Play It Cool: From Corporate to Cold

January 12, 2023
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We sat down with Kristin Weitzel to learn more about how she transitioned from the corporate world to finding her purpose: helping others transform through the power of cold + breath.

Can you tell us about your wellness journey?

Like many others that work in the health optimization space, I hade a moment in life where a heightened life experience transitioned me to a place where I realized, "Hey, I need to do something differently."

For a large number of years I worked in a fast paced Corporate America environment in circles very dominated by male energy, oftentimes being the only female, and supporting clients at late evening events. A lot of this nonstop pace was taxing on my body and mind and really shaped a whole new way of looking at communication in the business word. I helped launch Red Bull in the US and I worked for a number of the top five global liquor brand companies launching brands and running experiential across North America. Everyone in the corporate offices were navigating their lives around these brands, the excitement, and very often in the nightlife scene revolving around a substantial amount of alcohol and cocktail culture.

In the early days of Red Bull, whom I loved working for given their atypical marketing planning and go-to-market strategy back then, people were mixing vodka and Red Bull, or any spirit and Red Bull and staying out partying for hours. Although there was incredible learning and experience growing a brand like that, and I was based in New York City living this wild and wonderful lifestyle – we never stopped going. Later, in other leadership roles working with spirit brands, there was also a part of me that was getting poked fun of at the office because at 6pm I would run off to do a cardio HIIT class or go down to the Russian-Turkish bathhouse for the cold and saunas and do all these *different* health practices. I was eating paleo and drinking Bulletproof coffee at a time when most people were eating from the snack and cookie cabinet in the office and sampling alcohol at all times of the day.

And year-over-year, I kept wondering, “What's the mark I'm leaving on the world? How do I feel about what I’m doing?” I wondered how I could transition from a leadership role at a relatively young age in Corporate America to leading what I really wanted to lead  — which was to help people become healthier.

The entire time I was in any other jobs, I was collecting certifications and navigating my life by saying, "Okay, great, what's this new juice cleanse, and why is this new nutrition program so popular, and how can I build muscle?" I was discovering biohacking early on when Dave Asprey first coined the term, and had grown up as a dancer so I was always curious about how I felt in my body — I leaned into a path to figure out how I could be fit, look good, feel energized and also feel confident. The struggle of self-love and self-worth as a female who felt like she was always having to mirror what the workplace, the media and society was reflecting. It took me years to navigate finding my own truest Self.

In my role and daily life, I witness so many people right now that are struggling with self-worth and physical and emotional health challenges. I look at all the things that I'm working on in health optimization, with my female private clients, and as a biohacker, and the arc of all of that has really brought me to my peak expression — to teach others about breath and cold. There are no two practices I have ever used that create radical transformation of body and mind as profoundly and swiftly as breathwork and cold exposure. 

When I looked at all these elements and the way people were shifting their nervous system and health state, I realized the gateway better health overall was through breath and cold. That’s when it clicked — I knew all my transferable skills had to go in this direction. It’s where I love to play the health game most — because no two modalities are as transformational and work as efficiently as breath and cold exposure paired together.

And certainly, I'm standing on the shoulders of giants - of my mentors and teachers like Kasper van der Meulen, Patrick McKeown, Gabby Reece and Brian Mackenzie and tons of wellness, nutrition and yoga teaching mentors and experts I've been fortunate to work with and interview on my WELLPOWER Podcast.

Tell us about your first cold exposure + breathwork experience.

Breathwork came first. I had a gnarly bike accident in Los Angeles when on a 6-month work assignment and hurt my back so badly I couldn’t walk very well. I went to a few doctors that talked about surgery and other pharmaceuticals, and instead decided to diverge from Western medicine and go see a respected yoga teacher in LA, Anthony Benenati, for guidance on mobility. He was the first person to really help me understand breath and movement to heal. And, then I signed up for an intensive teacher training so I could understand my body better. This lead me to teaching yoga for a number of years as I moved back to NYC as a side hustle because I loved it and it was helping me heal the injury. I was teaching yoga at NYU, assisting Elena Brower, who's an incredible leader in the yoga space. I learned a lot by watching all different types of bodies, breathing patterns, and adjusting form in the classes I taught. I started to dive more into how to how to utilize our breath with movement and in meditation. I’m always so thankful for the way I was taught about breath in the yoga space and for gaining initial insight “guiding principles” that performance breathing has now established.

Patrick McKeown was just on my podcast talking about how in some communities we’re breathing in this reverse pattern that's not really healthy or great for us biochemically. I had a bit of that when I was younger — I was dancing with paradoxical breathing patterns. I learned to breathe better in the yoga world and then really dove deeply into it over the time I have been a coach. 

Using yogic breathing techniques and exploring breath as applied to my movement I would notice I could create calm, or that I could hold a yoga pose longer, but I still didn’t fully understand how it applied to nervous system regulation. So, in the beginning I wasn't connecting the dots, because no one was leading me down that path. It's similar with cold — my first cold experience was when I was 18. I went to a Russian Turkish bathhouse in Korea town, and I remember saying I was going to go in the cold for 30 seconds. I was drawn to the experience, but still didn’t know I could use my breath to reverse engineer the nervous system.

And – cold – my sweet cold! My first cold exposure experience was in my early 20s when I went to a Korean spa in NYC and played across the saunas, steam rooms and the icy cold plunge. I would dip in and out and try to make it for 30-seconds, always wondering how some of the children of the women who worked there could stay in for three or four minutes at a time – they seemed so calm! I really didn’t understand how to wield the power of cold exposure for self-actualization then, I just felt exhilarated by trying the challenge of it. It wasn’t until 7 years ago that I started to read and discover how you could breathe to manage your stress response, navigate your nervous system, improve physical performance and adapt to all stressors in life.

I even remember when I was 11 years old, I would stay up late into the night because I wanted to read or dance, and do all these things I was curious about — a real night owl! But it was tough, as a result, I hated getting up early. I still remember my friend Rebecca, at a birthday party, said to me, "You know what I've been doing? I've been splashing my face with super cold water and it's really helping me wake up." After that, this was my secret for many, many school day early rises - making it easier to get going and set the energy for the day. I bet this is the first time I have talked with someone about that in years!

Tell us about the content creation process with Othership.

It was epic! I host a podcast, so I'm recording all the time and I've recorded some breath and meditation tracks in the past for my private clients and people I work with — but this was next level. It was beautiful to sit down with Harry, Amanda, Lisa and Robbie and be like, "Hey, let’s create this challenge together." It was an opportunity to learn what pro-style really was, and from the scripting process to recording they always gave me freedom to express my creativity – with guidance and advice that sweetly improved my skill as a recording artist.

Often in these cities, especially if you’re in the health and wellness industry, it can feel like we are all doing similar things, in the same vertical and thus we’re competition to each other. But in this case, I just showed up to this Toronto experience after interviewing and loving Robbie – loving his authentic energy, getting to know him and learning more about Othership. He introduced me to Lisa from Unbounded, whom I video called with weekly and considered a sister almost since day one of our friendship. We all did group calls, then we had this realization that we could actually create this challenge together. The first time we met in person, we sat around this big table over coffee, and I distinctly felt, "Oh, my god, this is tribe, this isa ride-or-die family."

Robbie will be the first one to tell you I got choked up at the table that first team meeting because there's a lot of people out in the world working in the same vertical with an attitude like, "I'm not working with you — we're competition, and there’s no way to separate our business and clients - so this won't work." Instead, I came to the table with this champion crew, we set down anything that would get in the way and made a promise to talk about our feelings and business needs with an openness to grow and learn together, because a rising tide lifts all sail boats. The Play It Cool Challenge is more than just 31-days of cold exposure – it is a coming together – an openness that we wanted as creators to energetically flow into the work – that participants could support each other across the globe no matter what their circumstance; to become more like a family through the good, the exciting, and the hard stuff that leads to one common connection. Everyone here has been nothing but completely welcoming, and in my experience of businesses coming together, that’s a rare gift to receive.

What session are you most proud of on the App?

The session I’m most proud of is called ‘Good News’. I have a lot of alpha energy as a female in a lot of the work I do and I've been working on balancing my power and my sensitivity as a female in the space. One of the alpha males I follow is Jocko Willink, ex-military and has a David Goggins philosophy, which is the energy I lean towards — a little bit like: go hard and get up at 4:30 every morning and work out. There's a lot of beauty and power in that approach.

One thing he says often is when things go sideways, like getting fired from the job or your partner leaves you or your tire goes flat, his response is, "Good news."

"Good news - you get to learn, you get to feel into a new lesson.”

It’s a reframe of your thought process that the event, is not happening to you, it is happening FOR you and your growth.  I called this track ‘Good News’ because I believe for someone who's more of a beginner or beginner-intermediate in the cold, sometimes you get in the cold and you think, "What am I doing? Why am I doing this? This is hard, this is scary.” And that’s exactly why we get in.

This is something I'd want to stress to people during this challenge — just get yourself through those first 45 to 75 seconds, because you have this thing that Lisa calls ‘the bliss point’ and I call ‘the turnover’. Get yourself in up to your shoulders and wait for this physiological and mental magic — the turnover will happen and it will actually get easier to be in the cold. No one believes that until the time passes. And then you experience it for yourself, and that’s where the shift happens.

What other tools are in your wellness toolkit?

I'm a biohacker - so the list could be 15 pages long (laughing). I'll mention one of my favorites —red light therapy. I sit in front of a red light panel almost every day at home and either have a little decaf coffee or mushroom latte or something and then meditate, breathe, whatever I want to do. Red light therapy, in my opinion, is the low-hanging fruit. If people are going to buy some kind of tech in the wellness space, there are thousands of options. I have a file with tons of animal and human studies showing tons of proof positive uses of red light therapy to boost energy, heal wounds, shift mood, circadian rhythm, and up-regulate cellular health. I have a LightPath LED panel, and a small portable unit I bring on the road as well, a FlexBeam, which is a rechargeable wearable so it doesn’t have to be plugged in, a VFit (look it up females!) and a funny as heck red light face mask. It’s pretty awesome.

Tell us about a time you witnessed transformation with one of your clients?

Every so often I'm hired to do breathwork and cold exposure in plant medicine ceremony circles. There was one in Southern California and I was sitting in service – serving is my medicine. So I’m running breath and cold over the course of that weekend, and I had some friends there. On the second day, we were going to do cold in the middle in the day. My friend Abdel, who’s like a brother to me, had never done cold before and was like, "Okay, I want nothing to do with the cold but I'm going to go in as I trust you and this group." Since everyone's doing it, all can be involved in holding space and giving support because they know what’s needed. That’s the power of doing this in community. Oxytocin boost and love! 

After he first got in, his response was so strong that he really wanted to get out. Abdel’s physical response was stronger than most to get out. We all have this initial hit of sympathetic nervous system tone, but it’s very rare that someone will get out when I'm coaching, because I've really attuned to so many types of personalities and communication styles, and they really just need to make it through the first 30 seconds.

But this time — the first time I’ve ever done this after putting thousands of people through cold — I decided to get in with him.

The moment I got in he immediately looked at me like, "Wow" (it was a little strategic distraction.) I got in next to him, I put my arm around him so that we gave each other a little hug in the water because then, of course, he feels like, “oh, she's warm, it’s warmer now,” and then I saw this beautiful transformation happen which was, I had my arm around him, he had his arm around me, we're in the cold together, I calmed his breath to nasal breathing. But I saw him look at me and what I saw pass through, just like unspoken words, was he looked at me and I recognized that he was like, "Oh, she's in the cold too and I need to be protecting her. This is what I do, this is my role."

We stayed in for three minutes together from the point that I got in. It was beautiful to do it with someone I love so much, beautiful to have that experience together and then also to be able to watch how much he loves me as a person to be like, "Okay, I'm going to put myself to the backseat and stay here because she says it's good for me and all the things but I'm freaking out a little. AND - here's this woman who I really care about and, because she's in with me and we're doing this together, I'm going to stay in and care for her, protect her or do it as a team.” No words were even exchanged, it was just this really sweet, tender moment. Gosh – the power of cold – continues to change my life.

I would say, if I had to pick one of the top 5 highlights of my ice coaching career, it was really an incredible opportunity to be in that moment.

What’s a problem in the world you’re hoping to change?

I think the biggest challenge in the world right now is the way that all of us don’t recognize the full capacity we truly have. I use that word capacity a lot but it's about self-worth, it's about looking in the mirror and knowing how much of a unique badass you are. This is the piece that, when we begin to step into our power in a way that’s always been inside of us, when we begin to recognize who we are and how we show up in the world, this unique being is something that will be in service to creating greater communities and greater things for our planet. That’s when we all win.

Coming out of quarantine and coming through so much depression and anxiety, and so many people going through health challenges and insecurity and social media, and living in a world where the media doesn’t seem to tell the full story, the way I see it is — we would all be better off by just bolding stepping into the person we were born to be. 

The sooner we do it, the better. That said, take the time it takes for you. It took me more years than I would've liked, (no regrets) to be able to navigate the path, to get to this place where I feel like I know who I am. I have a sign over my doorway when I walk out of the bathroom that says, “You are effing magic” and that’s the case for all of us — you are magic exactly as you show up, in the skin that you are in right now.

I have a little running joke where I kid with my clients that we are just always, "four weeks to perfect," when the truth is, there is no four weeks to perfect, and the point is – love yourself right now. Right now, as you are, you can do anything that you dream. that always is what correlates me back to this beautiful practice of breath and cold because you can shift your nervous system state, your mindset, the way you feel and the way you show up and really look at yourself with a tone of self-love and self-worth that drives you to the next great thing you're going to do for our world.

Check out Kristen’s guided sessions in the "Play It Cool" Guided Ice Bath section on the Othership App.