5 Breathing Techniques to Practice Before an Ice Bath

5 Breathing Techniques to Practice Before an Ice Bath - IceBath Malaysia

Controlling your breathing during an ice bath can be a challenging thing to do.

Exposing yourself to cold water can be shocking (in the best kind of way), but controlling your breath before and during your ice bath can help manage any feelings of discomfort.

How cold water affects breathing

Being submerged in water (especially if you submerge your head and face) causes your heart rate to slow, your blood vessels to constrict and, most notably, changes your breathing pattern.

Common responses during cold water immersion are:

  • Shallow breathing or breath-holding — This occurs due to the activation of the vagus nerve, which signals the body to conserve heat. Shallow breathing is characterized by rapid, shallow inhalations and limited exhalations.
  • Gasping — Cold water immersion often triggers an initial gasping reflex, an involuntary deep breath taken in response to the shock of cold water. This reflex can lead to a sudden intake of air, causing irregular breathing patterns.
  • Hyperventilation — Some individuals may experience hyperventilation, characterized by rapid and deep breathing, during or after a cold plunge. Hyperventilation can be a result of the body’s attempts to restore oxygen levels or the body’s reaction to stress.

This happens because being exposed to cold water activates the fight-or-flight response, which is controlled by your sympathetic nervous system.

Controlling your breathing during an ice bath can help you mitigate some of these effects by activating your parasympathetic nervous system — the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system.

Doing this can make your ice bath more relaxing and enjoyable.

Tips for breath control

At The IceBath Company, we promote slow, deep and controlled breathing during your ice bath. Our preferred technique is to practice 3-4 deep breaths before we get into the water to help us prepare and then return to that breathing technique throughout the ice bath.

The simplest way to do this is:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for three seconds. You can put your hands on your belly or your sides and feel them expand with each breath.
  2. Slowly exhale, extending the breath out for 6 seconds. When you breathe out, you can focus on relaxing your body or even think about relaxing specific muscle groups with each breath, such as your face and jaw, your back and shoulders or your hands and arms.

Alternative breathing techniques

Try these techniques before getting in your ice bath to help prepare for the experience.

Square or box breathing

This simple practice is used by Navy SEALs and consists of four stages: inhale, hold, exhale, hold. Each of these stages is given equal time, anywhere from 2 to 5 seconds each. We like a four-second cycle.

  1. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
  2. Pause (hold your breath) for 4 seconds.
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds.
  4. Pause for 4 seconds.
  5. Repeat.

Triangle breathing

Similar to box breathing, this technique involves three stages of equal time.

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold for 4 seconds.
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds.
  4. Repeat.

4-7-8 breathing

This relaxing breathing technique is sometimes practiced as part of yoga or relaxation. By focusing on counting and breath control, you can quiet any internal thoughts that are swirling or distracting you.

  1. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold for 7 seconds.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds with a whooshing sound.
  4. Repeat.

Physiological sighs

This simple breathing technique consists of two inhales, one long and one short, followed by an extended exhale.

  1. Inhale normally.
  2. Do another short inhale to bring even more air into your lungs.
  3. Without pausing, exhale deeply. This might feel or sound like a sigh.
  4. Repeat

Superman breathing

This technique gets its name from the pose you’ll use with your hands on the outside of lower ribs. This is going to give you a tactical cue (something you can feel) as your ribs expand and contract with each breath. This can help you focus on your breath and eliminate distracting thoughts (like being in cold water).

  1. Place your hands on the outside of your lower ribs.
  2. Breathe in deeply (through your nose, if that is comfortable) and feel your ribs expand. You want to feel the ribs expanding horizontally, not vertically from your chest.
  3. Fully exhale and notice the ribs contract.
  4. Repeat.

Benefits of breath control during your ice bath

While taking an ice bath can be a challenging experience, it’s also a rewarding one. Start with a few deep breaths using these techniques before you get in and come back to that breathing pattern throughout your ice bath anytime you start to feel distracted by the cold.

Controlling your breath in your ice bath, you can stay focused, maintain a positive mindset and feel in control and empowered.

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