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Remember the picture from my viral Russian New Year’s post with a group of people floating a New Year’s tree in a chilly river? See my New Year’s post here. These people are members of the Russian winter swimmers club, “Morzhi.” Morzhi are known for their regular swims during the dead of winter in temperatures far below freezing. Why do they do it, you ask? The short answer is for health and vitality. Much like yogis in India, by doing extreme exercise, they master their body and its response to outside conditions that are beyond their control.

new_year_Russia_2013 winter bathing

It is a scientific fact that our body becomes more disease resistant, our mood and outlook improves dramatically, optimism and peace enters our mind as a result of this cold submersion. Similar to this experience is the experience of a Russian banya (bania), where you first sweat in an enclosed heated space, most often with herb infusions poured onto hot coals to generate steam, which opens up lungs, and then either plunge in the snow to cool off, jump into a cold pool, or traditionally get splashed with cold water out of a wooden bucket.

I grew up in Odessa, on the Black Sea coast. Although it wasn’t as cold as in the rest of Russia in the winter, the Black Sea was still quite chilly, and sometimes even froze. Most of the time though, it was ice free and our local Morzhi always took a regular plunge. I wasn’t as brave. Still, I too was known to dip my feet, splash my face and my body (does miracles to your skin), in lieu of total submersion. And of course, I adored my banya! Missing it every day.

Epiphany is a Russian Orthodox holiday celebrated in January and the Epiphany cold water plunge is one of long-standing Russian traditions. Religiously inclined or not, tens of thousands of people plunge into icy waters every January to spiritual music and prayer, emerging healthier and stronger. It is a proven scientific fact that extreme cold water jump starts the immune system mechanism allowing the body to better withstand extreme winter cold. Those who do it swear they reap incredible health benefits all year long. (Warning: don’t attempt something like this on your own if you are not used to it, or if you have a heart condition. First, in all cases consult your physician.)

That’s what I call a New Year resolution! Watch this literally “cool,” new video of a brave RT correspondent giving the Epiphany plunge a try, and how it feels, lol. 😉

P.S. You can hear a man in the background repeatedly saying “molodets” – a traditional Russian word of encouragement, roughly translated as “great job.”