Ishnaan: The Science of Hydrotherapy

Ishnaan, or Cold Water Massage Therapy is the one of the healthiest and most inexpensive therapies for your body. “Ishnan” is an Indian term for the point at which the body temperature feels warmer than the coldness of the water. It has also been used by the Sikh Gurus in its abstract form, to refer to the cleansing of the mind and soul. The summer season is a great time to get used to taking these cold showers, because it’s not so much of a shock to our system, and has the added benefit of providing serious relief from the strong sun and often oppressive heat.

(photo by Kitty / New York Portraits)

Ishnaan is NOT your usual soap-and-shampoo shower. This shower is quick and therapeutic. It is best done first thing in the morning. You will probably become very holy the moment the cold water hits your body, because it is likely you will shout, “Oh my God!”

How it works:

When the cold water hits the surface of your skin, all the blood from way deep inside your body rushes to the surface in self-defense, vastly improving your circulation on the spot. All capillaries are opened up and all deposits and toxins are cleared out.

Capillaries are the smallest of the body’s blood vessels. They are so thin that blood cells can only pass through them in single file. The capillaries supply nutrients and carry away waste products. Each organ has a “capillary bed”, an interweaving network of capillaries that supplying it with blood, therefore each organ has its own unique blood supply. When the blood returns from the surface, a freshly circulated blood supply goes back to the organs.

As the cold persists, Ishnan sets off the release of cytokines, small cell-signaling protein molecules that are used extensively in intercellular communication, assisting in development, tissue repair, and immunity.

It also triggers an avalanche of endorphins, an opiatelike substance produced naturally in the body. These neurotransmitters are basically our own private narcotic. They block pain and are also responsible for our feelings of pleasure, like that “runner’s high” feeling that occurs after any kind of intense workout (including sex).

(photo by Adarshr)

The Process:

First, massage the body with pure oil (almond oil is most commonly used). The oil will be driven through pores of the skin while showering, providing a protective coating. Oil is easily absorbed by the skin when mixed with water, so you won’t be greasy afterwards.

Now you’re ready to get in the water! Wet face, hands and feet first. Go in and out of the water four times, constantly massaging your body until the water no longer feels cold. Be sure not to miss the area under your arms, which is where the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems meet.  Try to keep the thighs from having direct contact with the water stream, it will upset the calcium/magnesium balance of the body. Women, be sure to massage your breasts to increase circulation and clean out toxins. Also, no ishnaan if you are pregnant or on your Moon Cycle.

Keep this up until your body no longer feels cold (usually about 2 minutes, varies from person to person).

Dry off briskly with a rough towel until the body really shines. Then put on loose, comfortable exercise clothing, and you’re ready for your morning practice!

(this and the top photo from a lovely photo series by Manjari Sharma)

The Benefits:

* Brings blood to the capillaries, therefore increasing circulation throughout the body.

* Cleans the circulatory system

* Reduces blood pressure on internal organs

* Provides flushing for the organs and provides a new supply of blood

* Strengthens the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems

* Contracts the muscles to eliminate toxins and poisonous wastes

* Strengthens the mucous membranes, which help resist hay fever, allergies, colds, coughs

* Cleanses the aura and produces powerful energy

* Generates an endorphin rush

All of these advantages for just 5 minutes a day! Summer is a great time to implement this new habit, then it will become routine by the time the weather gets chilly. When it does, these ishnaan sessions actually warm you up. It’s a win-win, all year round. Hey, James Bond and Charles Darwin did it, and you should too!