Minding the Gap!
Many of you are happily exploring open water swimming and cold water dipping, and some of you will be cringing and shivering just at the thought. Which way are you leaning at the moment name ?
Even if you are going in, it matters HOW you do it.
It has taken me a few years to get this habit to work for me as I get hypothermia easily, really easily. I have settled on a slow, CALM and short dip up to my neck. I don’t move at all and stay in for less than a minute in winter.
Now I can go in wild water in Scotland all year round without a wetsuit and explore my relationship with STRESS (and nature). It has become a meditation: mastering my inner state through relaxation.
Why explore cold water dipping?
The science is beginning to catch up and it seems that exposing the body to stressful physiological situations (that are controlled and safe) creates a strong immune response as well as hormone surges that produce a clear state of wellbeing.
I want to write here about the benefits more in terms of the mind. A key aspect is how we RELATE to the cold sensations we are experiencing. As we repeat the practice, we become adept at settling the breath, feeling calm and allowing the cold rather than resisting it. We adapt, until there is minimal stress. Settling the BREATH is key, like a yoga or meditation practice.
We learn that there is CHOICE in our response to what happens to us.
Pausing in the GAP between stimulus and response is crucial, just as it is key to most mindfulness and eastern practices. In gaps like this we can awaken. We become aware of our habituated old patterns of response. Healing and change occur in gaps such as the equinox or the full moon, the moment before sunrise, or when we are ill or grieving. And we carry the RESILIENCE gained from cold water swimming into other areas of our life.
Transformation occurs in Sandhi: the Gap between Sensory Experience and Response
I can’t emphasise this point about resilience enough. I can actually FEEL how I am mentally stronger and have more belief in myself because of how I have learnt to REGULATE my response to very cold water. When other stresses arrive, there is a gentle memory of going into the cold and being ok, so it creates a new BELIEF about what is possible. I used to be one of those people who would shiver at the thought. I thought I could only go in in summer so I acted according to that belief.
There is no striving, only SOFTNESS, I only cold dip when I want to. I don’t have an agenda to stay in for a long time, I am not trying to get fit, I don’t make myself do it.
The more I ACQUIESCE the more there is to learn.
Finally, for me, this practice is also about BEAUTY. Stripping off in a snowstorm and standing under a waterfall is beautiful, and in a different way to dipping in a clear river pool lined with turquoise rocks. These are peak life experiences for me.
I stay in CURIOSITY as if I am doing the whole thing for the first time, every time.
Where to Start?
So if you fancy exploring cold water, you could start with putting your feet or hands in a river and just feeling. Or you could turn the water to cold for 10-30 seconds at the end of your shower. Check with your doctor if you have a health condition. As you shriek and cringe, pause to see if there is a different response available.
Observe how your responses change, and especially observe how you feel for the rest of day/week.
I would love to hear how you get on, so do drop me a line