B.C.’s Sea to Sky is a hot/cold-plunge paradise, and it always has been. Words :: Tristan Jenkin.
Despite what your Instagram influencer friends might lead you to believe, hot/cold therapy has been around long before cold plunges were popularized by Wim Hof and destination thermal spas and barrel saunas dotted your social feeds. And while pairing a sauna with a hole in the ice is the hottest (or is it coolest?) trend in the wellness space, the hot/cold combo is actually an ancient wellness ritual that has been practiced for thousands of years by many cultures around the world, including right here in the Coast Mountains.
From Korean hanjeungmak saunas to Japanese mushi-buro sweat baths to the El Temazcal ceremonies of Central America, ancient cultures have long embraced exposure to hot and cold temperatures with a common purpose: to relax, cleanse and purify the mind, body, and spirit, and to foster deeper levels of connection within the community.
Closer to home, the nupika wu’u (hot mineral waters) at Ainsworth hot springs near Creston, BC, have always been a therapeutic joy to the Ktunaxa peoples, while to the north, in the Nisga’a territory of the Nass Valley, Hlgu Isgwit /Aiyansh hot springs are recognized as a culturally significant, designated heritage site. Known as the dwelling place of Sbi Naxnok, a supernatural being, the strong sulfur odour emitted from the pools is said to be the scent of this spirit. The hot waters of Hlgu Isgwit vent from 55 to 58 degrees Celsius with plenty of chilly water options to facilitate a hot/cold cycle.
And that hot/cold cycle is where the magic happens. Undertaken as a four-step ritual, the cycle can be practiced alone or with others, at home, in nature, or in a spa built specifically for the experience. When practiced during a gathering of friends, family, or co-workers, a hot/cold cycle serves as a healthy social lubricant stimulating conversation and connection without the need for alcohol, drugs, or canned EDM music that sounds like someone put two and a half pairs of tennis shoes in the clothes dryer. It’s a new take on social gatherings with an emphasis on healthy vibes, that will leave you feeling great and totally blissed out.
Begin with 10-20 minutes in a sauna, hot tub, hot spring, or steam room. Allow the heat and humidity to penetrate deeply, awakening the mind and body, and invoking an adaptive physiological response.
Transition out of the heat and into the cold. Breathing deeply and with intention, following the cadence of your breath, immerse yourself slowly up to your neck, in a calm and controlled environment. This can be done using a cold shower or by plunging into a safe body of water. Research shows the transition from hot to cold delivers the most benefits around the three-minute mark, however, the duration of time spent in the cold is based entirely on personal preference and experience. A quick dip is still very beneficial (and you may choose to challenge yourself to stay longer next time).
After the exhilaration of the hot and cold, you will feel a sense of euphoria and deep relaxation. This is a time for stillness, conscious breath, and a push towards a deeper human connection—with yourself or others. Spend ten to 15 minutes and then…
Repeating the cycle three or four times will maximize health benefits and leave your mind and body feeling fresh and reinvigorated.
“Hot and cold therapy is a simple yet profound form of medicine,” says Squamish-based naturopath Dr. Lyndsey Zigar. “It reconnects us with our breath and activates our innate healing abilities. These practices have transformed my energy, recovery, vitality, and overall resilience.”
In multiple studies collected in the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, researchers have found hot/cold therapy beneficial for a number of maladies that often plague highly active, stressed, or overwhelmed individuals. These benefits include a boost to the immune system, improved heart health, increased cardiovascular performance, improved sleep, reduced muscular pain, and an enhanced ability to manage stress. And these are only the benefits scientists and doctors can quantify—anecdotal evidence from long-time practitioners offers a much longer list.
Here in Sea to Sky, there are plenty of options to unlock the benefits of hot/cold therapy. It can be as simple as turning the knob on your morning shower to cold for 30 seconds, or as intentional as having a private mobile spa show up for your birthday. There are also a number of natural hot springs in the Pemberton volcanic belt (Editor’s Note: we will not be naming any of them, nor giving their GPS locations. Sorry!). It is said that the In-SHUCK-ch and St’át’imc people used the hot and cold springs for healing and cleansing, and a place where elders trained men to be chiefs, watchmen, and other important roles.
No matter where or how you practice hot/cold therapy, don’t forget the third step—rest, relax, and breathe in the essence of nature, allowing your mind and body to find balance in an ancient form of medicine that’s been practiced since time immemorial. Enjoy the journey.
Tristan Jenkin is founder of AIKA, the Sea to Sky’s first and only private spa experience, and has been a devout practitioner of hot/cold therapy locally since 2009.