cold! I used to have a ritual biking to the climbing gym, walking to the changing room, taking off my jeans and sweater and folding them neatly in my backpack so they fit, climb, take everything out of the bag and put it on and leave. I cut out the changing and packing part and I get an extra 10 minutes not to mention I have less clothes I need to wash every week because I’m wearing less. Even if I give up this experiment I’m still going to do it when it saves me 5 minutes. These are terrible reasons to do this experiment but I search for reasons none the less 😀
On more seldom occasions I’ve noticed a sensation of increased awareness and a certain crisp in colors. At night walking under the Brooklyn Bridge staring at Manhattan’s city lights, they’re noticeably starker in contrast to the night sky. I imagine it’s my body’s survival reaction to the difference in temperature and there’s a slight adrenaline rush kicking in to keep myself more alert. Biking in the wind is noticeably colder though I feel slightly more in tune with my surroundings. Could be an instinctual reaction though I’m no doctor.
Shivering is (usually) a Choice
Going into this experiment I never set a deadline for how long I would do it nor did I do any research besides watch the initial TED talk where Wim froze himself and I expected my body would do what it normally does when it’s cold and shiver.
I noticed a certain factor comes into play if you go into a difficult situation aware and accepting of what you have to undergo vs dreading it. To put it simply I’ve deduced that you’re more likely to shiver if you dread the cold vs if you accept it as a fact of the situation. Easier said then done yet if I’m just leaving my apartment for a long walk then I know that it’s not going to suddenly turn sunny and 70° any time soon. By accepting the cold my body doesn’t shiver. Though…
Mornings are the Hardest
There’s something about waking up. Coming from a warm bed and a deep slumber and then acclimating to the same cold. I’m coldest in the mornings before work when I commute to the grocery store or laundromat and it’s more of a challenge not to shiver. At least for me, morning’s are a lot more mentally demanding then if I go for a walk midday or after work at night. Doing this exercise has tuned me in more to how my body & mood fluctuate throughout the day.
I used to eat a lot, now I eat more… I watched an interesting video explaining how calories work and in that video it brought one of the laws of thermodynamics and used that law to explain the principle that your body cannot burn energy if the external temperature never changes. In other words, if you’re always wearing a jacket to shield the cold from your body then you’re body won’t need to heat itself up to keep yourself warm. If you embrace the cold then your body starts working. When your body does work it burns calories and produces healthy side effects. Whether it’s a placebo effect or real I do find myself with a monstrous appetite.
Cold is Relative
The more you heat your apartment in the winter the more you preparing your body for a cold shock once you leave your cave. The bigger a temperature change, the more your nerves will notice the change. Have you ever been in an outdoor jacuzzi in the winder and jumped out of it? It’s just like that. I’ve come to realize being cold is relative to what you’ll allow yourself to feel. I used to feel cold being wearing a t-shirt in my apartment in the winter. Now that I’ve let myself feel the biting cold outside my reference point of cold has been altered.
Lo’ and behold I’ve been cold a lot this past month but I have’t caught a cold yet!. I still don’t know how to best answer the question why I’m doing this nor do I know how long I intend to continue freezing myself but I haven’t found a reason to completely stop. It’s a new mindset and I like to think of it as pre-training to some shitty situation that may befall me when I run away from my full-time job next summer. Then again I’ve come to foster a love/hate relationship with the cold. The first ten minutes it kinda sucks but once I get past the initial snag there’s no place I’d rather be!
– Update 2-9-2017
One day after posting this article and the weather went from a lovely 62° to ~25° and a blizzard! This was my first real test seeing if it’s doable to walk to work in jeans and a t-shirt.
And I ran into the Mark, the CTO of my work, walking on the way work. “Oh hey Mark, I look like an igloo”.
I’m sure it must have been an interesting sight for him…