Reading about Sebastian Kneipp with his cold showers and cold wading exercises probably made some of you, esteemed readers, shiver. And rightly so: Shivering is part of the benefit! So today, I would like to elaborate on this a little, more precisely on (dis-)comfort, and your comfort zone.
Before you turn away bored or disgusted: I am not talking about comfort zone in contrast to ‘where the magic/money/success/life’ is, as in, everything that’s worth achieving lies outside of your comfort zone. Surely you have heard enough about all that. I am talking about your tolerance for physical discomfort, particularly with regards to temperature and surfaces.
The Stoics already knew: If you subject yourself to discomfort every once in a while, voluntarily, your tolerance for this discomfort will increase and your comfort zone will grow, in other words, you won’t be bothered by discomfort so easily. Too much comfort makes us soft and unhealthy; a bit of discomfort makes us more resilient: a good thing.
Concerning cold water, Kneipp operated on a similar principle. If you learn to endure and even enjoy cold temperatures for short periods of time, your personal comfort zone with regards to temperature will expand. The result: The cold will not bother you as much anymore. After all, if we lived with nature and did not try to avoid the outside at all costs, we would experience a lot of different temperatures and be used to them all to a degree. Living in an evenly ‘climatized’ environment and avoiding nature as much as possible has very little to do with how we were designed to live and is, hence, unhealthy.
Another example that points in the same direction concerns how we sit and sleep. If your bed as well as all your furniture is soft and deep, you will quickly become much like the Princess on the Pea: Every little discomfort will bother you. Sitting on hard chairs, preferably the kind without back or arm rests, throwing out your couch in favor of furniture that does not encourage slouching, and sleeping on a hard bed or on the floor every once in a while, especially when you do not have to, will improve your posture, strengthen your muscles and increase your tolerance for physically uncomfortable situations. Feeling comfortable leads to peace of mind (and good breathing!). It pays to broaden your physical comfort zone.
The Stoics valued above all their peace of mind, their inner tranquility. Being bothered by such trivia as uncomfortable chairs or a cold breeze was among the first things that needed to be overcome if a joyful mindset in all situations was the goal. They knew what they were doing.