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An Ice Bath is a Hero's Journey

Updated: Jan 23

From cold water to Krav Maga

Biohacking Heroes: Stories of personal transformation

I know several people in the biohacking community who didn't choose to be here so much as they felt forced into it.

One friend of mine only became a biohacker after his child was diagnosed with cancer. That compelled him to learn everything he could about both allopathic and naturalistic remedies. He was driven by what might seem like every parent's worst nightmare -- loss of their young child.

I know another woman who suffered from several misdiagnoses. She spent years under intensive antibiotic regimens that culminated in chronic urinary tract infections and a doctor who told her, "You must take this prescription medication for the rest of your life."

She was 30 years old, and a life sentence of prescription meds didn't sound right to her. She finally healed when she learned to self-administer ozone insufflation, and now she takes no medication at all -- because she is no longer sick.

I've already written the stories of Julie Blew and Justin Hoagland, each diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and treating their symptoms with ice baths. They never chose their multiple sclerosis. At the time Justin began noticing symptoms, he was serving in Iraq as a Navy SEAL. His disease ended his military service and left him wheelchair-bound until deliberate cold exposure brought him back.

Dean Hall did not choose his terminal leukemia diagnosis. Nor did he expect to drive his cancer into complete remission with his program of cold water swimming. As he told us in Mitochondria, Cold, and Cure for Cancer, his only goal was to do something that would inspire other cancer patients before he died. Yet, he emerged from swimming the entire length of the cold Willamette river free of the cancer that drove him into it in the first place.

Adrienne Jezick, co-Founder of Morozko Forge, was told she would have to take prescription medications for the rest of her life to treat her Hashimoto's thyroiditis, urticaria, and allergies. By the time she was taking 20 pills a day, she was fed up and ready to try cold water immersion, even though she "hated the cold." She didn't know back then about brown fat and thyroid regulation. All she knew was that the ice bath gave her instantaneous relief, and now she is free of the disease that plagued her.

Each of these case studies of personal transformation is an inspiration to me.

Every Hero has an Origin Story

In Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949) he compared the structure of several ancient myths and folk tales -- from Hercules to Luke Skywalker -- and discovered that the most long-lasting stories followed a general archetype he called 'The Hero's Journey.'

Since Campbell's original formulation, The Hero's Journey has been described, dissected, and redefined by countless authors, including Ben Greenfield, who deconstructs the Hero's Journey as it applies to popular movies. Despite disagreements over the details, the general story arch remains the same:

The Hero's Journey begins with a call to adventure, which the true Hero refuses at first, because a true Hero is always reluctant. Only when the Hero has no other choice will they agree to leave their familiar, comfortable world to go on a quest into the unfamiliar and dangerous world of the unknown, knowing that their lives depend on the outcome.

The refusal at first is important, because the Hero will face terrible challenges. Anyone who could quit the adventure would surely do so, if they had the choice. The Hero must be reluctant, lest the audience fail to believe the test of the Hero's resolve.

The classic Heroes in Campbell's model are never eager for their obstacles. Like Skywalker confronting the reality that stormtroopers have destroyed his family homestead, Campbell's Heroes felt they had no other choice but to accept their challenge.

My own journey began when my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, 20 years ago.

I would have gladly traded places with him. Because his immune system, in some hyperactive episode of disorder, destroyed the islet cells in his pancreas at a young age, he will be dependent upon insulin injections for the rest of his life. If I could have given him my pancreas, so that I would be the one with diabetes and he could live without having to constantly monitor his blood sugars, I would have done it.

But I could do nothing to cure him.

It was my job as his Father to keep him alive by checking his blood sugars, calculating his carbohydrate intake, learning everything I could about metabolism and ketosis, administering the correct insulin dose, and teaching him how to eventually live independently of me.

He's 28 years old now, in excellent health, and so you might say I did I good job. It was all I could do because I can't reverse Type 1 diabetes.

But some people have fixed their Type 2. Given ten days and an ice bath, you might correct your metabolism so you no longer have to suffer.

What's your story?

Many of the origin stories in the biohacking community are like that -- people who overcame adversity and allopathic medicine to heal themselves are now sharing their knowledge with others.

Human beings are story-telling creatures, because stories are how humans are hard-wired to make sense of our complex experiences. That's why Morozko is fond of saying:

The story you tell yourself is more important than the experience you have.

In Campbell's archetype, the Hero will always meet a Mentor in the unfamiliar world who imparts upon them some secret knowledge. Then, at the critical moment in their journey, when the Hero's strength and wits are found lacking and the Hero teeters on the brink of despair, only then will the Mentor's secret knowledge restore the Hero's confidence and prove critical to the Hero's success.

The Hero's Journey is so appealing because the audience experiences a vicarious emotional trajectory through the Hero, without risking their own death.

As if I were living in one of Campbell's dramas, I am always reluctant to step into my ice bath. When I'm staring down at the huge chunks of ice in my Morozko, my mind will invent rationalizations about why it's OK for me to skip a day or two, even though I know the anxiety I feel before is always worse than the experience of being in the ice water. Partly because I set my forge to a temperature that frightens me, I become a reluctant protagonist in my own story.

When I do enter the ice water, it is like leaving the comfort of the familiar world for the discomfort and uncertainty of the unfamiliar.

Emma's journey

Few in our community are facing life-threatening illnesses. Most people who practice deliberate cold exposure have more mundane goals, like health optimization, exercise recovery, or stress reduction. Nonetheless, when you understand the psychological challenges of the ice bath, you will discover that your Morozko is a tool for training yourself to become more like a Hero in your own life.

My Daughter Emma Seager is one of those people. She's a Krav Maga instructor, and it would make sense to everyone if she was using ice baths to recover from the aches, pains, and bruises of her training.

Nonetheless, in Stress Inoculation, I wrote:

Your ice bath is the stress, not the recovery.

As it turns out, Emma doesn't use the ice bath to recover from her training. She uses it to prepare.

The day before her Level 2 belt test, Emma tried the Forge for the first time, to build up her psychological resilience. She wrote a story titled There's No Crying in Krav Maga (Except When There Is) in which she explained:

When you do Krav Maga, you’re training to fight for your life.

I had heard stories about belt tests over the previous 10 months at this particular gym. The general consensus seems to be that they are far more of a psychological challenge than a physical one. They test your mental endurance, and challenge you break through the walls your brain constructs when it believes your body has been punished enough. (After 90 minutes of exhaustion, the final drill in our Level 2 belt test) was a “monkey in the middle” drill using constant attacks, including chokes from the front, chokes from behind, a choke from either side, and a headlock. I volunteered to go first. - Emma Seager, Krav Maga Instructor

Hero training

To illustrate the experience of the ice bath as training for the Hero's Journey, we put together video at the top of this article using cell phone footage of Justin, Adrienne, Emma, and several of Emma's Krav Maga classmates.

You'll notice that the video begins by creating a sense of danger, when Justin's lid blows over and "scares the shit" out of him.

Then, Adrienne's voice issues the call to adventure, when she says "Now, step into the water."

Adrienne goes first. Then Emma. Then the Krav Maga students. You can see the struggle on their faces as they enter the unfamiliar world.

Adrienne plays the role of the Mentor, to encourage them, guide them, and remind them of the promise that is on the other side of the journey.

It isn't until you hear my voice say "40 seconds!" to Emma that the old familiar world they left behind returns to their awareness.

After two minutes, our Hero's emerge from the Forge victorious, accepting congratulations and the admiration of their peers.

You won't hear Adrienne's voice again because these Heroes no longer need a Mentor.

They have been transformed, and they are ready for any challenge.


About the Author

Thomas P Seager, PhD is an Associate Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University. Seager co-founded the Morozko Forge ice bath company and is an expert in the use of ice baths for building metabolic and psychological resilience.

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