Cold Water Wake Up Call
by Stephanie Williams
It seems everywhere I turn someone is talking about or participating in cold water swimming right now.
I’m not great with jumping in the water even at the height of Tassie summer, so it’s never been something I’ve considered to be ‘for me’. But I recently joined a Wild Wellness Fire and Ice Walk, facilitated by Walk on kunanyi. For the sake of personal growth, I pushed myself to say yes and do something that was outside my comfort zone.
The walk involves a guided breathwork session, followed by a swim in the North West Bay River over the back of the mountain, then finish with some journaling to further tap into how it’s making us feel!
The day starts at Cathedral Rock car park, where we meet Andy from Walk on kunanyi and Piet, a Wim Hof instructor who is going to lead our breathwork session and swim. My fellow walkers are all rugged up on the chilly morning and ready to go. On the two kilometre walk along the Cathedral Rock Track we learn about how all the trees and fungi are linked together and support each other through the mycelium network (mind-blowing!), stop in a grove of ferns to chat Gondwana-land and then do a bit of fungi spotting until we arrive at out morning tea spot.
Hiking with a side of Pigeon Whole Bakers pastries and coffee is my kind of hiking. After a delicious spread, it’s time for breathwork. Piet trained in the The Wim Hof Method – a way of living that was developed by a “crazy Dutchman” Wim Hof. It’s about reconnecting us – to ourselves, to others and to nature through breathwork and exposure to cold. If it’s practiced consistently participants can benefit with increased energy, better sleep, reduced stress and a stronger immune system. We learn that Piet found this way of life after being diagnosed with lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis – of which he now lives free from.
We settle into a comfy spot on the rocks, listening to the river babbling beside us. With a hand on the heart and the belly, we begin cycles of breathing and holding our breath. With the sun hitting my face, it becomes meditative and I find my mind beautifully blank.
It’s time for our swim, so we all strip down to our bathers and start the descent into the freezing water. Buoyed by being in a group, I submerge myself (slightly unwillingly as the rocks underfoot were slippery) up to my neck. My arms are quivering uncontrollably, but the aim of the game here is focus and willpower. Piet gives us some encouraging words, which definitely helped my resolve. Then time was up. Stumbling out, a few whoop whoops are let out and we all congratulate ourselves. The water temp, we’re told, is 8 degrees. I’d describe it as ‘bloody cold, but absolutely invigorating’.
Lunch is being served in a woodworking hut back near our meeting point. It’s an open sided yurt-style structure in the bush – with a roaring fire and burgers on the barbecue. It’s the perfect place to warm up after the swim. After lunch we settle in for some journaling. Even though I’m a writer by profession, journaling has never grabbed me, apart from teenage diaries many moons ago. But I’m here to try new things and I find, in this environment, the words start pouring out. Words of encouragement to myself, reminders about the important things in life and to not let things like stress build up.
I’d recommend cold water swimming to most people, but I was thankful my first experience was in a supported environment with someone like Piet. Bring on the next swim!