The “Wellbeings” podcast host shares how ice baths kick-started his wellness journey and drive to help other Kiwis.
Sitting in an ice bath each morning for two to three minutes helps to set up Dom Bowden’s day.
He owns that it’s easier to do on a hot summer’s day than mid-winter when he sometimes has to literally crack the ice, but it’s a practice he’s committed to because of the health benefits he’s gained from it.
Most recognisable as the upbeat host on reality television programmes Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor, Bowden was working and living in LA where he came across science-backed wellness company MadeFor, which offers guided and self-guided plans for individuals.
At the time he was at a crossroad in his career. Reality television was moving into a zone that he felt was “exaggerated” and while “it might be great viewing, it wasn’t great in reality”.
Instead, he became “a human guinea pig”, experimenting on himself, looking deep and changing his life for the better. He realised everything that he’d been working for in his career had been external and that it was time to look within.
It is a journey he is continuing with his “Wellbeings” podcast series, which went straight to number one on Apple podcasts, confirming that he isn’t the only one wanting to know more about this stuff.
Bowden wants to help people live their best lives, and “Wellbeings” does that in an entertaining and easy way.
“I’m very aware of the optics of someone that has been living in LA trying to give wellness tips to Kiwis,” he says. “It doesn’t land sometimes for people who say ‘look, that’s not for me’ but I would say I’m very much a student as well. Most of the stuff I hear, I’m learning with the viewer, but more than anything it’s about taking the woo woo out of it, all the loaded words. It’s not about sitting on pillows and chakras. It’s about looking at how we hack our sleep, the importance of hydration, the effect that gratitude has on our mood and why nature has such a profound effect on calming our nervous system.”
“Wellbeings: Conservations on the Science of Feeling Good”, features interviews with wellbeing experts like Wim Hof (the ice man) and Catherine Price (bestselling author of How to Break Up with Your Phone).
“The episode on detoxing from your phone is one of my favourites,” he says. “We can all relate to how sometimes our phone is in control, not us! We need to start with forgiving ourselves, because these devices are designed to hold our attention. For a lot of people, myself included sometimes, they can be the most toxic relationship in our lives.”
Since starting his wellness journey, Bowden has endured some good-natured ribbing from his mates. “They’ll joke, ‘there’s no ice bath here’ or ‘do we have to do breath work before we can have a beer?’ and I’ll laugh and say ‘seriously though, has no one at this table got something that they’re working on?’ And it prompts a very real conversation.”
Bowden has converted a chest freezer for his at-home ice bath and now lots of his mates have got them too. It’s a cheaper option than the real deal, though they joke that they probably won’t be covered under warranty for what they’re using them for.
Research shows that ice baths are a great way to get men into having a wellness practice as well as lowering inflammation and calming the nervous system. “It’s much harder to say, ‘hey, sit on a pillow and close your eyes and try and quiet your mind’, and I speak from experience,” says Bowden.
“Instead it’s ‘here’s what we are going to do. You’re going to get in an ice bath and you have to try and stay in there for two minutes’. When that person gets out, they are outside their head, they’re in the moment and they feel alive. It’s a great tool to help show people what’s possible, and I think that’s the exciting thing. You’ve just got to find the thing that works for you.”
He hopes “Wellbeings” helps people in a way that they can take back a bit of control, in these uncertain times.
“The mindset of New Zealand sometimes is ‘come on, get hard, you can do this, you’re fine’ and I think a lot of the stuff that’s out there in New Zealand, especially around mental health, can be quite heavy and it’s sometimes hard to engage. It’s tough for people to know where to start.”
Learning to be open
Probably the most important word when it comes to wellness is “open”, says Bowden. “For me l like ice baths and I love to journal though that was a learnt practice. At the start I was like, ‘this is crazy, I’m never going to get my head around this’ and now I really enjoy it. If people can approach things with an open mindset then maybe that will help them find their thing and piece by piece they can start to get some control back because I know right now it is a really challenging time for everyone,” he says. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty and uncertainly creates a lot of stress and anxiety, and it’s tough and I’m speaking from a personal perspective.”
Being stuck in LA over lockdown and not being able to get home has been tough, though Bowden has been giving himself the advice of trying to control
He also caught Covid in New York. “It really rolled me and was a really terrible experience for four days and I was vaccinated,” he says. “Pretty much every one of my friends over here knows someone who has lost a relative, so that creates a whole different level of grief.”
Bowden wonders if the 10-minute Win Hof breath work that he does every morning helped him to bounce back, as it has been proven to strengthen the immune system. “Breath work in general is just an incredible tool.”
Wellness every day
Every morning Bowden and his fiancée Esther Cronin practice their individual rituals as well as talk through things in as much detail as they can, which helps set up the day.
Bowden describes Cronin as “the beating heart” of “Wellbeings” who does everything aside from interviews.
His personal rituals include having a glass of water with lemon and salt, 10 minutes of breathwork followed by a 10-minute meditation and, if he’s game, an ice bath.
He has found that putting a bit of intention on things can help frame things better in his mind and he recalls a trip a few years back with his Dad and one of his Dad’s best mates.
“My Dad’s mate said, ‘Dominic, life is a book and each day you write a page. You are the author of your book’. And then at the end of a four-day incredible trip where we fished, golfed and sat around and connected he shook my hand and said ‘four pretty good pages’. It’s an analogy that I really love and I try my best to be conscious and put intention around those pages so when I wake up and I do a 10-minute here and a five-minute practice there, I think about that as a sentence, word or letter on my page. And some days my pages are great and other times I’ve got to be kind to myself.”
Bowden’s happy place is in nature and the fact that he lives in a place like New Zealand is not lost of him. He loves hiking and jumping into lakes including Lake Whakatipu. “I just love it because you can just dive into that icy lake no matter what time of the year it is. It lets you know. It’s crisp, it’s beautiful.”