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Alliance Natural Health Special

Cold Water Dousing & 19th Century Physical Culture

To Your Health!

The winter weather is upon us, and with it the attendant colds and flu. The new year is here as well, and with it are new resolutions to "get in shape." Thus we thought this would be a perfect time to share some of the Natural Health methods we have found so useful here at Alliance. These are time honored Western traditions of health and physical culture which were common in the 1800s. Books on boxing, wrestling, and physical training mention this practice (or that of cold water bathing) and even into the 20th century, physical culturists like J.P. Muller were touting its benefits.

Last winter, we posted this article on
Cold Water Therapy and Self Tempering in Nature. It caused quite a stir on the e-mail and forums as people tried to understand it. Many thought the entire idea was crazy, and this made me laugh. Here were people who thought *knife fighting* was a normal thing, but a bucket of cold water was somehow "too far out!" Oooooh, scary stuff, kids!

Others tried it, or claimed to, but failed in the end because they made it into a tough man "extreme bathing" sort of thing. They missed the point. This is not about you being tough because you do this. You must surrender those sort of thoughts. In the face of nature, on a below freezing night with high winds and snow, you are not so big and tough. You must be just another part of nature if you are to survive; but even in these conditions, you can be calm, peaceful, and warm inside while standing naked to the elements.

This again is not an issue of mind over matter as some like to say ("If you don't mind, it doesn't matter"). You are not "toughing it out" in the sense of resistance to the situation. It is only when you absolutely surrender to the moment that you can find the calm center in the storm. That center is always with you, but you must find it. The snow, the water, the cold is just a pathway to that place. Like all things they are illusions and they are fleeting. Even as you pour the water you know it will end; you can only experience it "Now!" Read these writings by Porphiri Ivanov if you want to understand more. He is the ONE!

Physically, we know that the cold water and natural tempering is good for the human body. I have not gotten sick now in two years since starting to douse regularly. The one time I started to get the sniffles was in the summer when I was slacking off of dousing. I doused about 3 times that day (once every 2 hours as advised by
Vladamir Vasiliev in the Russian System Guidebook) and was fine afterwards.

Another element tied to the cold water dousing is the deep breathing exercises. According to Farmer Burns (19th/20th century American wrestling master) deep breathing "could make a weak man strong and a sick man well." Burns taught several methods of deep breathing in his book Lessons in Wrestling and Physical Culture. Even into WWII, these same sorts of deep breathing exercises were being taught to the Marines as part of their PT.

Calisthenics and other forms of body-weight conditioning were central to 19th century exercise.
Matt Furey is one of the leading proponents of this sort of training today, and his book Combat Conditioning is an excellent resource. One workout that he teaches is the "Royal Court" (also known as the "Karl Gotch Bible") in which a deck of playing cards is used. The following is an adaptation of that drill using four exercises instead of only two. Each suit represents a different exercise:

Hindu Squats (X2)
Crunches (X2)

You do as many repetitions of each exercise as the number on the card, with the face cards and ace counting as 10. For the Hindu squats and crunches do twice as many repetitions. Try to keep the pace up and not rest too long between cards, even if you draw several of the same suit in a row. If you don't go through the whole deck in one workout, start the next workout with the remaining cards before you reshuffle. Work to do x2, x3, or even x4 of each exercise - the above is just a starting point most people can accomplish!

Bridging is another great exercise that I would advise folks to try. Again, Matt Furey has a lot of information available to help you along with the bridge, but you should be able to learn this pretty easily from any good book on wrestling. The big thing is to start slowly and pay attention. Bridging both strengthens and stretches your neck when done properly, and works the muscles of the torso and legs as well. You want to work on the front and back bridges until you can hold them for at least two minutes comfortably. Again, the deep breathing exercises will come into play here.

One of the great things about 19th century health exercise is that you do not need a lot of complicated equipment to get started. For bridging indoors, all I use is a folded towel. I am sure that every one of you has that, a bucket and a deck of playing cards around the house somewhere, so dig them out and give it a try. You have nothing to lose but weakness, and a world of vitality to enjoy!

NEW - Cold Water Dousing Testimonials for 2002 - NEW
Any possibility to put some Zen focus into my first experience with 'Dousing' was lost when my wife followed me out into the backyard. " What exactly do you plan to do?" She inquired closely observing me fill the plastic buckets from the local Dollar Store. The interrogation continued as I carefully placed the buckets in a neat row and removed my sandals and robe. Jeneene has always been an incredible wife; always supportive of my work with The School of Two Swords and this affectation I've had with edged weapons. Never a complaint when a new weapon went up on the walls of her house or the long weekends she endured attending seminars with me. Now, from her tone, I could see she was rapidly approaching the saturation point and somewhat doubted my sanity. " I've had one 'Hell' of a Day already and now you are going to do What ?" Once again I explained, trying to use all those persuasive words that my friend Pete Kautz had used on the Alliance web-site. "What was that Russian's name ?" I forgot it immediately when my bare feet hit the cold ground. Eyeing the surgery scar on my chest and with a look as cold as the ground, she inquired . "You want me to just call 911…..Right? Well, that was enough, I had some doubts about this anyway and besides, it takes a whole hell-of-a-lot of courage to pour cold water over one's head while standing outside in 40 degree temperature. "Just hold my damn robe and be prepared to hand me the towel." I growled, sprinkling water from my hands onto my face.

A couple of Chi breaths and I was ready. The first bucket was a jolt but after that my breathing became smooth. Yes, it was cold, no doubt about that but my mind was definitely clearer . The second bucket did not have the same affect, again chilled but the effect of it coursing down my body was very smooth and almost soothing. The third and final bucket was a different feel entirely, it was almost warm. I felt that if I had used five buckets the final one would have really felt great.

A quick towel-off and into the house with my relieved wife. "No dear, I did not die !" In fact, I felt great! The normal aches and pains in my back and knees were gone……interesting. Probably the most profound feeling was a wonderful presence of mind and none of the after work stupor that normally accompanies my evening work-outs. I rolled though my stretching and breathing exercises with new energy. My work-out was the best in years. I felt like I was 18 again….well maybe 35. One thing for sure this there is something definitely going on with cold water therapy. I don't have all the answers but I will tell you this, it is now a regular part of my health regiment and will continue so. Thanks Pete.

Colonel Dwight McLemore - Yorktown, Virginia
Just finished your latest article at your site and I gotta tell you, it's f***ing great! You know, ever since your last article on cold water therapy, and after reading Matt Furey's piece on cold water, I've also haven't missed a day of dousing, and also haven't been sick for the last year and a half. Must be the vitamins...or is it the vodka? ;)

Alan G.

I wanted to let you know that I'm still dousing (since last year). It snowed here Wednesday night (still not as cold as where you are) & WOW!

James S.

13 Tips on Practicing Cold Water Therapy
Adapted from advise on RMA Cold Water Forum and my own experience

1. Bare feet on the bare ground is best.  In snow, I like to clear a small space so I can stand on the ground.  I still walk in and out barefoot in the snow but for standing a cleared spot is better, I feel.

2. DO NOT shower with warm water afterwards.  It dampens the positive effects.

3. Spend some time outside, a minute or so, before and hang out a bit outside afterwards if possible.  No need to rush back in the house.  Throwing a little cold water on your face, arms and legs is a good way to start.  Also, spending time outside "underdressed" when the opportunity arises is a good practice too.  Relaxation makes it possible.

4. A bucket with a lipped spout makes it easier to direct the water where you want it, but I'll always go for more water over a nicer bucket.

5. Water from the outside tap is much colder (better) than water from inside.  Filling the tap outside also gives you more time outside.  In the winter when this is not possible, fill several buckets before hand.  This saves the trips back in and allows you to focus more on the experience.

6. Read the life story of the modern day Master of this practice
Porphiri Ivanov, a true Man of Nature!

7. Do it!  It's fun and it feels great and it is indeed a (positive) addiction.

8. The colder the water, the better it feels.

9. Keep the breath steady while dousing.  When you finish a bucket, inhale, hold your breath, focus, then exhale.

10. Pour evenly and calmly. Enjoy, and don't rush it.

11. In winter, rubbing the skin with snow after dousing (a "snow bath") is a great follow up.  Rub the snow over all parts of your skin; the arms, face, chest, back, and legs, working from the top of your body down to the ground.

12. Briskly towel off once you come back inside, again rubbing down the body in the same way as the snow bath.

13. Coed naked dousing! (Cold, wet shorts are no fun)

I truly believe that if you practice dousing year-round, then you will always find nature and the elements more comfortable and pleasant. You will enjoy your time outside more, and you will find yourself at peace in the world. Why not try it for 30 days and see? There is no cost. There is no "faith" required. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. 30 days will pass in any case...why not have gained something positive for your life?

Cold Water Therapy Links

Cold Water Therapy and Self Tempering in Nature

Cold Water Swimmers - San Francisco’s Dolphin Club, Est.1877

Discussion Forum for Cold Water Therapy and Russian Martial Arts

First Aid - Cold Injuries & Cold Water Near Drowning Guidelines

Hot and Cold Therapy

Phil Nicols "Phil-Osophy" on Cold Water Therapy and Health

Porphiri Ivanov - Man of Nature

Rubberdub.com - Cold Water Swimming in the UK

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