Friday, January 23, 2009

Yoga for the Skin

There’s something refreshing about immersion in the unfamiliar. Whether it’s a different environment, a different language or a different culture, the absence of the familiar creates a vantage point to see yourself. Nowhere have I found this truer than in my travels in India.

There are so many things we assume to be truths. We generally chew with our mouths closed, conceal particular parts of our bodies, and drive on the same side of the road. Because we have operated within this set of assumptions for so long, we presume these traits to be truths, when in fact, they’re rules that were made up by people at some distant place in history. We may have come to like these ways of being, though the people with another set of rules are quite attached to their view, too.

How many comedies have been based on this human trait? We will laugh at the alien who’s landed on Earth and struggles to learn the customs, or the mother and teenage daughter who find themself in the other’s role. Because we’ve all had to learn a set of rules, mostly subconsciously, we can relate to the discomfort in not knowing the rules. The things we laugh at often touch our deepest layers.

One of my friends from India visits the US quite often. He speaks English beautifully, and navigates our culture capably. I’ll never forget, however, when we first showed him our friend’s new hot tub. For my friends and I, the hot tub was sort of symbolic. It represented a commitment to relaxing and hanging with friends, while simultaneously carrying the cachet of some material success. Beaming with pride, we swept our arm at the expanse of decking and beamed with joy at the hot tub.

Why would you sit in hot water with other people? Nagindas asked. His query came with a good deal of alarm. We were so taken aback we quickly shuffled back into the kitchen and turned our conversation to something less perplexing, such as the relative merits of vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

It wasn’t until several years later that I finally asked him about his concerns. Nagindas responded to the effect hot water is very bad for your skin. You use all these fancy soaps and lotions to look more youthful, and yet every day you damage your skin with all that hot water. In India we know that cold water tones the skin, and hot water injures the skin.

I like to try new things – to experiment. Unfortunately, the cold-shower experiment only lasted ‘til late-October. While the benefits were compelling, sudden cardiac arrest seemed a likely outcome if I persisted thru Winter. I could almost hear the guys in the morgue it’s a shame a guy with such youthful skin didn’t make it through Winter. There had to be a more context-appropriate method.

The words of another experimentalist, Phil Lundin, immediately came to mind. Phil was my college track coach, and has the sort of mind we’ve come to call Renaissance. Phil was always reading journals and bringing new ideas to our training regiment. Early in my college career Phil began advocating Contrast Showers. In a Contrast Shower you start with hot (hot!) water, and when you’re thoroughly heated to the bone, immediately switch to a purely cold-water shower. Once the skin gets thoroughly red, you can get out of the shower, or for deeper results, repeat the cycle. Based on the Finnish sauna, the Contrast Shower reduces muscle soreness by stimulating the circulation. In addition to purging the system of metabolic wastes and toxins, Contrast Showers also tone the pores of the skin.

I resumed Contrast Showers a few years ago after a decades long hiatus. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the benefits of the cold shower (feeling energetic after the shower, toned & healthy feeling skin, and reduced muscle soreness) were actually enhanced with the Contrast Shower. To this day, I am a believer in ending a warm shower with a good dose of cold water.


Jugney said...

Interesting idea. I'd like to try this out. I've been observing for months how attached I am to long showers, and how when I take them, I tend to stay in the shower longer than I want to and just "space out."

I've heard you should cover or rub your face if very cold water is hitting it, though, because there are sensitive blood vessels flanking the nose.

Christy Fox said...

Like how cold are we talking? The very coldest setting? In October I had the opportunity to go to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs Colorado. These natural sulfur springs were amazing and it felt exhilarating to go from the warm to cold pools over and over again. However, my own recent experience at home in the shower from warm to cold was not so pleasurable.

Scott Anderson said...

I agree with Christy's observation - this is much more pleasant at a mineral spring than in your shower stall. While the benefits are greatest in the mineral spring, you can reproduce many of the positive benefits in your own home. Use water as cold as possible!

Some people have blood vessels near the skin on the face, and the directly contact of the cold water may cause them to dilate or break. It's nothing to worry about - just make sure to keep the cold water off the face in the future.

Andrea said...

Again I am laughing out loud as I read this as I can just imagine Nagin's dismay at our silly ways. I did great all summer with contrast showering, surprisingly enjoyed it, and just haven't been able to bare it this winter. Still advocating the pre-shower dry brush?

Scott Anderson said...

Oh yes - I'm still a proponent of the pre-shower dry skin brush. It's amazing how much of what we consider aging skin is really dead skin cells that are eager to slough off... the dry skin brush facilitates their transition into the layers of dust that coat shelves, books and all other household items.

Menma said...

I have to admit I was kind of shocked to read the title of this blog post...Yoga for Skin...hmm...sounds very trendy...laughing... I have a friend who swears by contrast showering for curing all that ails you.

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