I’ve brought a new practice into my life this spring. Something that has been more about altering my mood and resetting my rhythm than just purely about martial arts.
I started doing a cold ocean swim in the mornings.
I had been looking for a way to reset my morning routine. My schedule had been drifting later and later into the night and thus my wake up time had been drifting later and later into the morning. With that drift I had lost a lot of my rhythm and the time I used to work out, train, and start my day on the right foot. From that edge of imbalance I was starting to move toward something of a depression.
In the midst of this struggle I ran into a neighbour of mine who told me that she and her husband had taken up the practice of taking a morning plunge in the ocean. She invited me to come along. It seemed like a good opportunity to make a shift and perhaps break myself out of my slide.
The next morning I was up at 7:00am getting into the “uniform”, warm clothes on the top, shorts and towel on the bottom. Their rule was you show up at the beach, you don’t talk about it, you just strip down to your swim trunks and go in. How far you go in and how long you stay in is up to you, but if you’re there you’re going in—no discussion.
That morning I had to scrape ice off my car. It was going to get real. I arrived at the beach and true to their word, other than a few hellos, we dropped our coats and towels and waded into the surf.
I have done some cold plunges before, but they’ve generally been in the summer. A recent time at a hot spring I had gone from sauna to ice bath. In that moment some part of my lizard brain was certain I was going to die — it turned out to be pretty glorious. Though it helped that outside of that tub it was in the mid 80s F (30 C) and there was a sauna to return to.
This time as I waded into the water I was acutely aware that the water temperature, a frigid 44 F (7 C) was warmer than the air.
Yet I managed to somewhat nonchalantly take the full plunge (still wearing my hat). The full body immersion in cold was startling. It took a few moments to calm my breathing and embrace the paradoxical feeling of being completely on fire. Yet after less than a minute the fire simply became a sense of whole body clarity.
Let me tell you, I am not the kind of person who can just turn my shower to cold—that is torture. This complete immersion was both more powerful and more tolerable. It was beautiful to be bobbing in the waves. Present with my body and with nature, and in community.
I followed my breath, the waves, and after 5 minutes we walked out of the water.
The wind and cold air was far less biting than it had been before going in. Blood rushed to my extremities and I felt flushed with warmth as I towelled myself off. As I made my way home and went through the rest of my day that feeling from the morning, it’s clarity and connection, followed me. It was a good start.
Since then I have been going down to the beach nearly every morning. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with friends. Now I have a swim cap and some neoprene gloves and I stay in for about 10 minutes both meditating and swimming. Afterward I exercise and train on the beach.
I’ve become part of a weird subset of people who show up on the beach in all manner of weather to connect with something both primal and intimate. In fact I’m in a subset of a subset: I do sword-forms afterward.
There are many attested benefits (some more researched than others) such as improved immune function, reduced inflammation, and improved circulation and recovery. What has been most notable to me is that it has shifted my mood and helped me find a new rhythm to my days.
And it is that—a new rhythm. I don’t know if this will be something that I carry on for the rest of my life but in this season it’s had an impact.
If you do feel inspired to take the cold plunge yourself, I recommend doing some research on how to do it well and responsibly. This site is a great resource.
Happy swimming everyone!