Cold is Cool: The Many Benefits of Practicing Ishnaan (Cold Water Therapy)


Cold showers are almost universally loathed – but what if they could be used as a tool for healing and well-being? It might make you cringe, but many yogis and other wellness experts say they can. Ishnaan, or cold water therapy, is touted with producing a wide range of benefits for both the mind and body.

What is Ishnaan?

Western yogis and health enthusiasts have largely come to associate cold water therapy with the Wim Hof Method, which combines ice baths with specific breathing and meditation exercises. But the practice of Ishnaan goes back much further than that. Some cultures have been using it for hundreds of years.

One of Ishnaan’s most prominent advocates was Yogi Bhajan, renowned master of Kundalini yoga. He encouraged his students to get up early and take a cold shower first thing every morning.

Even though it’s become trendy, you don’t have to go to a spa or retreat to practice Ishnaan. You’ll get the same benefits from taking cold showers at home or swimming in a cold lake or river.

Physical Benefits

Ishnaan is touted with enhancing nearly all of the body’s systems. Exposure to cold increases the flow of lymphatic fluids, triggers immunity, stimulates circulation, and strengthens the nervous system. It reduces swelling, inflammation, and muscle soreness as well. For that reason, many athletes use it to improve performance and recover from injury. And for people who tend to have trouble staying warm, practicing Ishnaan can help reset the body’s ability to regulate temperature and adapt to the cold. The cherry on top? Cold water is also great for the skin, tightening the pores and producing anti-aging effects.

Mental & Spiritual Benefits

The mental benefits of Ishnaan are just as profound as the physical ones. Exposure to the cold can alleviate symptoms of depression, increase energy, improve mood, and reduce anxiety and stress. Many practitioners find that practicing cold water therapy is akin to washing away negativity, leaving them feeling more positive and uplifted. By pushing you to do something difficult and outside of your comfort zone, it also builds resilience, courage, and willpower. You’ll benefit from those qualities in every aspect of life, from the mat to the office.

Risks & Contraindications

Of course, cold water therapy is not right for everybody. It should not be practiced by people who have had strokes, experience migraines, or have high blood pressure, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or epilepsy. Women are also recommended to avoid Ishnaan during menstruation and pregnancy.

The cold is a powerful force, and it’s important for even healthy individuals need practice Ishnaan with awareness. Start out slowly. Begin with just a minute or two at a time, and shift gradually from lukewarm water to colder temperatures. Don’t practice if you aren’t feeling well, and stop if you experience any symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia.

When done carefully, though, Ishnaan could provide exactly the boost you need – whether you keep getting colds, experience excessive muscle soreness, or have just been feeling a little “blah” lately.


About the Author


Jennifer Ambrose

Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.