Saturday, 4 December 2021

MIND// Cold Water Swimming & Healing

I have been meaning to write about my open water swim journey for a long time on this blog but it just never felt right. I wondered if it was a bit personal and I found excuses not to write about it but maybe it just wasn't the right time and now it is. 

In June this year I reached out to a local swim coach for a one to one session about getting into open water swimming. You see this was one of my biggest fears and something I have avoided for years. I know you are probably thinking "but haven't all your holidays involved water somewhere?' Yes, you are right, I have hidden this fear very well over the years but last summer I knew I was out of time with pretending to the kids that I simply adored paddling in the shallows more than anything!

So back to June and sending an email to a swim guy named Paul. We are really lucky to have a recreational lake in Lincoln, one that I knew people already went to for the open water swim experience and so I started there which is where Paul often works. I documented a lot of my journey over on my Instagram page but didn't put it into words until now. 

The day I went I was nervous all day. Mainly because I knew this was a big deal to me but I wanted to come across cool and calm to the coach and not let my anxieties get the better of me. After all, this was not a therapy session, far from it, it was a pretty basic swimming lesson with the added side note of "This is one of my biggest fears and I need someone to hold my hand!" Any way, Paul the Coach obviously read me pretty well as straight away he started using positive physiology tricks to make me feel comfortable and even though I knew the game, it helped me. In fact it more than helped me. With Paul's friendly tone, great coaching techniques and ability to just make me feel totally at ease I got in that lake that day and have never looked back. What happened in that water was a change that would never have come my way if I hadn't sent an email. It was my pure intention to start the journey and I am just so proud that I went completely out of my comfort zone to do it. I am a go getter and I know I could have done this at any point, but I was in the absolutely perfect mind space to do it at that exact moment in my life and I am just so glad I did.

A whole summer of lake time has happened since then. Swimming up in a 'tarn' in the Lake District also happened, river swimming and plenty of sea swimming too. Which leads me onto cold water swimming and what we have been doing since the temperature dropped. I suppose I knew that with Paul now coaching me I wouldn't be able to escape his winter swimming course. He has done loads of ice challenges and I love that kind of thing and I knew deep down having built a good relationship with him he would be dragging me into that cold lake when the winter swim season started. I was not wrong, but luckily I got a head start as I actually felt a surge of wanting to do it at the end of October. 

So after going to Cornwall for a holiday in September and heading for a 7am morning sea swim each morning, I felt the benefits even then of just escaping to the seas in a swimsuit. It was cold then and getting up to go into the sea like that was something I had never in my life done before. It was transformative and as I was down in Cornwall with 2 sisters and my parents I made sure to drag whoever I could out of bed after a sunrise walk and get into Trevone beach which was in the village we were staying in. We all loved it. It was magical. Every morning for 5 days waking up to the sea. I loved it so much, my dad commented I was like a child on Christmas morning. To be honest, I just couldn't believe my luck. Life had just aligned and it all worked out perfectly, resulting in me being able to share these precious experiences with people I really love. We would swim in the morning with our swimsuits but then when we went off to surf in the day would wear wetsuits. Wetsuits are great for winter swimming, they are just a lovely comfort blanket that simply take the edge off. Fast forward nearly two months and Rob suddenly announces that he wants to get in the seas every month of the year! Yikes! Our nearest coast is an hour away and a really nice space for our edge of the country. The water isn't crystal clear like in Cornwall but you work with what you have right? 

So he went off with my brother one day in October which kind of confirmed for him that he wanted to put in the effort to surfing each month and a few weeks later we both dropped the kids off at school and drove across. It was bliss, the sky was bright blue, the air was cold but there wasn't a wind and the sun was shining. It was absolutely glorious and we got to body board in the October sea together. Then a week later came my winter swim course at the lake. This was a necessary health and safety brief which, luckily for me, Paul had already told me a lot about. It was a chance to also swim in the lake which had dropped to 10 degrees by then and was ruddy cold. I couldn't believe how cold it was and being a person that never fears a challenge I had decided to do it in just my swim suit. I know. Gasp. My skin burned as I entered that water as all my senses darted across my body trying to figure out what was going on. It was freezing. It was enjoyable but my gosh, it was cold. Needless to say, I haven't been back to the lake in my cossie but I have made it back to the coast in my wetsuit and enjoyed another perfect November day in the sea. 

Getting into open water this year has been a blessing. It has brought so much freedom and confidence. It has also brought me new skills like now being a paddle boarder (will talk about that in another post) and just filled my life with moments of real joy.

Wild water, cold water, swimming; it has all shown me how restorative and powerful water is in my healing. Being able to connect with nature through water is a medicine and one that should be more prescribed than it is. It is truly powerful and has helped ease so much inner stress and anxiety for me. You don't even need to go full on swimming to experience it either. Just the other day I stopped by a crystal clear stream and kicked my wellies off and paddled in the ice cold water as the sun shone down. I felt my troubles just being washed away as I did it; it was like a cleansing experience, a baptism perhaps. 

Anyway, water has been good for me and it might just be the right thing for you too and that is why I wanted to write this post. Just to share my experience from this year and show that learning never stops and that healing in nature could be the right medicines for you too. 



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