Thoughts on health, happiness and sustainability

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Challenging myself to embrace the water

Until fairly recently, I had always hated cold water. I hated it so much that I would very much put even a heated swimming pool in the category of “cold”. I therefore never imagined that I would ever start embracing cold water as part of my life, let alone start enjoying it.

However, I now find myself being an advocate of cold immersion and I am very excited to have completed four water challenges that I set myself just over a year ago.

Challenge #1 – Otillo Isles of Scilly

The Ottilo swimrun series caught my attention a few years ago when Vineeta bought a new pair of running shoes which happened to be the official vivo barefoot Otillo swimrun model. When I later heard Rich Roll talking about his experience competing in Otillo, I was intrigued. And then I saw some photos of the Isles of Scilly!

Otillo Isles of Scilly
The Iscles of Scilly were truly stunning, and despite some storms, we had good weather for the event

Despite my hatred of cold water and swimming, an event in which I would have to swim across bays in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean seemed weirdly appealing. We trained for five months and took part in the beginners category, aka Experience class.

Our expectations were summed up in our team name “The Last and the Least”, but we did better than we expected. It was a huge personal achievement for both of us and coupled with the incredibly friendly Ottilo community and spectacular location, it was a truly amazing experience.

Challenge #2 – 25 meters on one breath

Learning to swim properly was an interesting lesson in energy efficiency and the importance of the breath.

I’d also been doing Wim Hof breathing on and off since late 2018 and had seen how my lung capacity had increased, so I became curious whether I could swim a full 25 meter length of our local pool on one breath. By training my breathe for a few weeks and swimming more efficiently, the answer turned out to be yes.

It was actually a lot easier than I expected and only took about a month of practice until I managed to do it, three times in a row. Interestingly, it’s easier to swim efficiently when not trying to breathe. The very act of breathing while swimming increases our need for oxygen.

Challenge #3 – 12 months of sea swimming

My grandma used to boast that when she was younger she would go in the sea from February to November. We don’t know how often she actually did this, but after she died I felt like a nice way to remember her would be to follow in her footsteps and see if I could be as brave as her.

The challenge then evolved slightly, to the goal of swimming in the English sea at least once a month for a full 12 months, starting in February 2019. I am delighted to say that we did it every month through to February 2020, including a beautiful sunny swim at Avon Beach on Christmas Day.

October in the sea in Lymington

Challenge #4 – Take a cold bath in the winter

For the last two summers, I’ve taken some cold baths on hot days in summer and found it to be amazingly invigorating, reducing stress and boosting energy. I set myself the challenge in 2018 to try doing doing the same in the winter, but I didn’t manage to pluck up the courage, so I challenged myself again in 2019, and I’m pleased to say that I did it several times and I loved it.

Challenge #5 – The ice barrel

Having completed these four challenges, it’s time to set a new challenge.

With COVID-19 rules preventing us from going to the sea during this years very warm spring weather, we decided to buy ourselves a wine barrel to put in the garden and use for ice baths. I’ve been in it every day since it arrived a week ago and have managed several times to complete a full 2 minutes.

It has felt great and definately helped reduce pain and stress, so my new challenge is a variation of challange #4. I will aim to take a proper 2 minute ice bath in the barrel as soon as I am able to buy a bulk load of ice. Then as a secondary challenge I aim to do a 2 minute bath in the barrel at least once each month of the year and see if I can make it through the winter.

One of the things that I have learned is that the greatest benefits tend to come when I least want to do it, and likewise, when it is coldest.

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