The scenario: We go for a 3-day hike deep in the Southern Alps, it is heading into winter time and will be cold but we plan appropriately and take adequate supplies and clothing. A river crossing presents itself and we decide we can safely cross in a particular spot. I roll my ankle, fall in and Greg makes the decision to jump in to grab my pack and swim me to the side of the river. My pack gets snagged on a branch and unless we loose the pack we are both going under. We manage to swim to the side but we are now soaked, have limited supplies and its near dark, we are in a very dangerous position. Each year there are countless reports of hypothermia from plans going wrong in the wilderness.
In the above scenario, apart from our mindset and the obvious bushcraft skills we could use to better our situation our bodies resilience to the cold and our thermoregulatory system are our best chance of survival. A key aspect of our course we taught in the weekend was how to incorporate cold water immersion into one's training leading into an adventure. The goal here is to build resilience towards harsh environmental conditions so if a situation presented itself where the cold was a major player, one's chance of survival would be much greater.
Apart from the benefits from a survival point of view, we also taught the incredible health benefits from this practice which we summarised in the big 5.
Improved resilience towards stress and disease
Conversion of white fat to brown fat
Cardiovascular health and improved circulation
With thousands of years of ancestral knowledge backed by science showcasing the benefits of cold water immersion, we still fall back on the wisdom of Sioux warriors who had an intrinsic understanding of what was needed to have incredible health, strength and resilience. They understood the importance of hormesis, benefits gained by short termed stressors. Cold water immersion just like caloric restriction and exercise are stressors that the human body needs in order to thrive.
"In order to develop the resilience necessary to endure these ups and downs and “prepare the body for the extraordinary exertions that it might, at any moment, be required to undergo,” the Sioux intentionally trained for toughness: fasts from food and water were undertaken even when there was plenty to eat and drink, ice baths were regularly taken, and hard exercise was kept up continually. The Sioux placed such a heavy emphasis on physical activity, because they felt that building a young man’s fitness not only strengthened his body, but developed his ability to live a life of moral virtue and self-mastery".
Charles Alexander Eastman, Santee Sioux