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Cold Swimming for Mindfulness and Connection

From even before I can remember, I always felt the need to get in whatever body of water was nearby. As a toddler, my mother had to keep close watch whenever we were around water, because if she looked away, I was pulling my clothes off and running for the water. Water temperature and cleanliness never fazed me, at least not that I remember. I just remember needing to be in the water.

It is only in this last year, at 33 years old, am I beginning to understand the pull wild water has always had on me. For all my years spent paddling and exploring in waters all over the world, I never gave this connection much thought, I simply enjoyed it.

A little over a year ago I got super interested in this guy named Wim Hof, and all the cool things he could do just from breath training and cold exposure. As a chronically cold outdoor guide, I wanted to be a better outdoors-woman, and I wanted to be less miserable in the winter. My boyfriend Travis and I started taking cold showers (which I still hate) and swimming in cold bodies of water.

Cold, clean bodies of water are only available during a fraction of the year where we live, and even then are too far away for a daily or even weekly dip. We take opportunities for wild, cold swims whenever we can find them.

This New Years Eve we took just such an opportunity and jumped into the Atlantic at Folly Beach, much to the surprise and amusement of other beach goers who were bundled up against the cold wind. We stripped down to our swimsuits and wondered aloud to each other if we were crazy or just stupid.

Once we were all out there, in it together, something felt really special, and powerful, being in the cold ocean in our little tribe of four. Why is it that swimming in nature feels so magical? What is so special about cold water?

Within choice is where power resides

I hadn't noticed the difference in how he and I face full immersion until Travis pointed it out to me.
"You're always so calm and quiet."

He bounds into the water at nearly a run, slowing down as the cold digs in, until he methodically strides deeper and deeper. He whoops and hollers before plunging in head-first. I think he hypes himself up for it like a warrior yelling a war cry.

I, on the other hand, appear to be just the opposite. I walk slowly and purposefully into the cold. I'm not quite easing myself in, but rather allowing the cold to take over without such a shock to my senses. It feels more like acceptance. I pause in waist high water to breathe and think. It is here where I experience the strongest objections from within myself. Immersion will be shocking, uncomfortable- I dare say painful. It is so much easier to just stay as I am. But here is where choice resides. Here is where I have true power. I choose to have power over my actions, I choose to embrace challenge.

I think everyone's mind screams at us not to dive in. He screams back at his. I'm not sure what I do in that moment of choice. I am not able to silence its screaming, and can't say I just ignore it. I take a conscious breath in to remind myself that in this moment, I am in control of my body, and I choose to dive in. The real moment of choice happens in the second that I push off the ocean floor with my feet, spring upward and launch downward into the cold.

Be here now. 

When I plunge into freezing cold water, there is only right here and right now. I am painfully aware of my body. I can feel the blood vessels in my legs spasm and constrict, cutting the blood flow to my feet. The slightest hint of wind is offensive and I struggle to control my shivering. I am forced to look at my out of control thoughts, telling me how stupid I'm being for making my body so cold and trying they're damnedest to convince me to get out asap.

Meditation is in right now. It's -the- thing to do. Science has proven it can literally change your brain. But man is it hard. It's so hard to rein in your thoughts to focus solely on your breath, or 'om,' or however you choose to meditate. I think most people think meditation is about focusing, but to focus means to eliminate awareness.

Mark Twight says that meditation is "cultivating an intense state of awareness." And to be fully aware, we must also be fully present. I won't say that simply dunking yourself in cold water is like meditating, but it does bring you right into the present and holds you there. It's kind of a hack into presence. If you can live there for a bit, look around and explore the place, you'll begin to cultivate awareness within presence.

I believe we humans feel best when we are connected- to self, to nature, and to others.

That snap into the present that cold immersion achieves brings the mind fully into the body. Mentally, you are nowhere other than in your body, in the cold. There is no daydreaming, no worrying about what to make for dinner or that dumb thing you said yesterday. For me, I become very aware of both the connection of, and distinction between, my mind and body. Feeling fully present means feeling truly alive, and flexing my mind's power over my body allows me a deeper understanding of the connection between them.

We stood on the beach, wrapped in towels and trying not to shiver, considering our next move. I was thinking about how I'm so much more willing to be cold when it involves swimming in a natural body of water, and how much easier it is than a cold shower. Matt's thoughts were in the same place.

"Its funny how different that is from a cold shower. You know, a cold shower is entirely mental, its all self discipline. You have to choose to turn the water colder. That [ocean] water is already cold. You either get in or you don't."

Ah-hah. This experience is authentic. The ocean is as it is, and we are as we are. There is nothing contrived. We immerse ourselves in a wild, naturally cold thing over which we have no control.
We form authentic connection with nature through wild swimming.

Our little tribe did something challenging together, and we became closer because of it. Doing challenging things with my partner and friends makes me feel so much closer to them, and so much stronger and braver. We connect with others through shared experience.

Did this post inspire you? Do you want more inspiration and motivation? Click the photos to snag the books that inspired me!