Every culture has a few legendary people who have changed the way people think and lead their lives. One Russian man, Porfiry Ivanov, made such an impact in his 85 years, gaining both followers and enemies along the way. The first – see him as a guru, the latter – a controversial historical figure.
His methods seemed unconventional to the Soviet Union’s population, and even today they may raise a few eyebrows.
Still, his messages ring true today, and even in some of the more closed-minded circles few can argue against Porfiry’s simple but effective 12 tips for living a long, healthy life (see end of article for more info).
But first, let’s discuss one of Porfiry’s more unconventional healing methods — one that led him on a path to healing from one of the most feared diseases in recent human history.
Porfiry’s life was forever changed after he was said to be diagnosed with cancer in his mid-30s. While this is still being questioned by some because Porfiry never went to any doctors throughout his life, all official sources agree that at that precise age, he completely changed his worldview – which often happens after a traumatizing event.
Prior to this age, Porfiry led an ordinary life. He paid no attention to his health and loved to drink and smoke. And then in 1933, after the alleged cancer, Porfiry re-discovered his way of life using unconventional means – by trying to end it.
“At a young age, Porfiry developed cancer. The illness was incurable, and he decided to relieve his pain by taking his own life in the quickest way he thought how. So he went outside in hopes of freezing to death. To speed up the process, he poured a bucket of ice-cold water over his body. His suicide attempt failed, but his cancer soon disappeared,” wrote some of his Russian followers.
After this life-changing point in his life, Porfiry realized that to live healthy, a person needs get rid of his materialistic attachments and get closer to nature.
He started writing down his thoughts about health and immortality, and nature’s beneficial effect on the harmony of body and soul. He started fasting, and walking barefoot and shirtless in any weather. His life became a 50-year-old health experiment, in which he was the subject.
Most importantly, he became a proponent of what later became known as Russian ‘morjevanie’ (‘morj’ means walrus in Russian) or winter/ice swimming. This peculiar activity, which is considered a health technique by some and an extreme sport by others, has gained more popularity in recent years, and Porfiry’s teachings are both praised and criticized.
The criticism comes from some controversies surrounding Porfiry’s life. As you can imagine, an old man walking barefoot in the snow, wearing only his shorts, and without any documents, did not sit well with the Soviet government.
In 1935, he was arrested for spreading his teachings, which the police called “propaganda.” He was then transferred to a psychiatric hospital. This would not be the only time. Porfiry was detained and forcefully treated in isolation a few times in his life, but he never gave up on his mission.
In 1971, he started living in a “House of the Teacher,” where he later accepted clients. In 1982, he wrote a book with 12 practical tips for healthy living. A year later, at the age of 85, he passed away. The cause was never determined as the body was never examined.
During his life he inspired many by his way of thinking. Professor Sergey I. Ivanechko called Porfiry’s movement one of spiritual and physical personal growth.
Another professor, U. A. Kaznovskaya, called him a “unique philosopher.” She called his life a model for the practical application of the ideas of living in harmony with nature, which she wrote about in her dissertation.
While some disagree to this day about whether Porfiry was a genius or just an unconventional man, his lifestyle lives on – especially ice swimming, which has been since adopted by many Russian health enthusiasts. This activity has also spread around the globe, while joining the teachings of many other advocates.
Ice swimming: Potential Health Benefits and Risks
Ice swimming or winter swimming is swimming or plunging into the ice-cold water of a frozen lake. Porfiry was not the only man to discover and partake in this activity.
Many countries with cold, snowy winters have adopted this into their culture. Ice swimming exists in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as North America, Australia, and Asia. The countries that partake in this activity are Finland, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Germany, Australia, China, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and of course, Russia. It is also a fairly common activity for raising money for charity in the U.S.
The most common reason for ice swimming is to improve health.
While it sounds extreme, this activity goes back to ancient Russian soldiers, who had ice swimming as part of their training. The Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians did the same.
Modern medicine is split weighting the pros and cons of this healing method (as it is split on many topics – even as simple as health pros and cons of drinking coffee).
The benefits of ice swimming are an improved immune system, an increase of energy, a better mental state, and overall improved functions of the whole body.
Ice swimming helps to boost metabolism, therefore slowly normalizing the body weight. Ice swimmers rarely get sick with colds, and if they do, they are fast to recover. Finally, ice swimming reduces pain in muscles and joints.
Some doctors in Russia even believe that ice swimming can help to heal serious diseases, but that it should only be done at the right amount and under doctor’s supervision.
While the benefits sound great, ice swimming does come with a few risks.
While many people think that hypothermia is ice swimming’s biggest concern, this condition usually takes quite a bit of time to set in (every person’s body is different). A person would have to be in the water for at least 30 or even 45 minutes for this condition to occur.
Ice swimming is not the same as cryotherapy (using freezing temperatures on the body to heal) in which temperatures can reach as low as minus 240 Fahrenheit. Ice swimming temperatures are not lower than minus 2 Celsius or about 28 Fahrenheit.
The second biggest concern some critics have is that ice swimming is very stressful to the body, and stress leads to disease. While true, it is chronic stress that is usually more damaging in today’s society. Ice swimming creates acute stress, which actually increases the body’s ability to fight illnesses.
While hypothermia and stress should not become issues when done correctly, the few contraindications for ice swimming are existing heart problems, lung problems, urinary tract issues, and a general poor state of health.
Ice swimming (unless supervised and recommended by a doctor) should only be done by adults who are in good health and while following exact instructions.
Russian Ice Swimming Instructions
To begin an ice swimming protocol, it is recommended to start by simply wiping the body with a cold towel, and pouring cold water on the body in the summer months. Then in the winter – one can start by exercising outside in the cold air for one whole month.
After the first month, a person can slowly start to plunge into the cold water. First, for no longer than 20 seconds. This is to be repeated daily for another full month. Actual swimming should only be done on the third month of this training and for no longer than 40 seconds. Only on the fourth month can a person swim for under a minute. Ice swimmers who have gone through this process for a few years can swim for 2 minutes or longer.
A few other tips to follow:
- Do NOT go into the ice cold water if your body feels either hot, sweaty, or freezing.
- Swim in a bathing suit, but remove it immediately afterwards. Get warm indoors as soon as you are done swimming.
- Do NOT get your head wet. Wear a rubber swimming cap for extra protection.
While ice swimming was the one most important parts of Porfiry’s lifestyle, he also left other several other timeless tips for health and well-being that are more simple to follow, and focus more on lifestyle than dieting.
12 Health Tips from a Russian Health Advocate
- Twice a day, swim in cold, natural body of water. A lake or a river swim is ideal, but you can also take an ice-cold shower. Take a hot shower afterwards.
- Every day, take a barefoot walk in nature. Stand on the grass in summer, and on the snow in winter for at least 1-2 minutes. Inhale fresh air through your mouth and in your mind wish for health for you and all people.
- Do not drink or smoke.
- Try to fast at least once a week.
- Every Sunday go out in nature, take a few deep breaths, and think of your mission or purpose on this Earth.
- Love the nature surrounding you.
- Say hello to everyone and everything you meet. If you want to be healthy, you have to acknowledge others around you.
- Help people in any way that you can, especially the sick, the poor, and the needy. And do so with joy! Answer a stranger’s needs with your heart and soul. You will make a friend and help the world.
- Conquer laziness, greed, complacency, greed, fear, hypocrisy, and pride in yourself. Have faith in people, and love them. Do not speak unkindly about them, and do not take to heart any judgments about them.
- Free your mind of any thoughts of disease, health ailments, or death. This will be your victory.
- Do not separate your thoughts from your actions. It’s good to get knowledge, but it’s most important to act upon it.
- Pass along to others your knowledge and experience, but do not brag about it. Stay humble.