A shadowy, frigid night. A pale, black moon. Looking for a wood frog, looking for this wild spirit as it has left my body and is running for the hills. To a grassy knoll, on the top of a mountain for a breath of fresh air. Where does the soul go when we lay down for rest, when we sleep? What if that sleep is for an extended period? Where do our thoughts release us to if the slumber is for a lengthy stay? Sometimes the answer isn’t so simple. Presenting the Wood Frog; a common amphibian of the timbered persuasion found everywhere from Arkansas to the Arctic Circle.
As the only frog to exist above the Arctic Circle; developing an adaptation when encountering the effects of the cold means to survive. When ice crystals reach our friend the wood frog it dehydrates itself into a rock like composition. Exhibiting more self control than a necrophiliac in a funeral parlor, the frog quickly petrifies itself at the first signs of ice, dehydrating into a fossil with all brain activity ceasing and no heart beat until it rethaws as many as 7 months later. SO WHERE DOES IT GO?? Floating in suspended animation it lays there encased in ice, with the insides of its cells filled with thick, sugary syrup and the outside water remaining frozen completely solid. “When you drop it, it goes Clink” states Kenneth Storey, a professor of Biochemistry at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
This rock-like state is created using special proteins in their blood (called nucleating proteins) which cause the water in their blood to freeze first. The frogs liver begins to produce a large amount of glucose (sugars) which then prop up the cells like tent poles during the dehydrated phase. The freezing helps the frogs drop their metabolism. As humans, we don’t do this.. Unfortunately we get frost bite. We do however have the ability to expand/speed up our metabolism. Using this as inspiration, humans have a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system gets you ready for action, a fight, a great burst of energy. The parasympathic system is the surfer dude trying to chill you out, man. It calms you down, releases chemicals that relax and regenerate you. Studies have shown that habitual cold exposure (cold showers, ice baths) causes a shift toward parasympathetic activity and lowers sympathetic activation. Even turning from a hot to cold shower and back to hot a few times will give you positive benefit.
The first 15 to 30 secs or so can be pure hell. Much of this is your body’s automatic fight or flight response kicking in, or a Sympathetic response. In order to get through this we must breathe, which provides the oxygen required for the muscles to relax. We have about 30 seconds of pure energy stored within us at any given time. It’s there in case a Lion jumps out, or a tree starts falling requiring you to sprint and not think. These motions require action without processed thought. In essence, thought and action so quick breathing isn’t involved. During these instances we use an energy currency called ATP. The first 30 seconds or so of an ice bath requires us to breathe through the initial pain response brought upon by the cold stimulus.
A few things to keep in mind when trying cold exposure:
- The body interprets mental and physical pain the same, producing the same chemicals and hormonal response for both
- Cold receptors are 3 to 4 times more numerous than warm receptors (after getting over the initial shock it provides more of an opportunity to feel and be aware of our surroundings)
- Temperature and Pain receptors use the same pathways within the body
By breathing deeply you provide the ATP (immediate energy) for the body to process its “freak out” moment. Moving into the Parasympathetic response, building up a tolerance to the cold. The heating/exciting and cold/intense aspects of a proper workout can generally be classified as Yin or Yang.
Yin represents the forces that produce passiveness. The cooler winter months and elements such as water, air, trees. Fruits that grow particularly fast and are larger than others; Yin tends to forever fill up the dimensions of its space (a goldfish or certain snakes and reptiles fit this bill). Coffee, caffeine, drugs and alcohol are all classified yin in nature. Fruits that are particularly watery or juicy are yin in nature.
Yang is representative of the dense, heavy, or highly active elements of the natural world. The hot, active nature of the summer months; the denseness of the sweet potato and other root vegetables classify them as yang.
During a workout we speed up our heart rate, our metabolism, and our breath. Exciting the senses and making us hyper sensitive and in turn hyperaware of what is going on around us. Creating a very Sympathetic, blood pumping, fat burning response in the nervous system; a very Yang response. In order to bring ourselves back to baseline we provide a Yin or Parasympathetic response.
Although we don’t turn into stone we exhibit characteristics similar to the wood frog. Using the cold as a tool and ally, we can speed up or slow down our metabolism at will. Requiring only a few minutes a week, we have the ability to train our bodies and minds to respond to stress as elegantly and with as much grace as desired. Happy showers yall!
Justin Sarmast is a personal trainer and fitness expert from Anne Arundel County. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org