For more than 120 days, wedding videographer Jordan Ferrone has carefully lowered himself into a tub of ice-cold water, ranging from about 33 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit, on his TikTok account, which boasts more than one million followers. While the size of the ice changes — varying from crescent cubes, to fractured sheets of ice, to iceberg-like chunks — the end goal remains the same: to immerse himself in frigid water for several minutes.
The practice, known as cold plunging, has gained popularity on social media platforms, with a quick search of the term yielding results of people dipping into icy metal utility tubs, plastic containers and barrels, and bathtubs placed in their garages, backyards, locker rooms, and bathrooms. If this is the only introduction you have into cold plunging, you might think it’s merely a trend among wellness influencers or only reserved for athletes seeking relief for their achy joints. In reality, it has roots in traditional healing practices and rituals around the world.
“The first ingredient is always going to be water,” Sarah Ferguson, a practitioner of the Afro-Cuban Lukumí faith, tells Refinery29 Somos. “Water is essentially how we avert problems, [and] bath culture is central across all [African traditional religions].”
“Water, in all her forms, is medicine.”
Because water has been integral for renewal and healing for centuries in Latin America, particularly in the Caribbean, cold water immersion has played an important role in many cultures throughout the region, helping people to achieve clarity, promote relaxation, and alleviate pain.
“Water, in all her forms, is medicine,” Djali Brown-Cepeda, an Afro-Indigenous Dominican Lukumí priestess, tells Somos.
Water is also deeply connected to spirituality.
“Water in many Native American cultures symbolizes the origin of life,” Adina Diaz, a holistic practitioner, tells Somos. “Cold water baths are often part of a larger ritual that involves prayer and connection to the natural world. For some cultures, it was a way to prepare themselves not only physically, but spiritually for colder climates.”
By taking a cold water bath, you can rid yourself of the negative energies blocking your path, according to Brown-Cepeda. “In every way possible, water changes lives,” she adds. “As water is the base of this blue planet and the base of our literal, physical existence as humans, water is the base of all things spiritual.”
"Cold water baths are often part of a larger ritual that involves prayer and connection to the natural world."
Despite the power of water, it’s important to take precautions if you want to join in on this practice. Some choose to plunge into bodies of water; however, the cold shock can cause someone to drown.
This practice also requires you to gradually acclimate yourself to colder water and to be mindful of any adverse effects, such as hypothermia, which can occur due to cardiac arrest from cold temperatures. You should also consult a healthcare provider to determine if cold plunging is appropriate for your individual needs and limitations. And to be as safe as possible, seek a trained professional who can guide and assist you during a cold plunge, especially if you are a beginner.
Beyond health risks, there’s a need to be respectful of water and the communities that practice cold plunging. As Diaz emphasizes, cold plunging requires a deep respect for water as a resource. Water scarcity has become an increasingly pressing global issue, so it’s necessary that those who participate are mindful of how much water they use.
“As a Chicana Indigenous woman,” Diaz says, “I want people to honor the information and traditions we share by showing respect and being aware when you are taking too much from Mother Earth’s resources because without water, there is no life.”
"If your intention is to experience the healing power and pay homage to the profound roots of the practice, then you should dive in — but not before you meticulously select from whom you wish to learn."
Additionally, on social media, traditions can end up rebranded as buzzy wellness trends. Removed from their original contexts, customs like cold plunging are stripped of their full meaning. Yet, much like water, cultural knowledge should be recycled from one person to the next.
“Different waters do different things,” Ferguson says. “And if you don’t have elders to teach [you] those things, then you make yourself vulnerable to unwanted experiences.”
While this doesn’t mean that cold plunging is only for limited groups of people, Ferguson does advise that you ask yourself, “Why do I want to participate or engage in this activity?” If your intention is to experience the healing power and pay homage to the profound roots of the practice, then you should dive in — but not before you meticulously select from whom you wish to learn.
“Avoid people and practices that remove you from your right to choice and autonomy. Stay away from people who are explicitly soliciting you or making claims that this will cure depression and/or anxiety,” Ferguson says, suggesting that people instead look for safe spaces where they can build connections. “Community should always be where boundaries and respect is shown and reciprocated.”