I Tried It: Cold Plunge at Breathe Degrees Breathwork Studio
Could you sit in a 40 degree cold plunge pool for 3+ minutes? Turns out it’s easier than you might think — with the right mindset and the right breathing technique. Read on to hear about our editor Marta Giri’s experience at a new breathwork studio in North County San Diego.
The cold plunge experience at Breathe Degrees (me – far right)
Nearly every meditation and mindfulness practice has breathing as a cornerstone to its method. So like many wellness enthusiasts, I’ve dabbled in different forms of breathwork – pranayama through yoga, following the breath in mindfulness meditations, and even the Wim Hof breathwork method via YouTube videos.
But the breathing method and cold plunge hydrotherapy I experienced at Breathe Degrees in Carlsbad took me to a whole other universe. Here’s what happened.
Backed by Science
My first interaction with Breathe Degrees was a courtesy call from the staff, asking me to arrive 15 minutes early so I could learn how to breathe properly before my session. So I pulled up to the breathwork studio in a Carlsbad strip mall early as requested and headed inside. After a quick tour of the clean, spacious studio, we were introduced to Tyler Forbes, Breathe Degrees co-founder and certified Wim Hof instructor.
Tyler’s enthusiasm was infectious. He gave us a rousing overview of what to expect in the next 75 minutes by pumping us up with positive mindset thinking, demonstrating the proper breathing technique (start by filling up the belly and going all the way up to fill your chest) and most importantly, the science behind it all.
Tyler listed scientific fact after fact in support of breathwork’s many benefits, which include:
- elevates mood and reduces stress
- better sleep
- reduces high blood pressure
- more focus and clarity
- boosts immunity and reduces inflammation
- increased longevity
As a wellness geek, I appreciated the science download and could understand how scientific evidence could help a skeptic have faith in the instructors and what they were about to experience.
The Breathwork Part
After our pep talk with Tyler, we were ushered into a large yoga studio, complete with cushy yoga mats, velvety pillows, soft bolsters and fuzzy eye masks. The windows were also darkened so the only lights in the room were soft, color LED backlighting shifting from blue to green to pink and purple. The whole esthetic plus eye masks gave me flashbacks to long-haul flights but thankfully in this instance, I got to stretch my whole body out and lie down.
I asked the woman next to me if it was her first time. “This is my third time this week! I am absolutely addicted,” she shared. Wow, I thought. Aside from eating, working and sleeping, I really couldn’t think of anything else I’d done in the past week with such consistency and conviction. Her enthusiasm certainly helped prime my brain for the experience.
After another brief breathing instruction from Tyler, we jumped right into it. This is not your usual meditation class. Instead, the breathwork is set at a loud volume and to music with a beat so that you can stay focused and stay on pace. The breathwork technique follows the Wim Hof method, breathing in deeply while pursing your lips like a straw and exhaling fully at a very rapid pace, much quicker than normal breathing. After 30-40 rapid deep breaths, you exhale fully and hold your breath for 30 seconds to a minute. Then you take a big deep breath in, hold it and clench every muscle in your body. You then let go and return to a normal breath before beginning the breathwork cycle all over again.
The first time through the cycle I was a little lightheaded and had a strange compulsion to get up and walk out. But I stayed with it. It got easier with each cycle and I found myself going into a state of deep relaxation.
I even started to see orbs of colors (purple mostly), got tingling sensations throughout my body, and felt myself drifting off to some other part of the universe. Once I realized I was drifting away, I’d call myself back into the present and focus on the breath.
The breathwork session ended with a brief time spent in meditation, music and a spoken word affirmation. This was the only part of the experience I would change as I prefer music without words while meditating as I find it distracting. (I shared this with the staff afterwards and they said the affirmation has mixed reviews – some people absolutely love it, others not so much.)
We were gently called back and given a moment to adjust to our surroundings. Tyler then gave us another rousing mindset pep talk because it was now time for the scary part: the 40 degrees cold plunge.
Me trying to stay calm (far right)
The Cold Plunge Part
I am originally from Minnesota so my boastful inner voice was all: “Pssssh. 40 degrees is nothing.” Hahaha.
40 degrees is cold. Really cold.
Maybe if you first spent time in a sauna or hot tub and then jumped into the cold plunge, it wouldn’t feel so jarring.
But those first few steps and seconds in the cold water sent a shock to my entire system. I found myself gasping for breath so I closed my eyes and frantically tried to recall the breathing instruction (was it deep breaths? Slow? Open mouth? closed?). I finally remembered that we needed to breathe slowly and deeply but all through our nose (I think).
Once I sorted out the breathing, it started to feel okay. Not amazing. But fine. Like, “I got this” kind of fine.
But it was a mindset battle for sure. What helped the most was knowing that I wasn’t alone. There were six other individuals doing it right alongside me and at one point Tyler came over, put his hands on my shoulders as a helpful reminder to relax and release. Still, my feet never really acclimated and that’s where I felt the most pain.
Tyler called the time at 3 minutes and 30 seconds, giving us the option to get out or keep on cold plunging. I chose to end my time. (Meanwhile, my classmate stayed in for nearly 10 minutes!) I shivered over to the hot tub for sweet relief. But that too was actually a little painful. Tyler gave the scientific explanation for the pinching in our limbs – it was because of the quick change from our arteries closing from the cold and now expanding in the hot water.
Tyler then asked us to end our session by spending another 30 seconds back in the cold plunge pool. The reason again: science. The cold plunge temps will again release norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that can create feelings of euphoria and heightened awareness. And he wanted us to leave feeling as amazing as possible.
So we got back in the cold plunge pool, and I found it much easier to tolerate the second time around, perhaps because I was still benefiting from the recent hot temp exposure from the jacuzzi. It also gave me a greater sense of pride and accomplishment, having toughed it out for a second time.
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Breathe Degrees Breathwork Studio Tour (Carlsbad/North County San Diego)
The aftereffects of the breathwork and cold plunge were long lasting for both my mind and body. I was extremely relaxed for the rest of the day but maybe a little too relaxed; I found it hard to focus and get my work done. But this could also be because I tried out the infrared sauna so I didn’t end my session after a cold plunge “high.”
The next day, however, I woke up bounding with energy and went for my morning run. I could immediately tell my breath capacity seemed greater and my breath was much smoother than usual. My overall mood was high for the next two days and I felt confident and energized throughout the day.
Would I do this again?
Absolutely! I may not go three times a week like my breathwork classmate but I’d consider going back, mainly to see if I can stay even longer in the cold plunge pool.
If and when I do, I’ll provide an update right here!
In the meantime, remember: breath is life. And turns out, your breathing capacity might be the greatest predictor to a long and healthy life.
So do your health a favor, pause and take a moment right now to breathe in and breathe out. Feel better?