On Cold Water Swimming
Wim Hof Method Instructor and owner of the Cliffs Of Moher Retreat in Ireland Michelle Moroney shares the benefits of cold water swimming with us.
I live in the little village of Lahinch on the West Coast of Ireland, and have the wild waves of the Atlantic ocean crashing on my doorstep. My love affair with cold water swimming in such an ocean started on a cold winters morning in early March.
A small group of us met on the slipway of our local beach at 7:30am. The tide was out and on this bleak winters morning the sky, the sand and the sea all seemed to merge into one freezing shade of grey. Our skin glowed pink against the struggling morning light and as we walked towards the shoreline apprehensively, every single one us was thinking the same thing: What the hell are we doing?
The wonderful thing about doing something with other people is you are more likely to follow through. Alone, I might have turned back. But in we all went. Shrieking, screeching and squealing. After a minute or so the intensity waned and we could breathe again. We were ok, we didn’t die. We got out, our skin even pinker with the change in circulation. But that wasn’t the only change. We had approached the water, timid, afraid and hesitant. We emerged victorious, joyful, jubilant and so god damn alive.
As I made breakfast for my kids that morning and sent them off to school, there was a pep in my step and a glint in my eye that I hadn’t felt in a long time; not since parenthood had changed mornings for me.
We met again the next day. It was no easier, but the high was no less. We have been doing this for over 2 years now and our group has swelled and morning 7:30am swims are happening in two locations in my community. For those of us women who have dared to take on this insane-sounding hobby, the benefits have been immense and for many of us it has been life changing.
I started to notice that I was feeling more alert, had better energy, felt less stressed and wasn’t getting sick. It was amazing! I started reading online to see if I could find any research on the subject and it turns out there are scientific studies on cold-water immersion showing the positive effects it has on the immune system. It seems that all over the world, people are turning to the cold to get sick less, improve circulation, boost the lymphatic system, reduce muscle inflammation and recover from sport.
Mostly, the cold represents the challenge, the fear and the inner mountain we face every day, whatever that may be for each of us. When we face the cold, despite the feelings of fear, when we breathe into it, eventually noticing our breathing starting to slow down – we are learning to control our nervous system. Each time we face the cold, we get a little bit stronger.
Getting into cold water is an instantly stressful situation for the body, and we immediately go into Fight or Flight. When we breathe, when we focus and when we deeply exhale, we are telling our body to relax, that the situation isn’t dangerous, that everything is ok. This is the control. The more we do this, the better we become and the easier it gets. We learn to turn stress around. We take back control. It is through this we get stronger. When we encounter stress in our daily lives we know how to deal with it. We have learned and we have practiced. We breathe. We exhale. We take back control.
During every web browsing session on the benefits of the cold, I would come across Wim Hof. Multiple Guinness world record holder for a number of superhuman feats, this man has brought the benefits of the cold and the science behind it to the public eye. He has dedicated his life to this and his body of work is known as the Wim Hof Method. I was intrigued. He combines cold exposure, breathing practices and mindset and I started to do his breathing practices with my daily swims. I immediately noticed the benefits and it took my cold water experience to a whole new level.
2 years later and I am a fully qualified Wim Hof Method Instructor, bringing people into ice baths and bodies of cold water as my job. Sharing this part of my life has given me so much and I love how people taking control of their health, connecting deeply to themselves and feeling more Alive.
There is water everywhere around us – do you dare to take the plunge?