Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Icelanders skip the hot springs for ice baths

Icelanders skip the hot springs for ice baths

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Icelanders skip the hot springs for ice baths

USING slow, deliberate movements and deep breathing, bathers immerse themselves in the waters of an ice-covered lake in southwestern Iceland.

While others might opt for the soothing hot springs for which the country is famous, this hardy group prefers an ice bath, all in the name of wellness.

The temperature above the frozen lake of Kleifarvatn, one of the country’s deepest, is minus six degrees Celsius.

Equipped with an axe, Andri Einarsson, the co-instructor on this unusual seminar, cuts a hole through the sheet of ice covering the lake, located less than an hour’s drive from the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa whose milky blue waters average 38C.

Up on shore, the group of about 15, who have come from the outskirts of the capital Reykjavik, is getting ready.

Clad in puffer jackets or thick sweaters, the participants warm up with a series of movements and breathing exercises reminiscent of the traditional Maori haka war dance.

“They were just working on getting the system ready [for the cold], challenging their mind, just tapping in and doing what we call the ‘brown fat activation’,” Einarsson says.

Cold as a remedy

The breathing technique is one of the pillars of the Wim Hof Method, named after a Dutch athlete.

Nicknamed the “Iceman”, Wim Hof has been setting world records and pursuing extraordinary feats of cold resistance for decades.

In 2007, he climbed to an altitude of 7,400m on Mount Everest dressed only in shorts, and he’s completed a barefoot half-marathon north of the Arctic Circle.

He lauds the benefits of his cold therapy – which combines breathing techniques, exposure to cold and meditation – as helping combat fatigue and stress and strengthening the immune system.

On the Kleifarvatn shore, despite the freezing cold, one by one the jackets and sweaters are discarded in favour of swimwear, and the participants begin to take the plunge.

Many don’t even hesitate – the exercise marks the end of a four-week programme in which they’ve progressively been exposed to the cold.

It began with water at 10C, followed by a bath full of ice, before finally braving the frozen lake.

For two minutes they endure the icy water, concentrating on inhaling and exhaling, which according to the adepts is the key to ignoring the biting pangs of the freezing temperatures.

Once out, walking back to dry land presents another challenge, as the cold water makes most people’s legs go numb.

“There is this feeling of needles and everything starts itching a little bit,” Marco Pizzolato says, as he returns from the hole in the ice.

When it comes to pain relief, the benefits of cold exposure have been known about since ancient times.

However the practice has been gaining popularity among athletes for the last 15 years to help them recover faster from workouts and injuries.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Equipped with an axe, Andri Einarsson cuts a hole through sheets of ice on frozen lake of Kleifarvatn. AFP

‘All your worries’

Scientists however are not yet fully convinced.

“We need more research before we can say for sure that it helps,” Haukur Bjornsson, a doctor with the Icelandic national football team, says.

“Cold water immersion is part of what is recommended to help with the recovery. But the most important thing is sleep and nutrition, those are the only things for which we have some strong scientific proof,” Bjornsson adds.

Different forms of cold therapy have found favour among the general public in recent years, with health clinics offering cryotherapy and fitness blogs preaching the benefits of cold showers.

Most public baths now too offer pools with water between two and 10C.

But Andri Einarsson stresses that it takes practice to actually enjoy the experience.

“Everybody can go in an ice bath, sit there and . . . be tough. But surrendering to it is totally a whole other ball game,” he says.

While the science of the Wim Hof Method is still not understood or universally accepted, those participants swore by its merits.

Ingvar Christiansen said that the practice “completely changed [his] life and way of thinking,” as he recovered from a trying time in his life where he battled weight, burnout and divorce proceedings.

He now prefers cold baths to vacationing abroad.

“When I got out, I felt like I was coming home from a two-week vacation in Spain. You dump everything: all your worries, all your anxiety, it goes away.” AFP


  • Tourists urged not to skip trip

    The Ministry of Tourism has called on international tourists not to cancel trips to Cambodia, but urged them to adhere to several dos and don’ts when arriving in the Kingdom during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry released an eight-point instruction manual on Wednesday published

  • The taxman cometh – Cambodia’s capital gains tax casts the net on individual taxpayers

    In a country where only limited personal income tax existed, the new taxation law beginning January 1, 2021, will make taxpayers out of Cambodians, whether they are ready for it or not About two years ago, a little known amendment was made to Article 7 of the Law

  • Cambodian-American gets Star Trek treatment

    Kevin Ung, a Cambodian-American whose family escaped genocide during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, was recently selected from thousands of applicants to participate in the Television Academy Foundation’s inaugural 2020 Star Trek Command Training Programme, a course intended to give hands-on filmmaking experience

  • Cambodia seeks to be transport hub

    Cambodia is working on several fronts to modernise its transport infrastructure and services, concentrating on opening new international gates to relieve and balance traffic congestion at its borders, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol said on Thursday. This is part of the Kingdom’

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • Singapore Fintech start-up enters Sihanoukville

    Singapore-based fintech start-up Fincy on Wednesday announced the expansion of its cashless payment system to Sihanoukville to tap into the southwestern coastal city’s ever-widening business and investment landscape. The move is in line with the National Bank of Cambodia’s (NBC’s) recommendations to