Water, Nature & Well-Being (Wild Swimming)
Swimming at Dawn began as a testimony to the transformative power of cold water immersion without me realizing it. All of the articles, both my own and those written by other wild swimmers, are testimonials to the vast range of positive impacts engaging with water in open, natural spaces can have. In this article I delve more into the science behind what we (wild swimmers) all express, write about and know on an intuitive level. Perhaps you may consider incorporating some form of engagement with water into your own life for health and well-being of body, mind and spirit. And, a secret: it's free, easy and joyful!
To listen to the sound of soothing ocean waves while reading this article, enjoy this track.
You might wonder, "Why would I want to do cold water immersion in a natural body of water such as the ocean, river or a lake?" Does the mere thought of sinking your body into 'cold water' make your blood run cold and a "Not for me!" reaction kick-in to body and mind? You are not alone! Resistance to 'getting cold' is very normal and, as it turns out, an important part of the process and power of immersing in outdoor settings (aka, wild swimming).
The science continues to show that learning to overcome an initial resistance to "cold water" and developing a cold water dipping practice, especially in a beautiful natural setting, can significantly impact and improve one's physical and mental health, promotes resilience and strengthens the nervous, vascular and immune systems. The truth is, beyond the science, it's often just a lot of fun, energizing, renewing and leaves you with a deep sense of accomplishment and well-being. It can become a marvelous journey of self-discovery and help you to find your flow. In the end, the question may become, "Why wouldn't I do such a marvelous and, perhaps a bit, wild thing (or, at least try)?"
In Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure, author Dr. Mark Harper describes how people who regularly dip in cold water experience immediate improvements and life changing benefits to overall physical and mental health and well-being. Deliberating exposing oneself to cold water in outdoor environs, paraphrasing Harper, transforms, connects and helps reorient the modern, stressed wandering mind and spirit. Regular practice also promotes weight loss and better sleep, decreases inflammation, boosts metabolism, soothes the anxious mind, lowers blood pressure and fosters social and emotional well-being when shared with others.
If you look through my articles and photos on Swimming at Dawn and read the Wild Swimmer Stories on this website, you will see numerous testimonials to the power and impact of engaging with "cold" water in natural settings and the many benefits of physical (ADHD, weight loss, Multiple Sclerosis, depression, chronic pain), emotional (personal empowerment, self acceptance, gratitude, transformation, creativity, mental resilience, stress relief) and spiritual well-being.
Cold water immersion does not imply icy water! Deliberate cold water therapy tends to be most effective in water temps of 15-20C/59-68F and below. While studies do show that water temperature is significant, many positive benefits can be acquired from stepping into water that simply 'feels cold' and compels you to cross a mental barrier and overcome some adversity. It's a hurdle that cold water swimmers face every time you approach the water, warm, dry and wondering – why am I doing this? Crossing that barrier deliberately, moving intentionally beyond and through the initial cold shock and then experiencing the profound positive changes that occur as the body and mind can float and experience this watery, foreign medium offer a compelling transformation that draws people back over and over again. It can be a very powerful tool to carry with you into your daily life that promotes resilience and an increased ability to face stress and anxiety especially when combined with other simple, accessible tools, such as breathwork.
If anyone knew the absolute dread and fear I felt at even the mention of "cold water immersion," they would never believe my beaming smile, elation and sense of accomplishment after Nancy guided me through my first, exhilarating cold water swim.Susan, Nov 2022, Tenerife
Each person's body reacts differently to cold water based on many factors: body type, immersion experience, time of day, health, etc. Staying in the water for 'long periods of time' is not the goal of wild immersions but rather to engage with the different waters on a full sensorial level in order to listen to and feel their wisdom and how your body and mind respond. It's normal that the body needs time to adjust to these new sensations and it does become possible to stay in the water longer over time due to metabolic changes that occur in the body with progressive, consistent immersions. It's important not to compare yourself with others or even yourself from day to day as you will notice that each day and each immersion is unique.
You may find the worries and concerns that you brought to the water will flow downstream or be carried out to sea on a retreating wave.Nancy
What is an Immersion?
An immersion is whatever you would like it to be. If you only want to stick your feet in and observe the water or submerge fully and swim, that's up to you. Doing a wild swimming immersion requires that you know how to swim for safety but it isn't an intense workout. An immersion may simply consist of getting into the water, floating and being in that moment, allowing it to unfold as it happens. It's also possible that it may take you several attempts to develop a liking for the experience. Be patient with yourself and take it slowly to develop a new relationship with the water.
Many of us have very active, busy minds and sometimes it is hard to "get out of our heads." Immersing in the cold water in a beautiful setting has a way of pulling your attention away from the internal busy-ness and straight into your body allowing the sensorial experience to take over and your mind to take a refreshing back seat. You may find the worries and concerns that you brought to the water will flow downstream or be carried out to sea on a retreating wave.
Above all, breathe calm and relaxed, look up, enjoy your surroundings and the beauty of being embraced by the natural world as you float and feel buoyant, lifted from the cares of the world and brought profoundly into the present moment with your awareness heightened to everything around you. It is such a healthy, healing, soothing practice it often becomes a regular part of people's daily or weekly health routines.
Developing "Blue Mind"
Being around water heals, soothes and expands body and mind. Simply by listening to water sounds - whether it be rain, waves lapping upon the shore or a river's constant pulse and gurgle – the human psyche experiences calming and relaxing effects that benefit all of our systems – cardio, nervous, digestive, etc. (For example, here is a sample track if you would like to listen to relaxing river sounds in a forest. Walking by water combines both, creating a multi-sensory experience that most people find deeply satisfying.
And, immersing oneself in natural water sources only adds another positive dimension to the overall well-being effects that water affords – the flotation, the aromas, the analgesic, soothing sensations on tired muscles and simply the joy and delight that being in, on or near water in a beautiful place evokes. Sharing these experiences with others heightens the collective joy and overall benefits. The science behind this draw and fascination that water holds over the human psyche is described by Dr. Wallace Nichols in his powerful book Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do.
*The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming: Reflections for Zen Seekers by Tessa Wardley
*Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure by Mark Harper
*Blue Mind. How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols
*Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
Water, Walking & Well-Being Experience: Being Gently Guided
I offer the opportunity to explore the power and beauty of water, in its many facets and unique manifestations, through our Water, Walking & Well-Being experience in Galicia, Spain. With my (Nancy's) experience as a seasoned walking guide, avid wild swimmer, year-round ocean swimmer, and certified Breathwork instructor and STA Level 2 Open Water Swim coach, I am excited to share with you an incredible week of disconnection that will help cultivate a deep sense of connection with yourself, nature and the larger world. The three pillars underlying the journey combine the generative, flowing powers of water, movement and breath - move your body, move your mind, move your spirit. Please contact me if interested.
Tips For First Time Wild Swimmers
*Always go with someone else, preferably an experienced cold water swimmer who can orient you. Wild swimming groups are found all over the world. There may be one just around the corner.
*Be safe. Know the water (tides, currents, safety) where you are dipping & wind, air temp, etc
*Plan your gear for before and after the swim
*Use your breath (slow and deep with a long exhale) to enter slowly, learning to savor the cold
*Dip your body first and then your head, if you feel like it
*Don't rush. Be present, aware of your breath, state of being and take time to enjoy and relax into your experience and engagement with the water.
*Do not compare yourself with others or try to stay in "x" amount of time. Everyone's tolerance to cold is very different depending on many factors.
*Each day may be different too: respect your own rhythms and daily variations
*Listen to your body and always get out before you start to show symptoms of hypothermia
*Get yourself warm and dry quickly afterwards
*Have fun and give thanks for the beautiful opportunity to know the world and yourself this way!