As many of you know, I have been teaching the Exercise4happiness classes for over 4 years now (apart from in lockdown when we moved online). I can’t quite believe where the time has gone. Maybe because it has been such a wonderful thing to do and I’ve been enjoying myself so much that time has whizzed by so quickly. Exercising regularly does wonders for our long term mental health and in addition, doing it with others improves it further as does exercising outdoors.
Although I teach classes indoors, I like to get outside as much as possible and over the last 18 months, I’ve become one of thousands of people taking up the seemingly latest trend of wild swimming (a fancy, possibly middle-class term for describing swimming anywhere but a pool .. but really, it’s just swimming).
Last month, just before Christmas, I was asked why I swim in cold water on freezing cold days … and today was certainly one of them! With an air temperature of 1 degC, it was warmer (relatively) in than out and the river was cloaked in mist. At the time I was asked that question, I think I gave the short reply that I just love the buzz that I get from wild swimming. This is, of course, very true but on reflection there’s more to it than that. I’ll endeavour to explain here why I started and why I’m still doing it.
I began in late August 2020 having spent the summer in land locked Cambridgeshire. My childhood was spent on the coast but as an adult I moved away from my family home. With the arrival of the pandemic, the lockdown restrictions had meant my visits to the coast had been few and far between and I was missing that connection with nature…my summer dips in the sea.
I’d grown up believing that swimming in inland waters was dangerous and largely forbidden (with scary public service broadcasts like Dark & Lonely Water etc … remember that one ?). So imagine how curious I was when I watched a beautiful programme about wild swimming with Alice Roberts. I yearned to give it a try. I searched on Facebook for local groups and I was up and swimming. That first autumn was about learning to be brave; learning to deal with the somatic anxiety that brewed in my guts before every swim in weather that was not remotely tropical. This swimming anxiety partnered up with my usual, annual autumn anxiety and every trip to the river was a mental battle (this changed … keep reading). Just as I was winning, it all came to a grinding halt when the Nov/Dec lockdown was announced. I didn’t swim again until the end of March 21. That spring, I recommenced my swimming with a lighter heart because I knew summer was on its way and the temperature was only going to get warmer. My plan was to swim through the summer and swim “down the temperatures” through autumn and hopefully into winter, leaving the addition of my wetsuit as late as possible. I had a magical summer. With no holiday abroad, I revelled in the cooling water of the River Nene. As the days grew shorter, I continued one swim at a time. Milestones passed… Harvest Moon swim, Autumn Equinox swim, Halloween swim and then finally a December swim. All these swims without a hint of visceral disturbance. The anxiety had gone. It was replaced with an excitement, an unexplained pull, a need to get in the cold water that was almost spiritual. Winter swimming isn’t about knocking out the distance, it’s something else. Something that is unique to each swimmer. And it’s difficult to explain, you have to know it yourself and there’s only one way to do that.
I’m still not a fan of autumn or Christmas come to that, but winter swimming has given me something to look forward to each and every time it comes around now. I think I possess a mental toughness that I didn’t have before. I leave the water each time feeling braver, stronger and that I can face anything… because if I can swim in freezing cold water, I can do anything.
In finishing, I must add that swimming in any outdoor body of water needs to be carried out safely and carefully. Cold water can be dangerous. Take advice from and go with people who are already experienced. There are lots of groups out there ready to help you start your swimming journey and help you find your own Exercise4happiness. Stay safe
I am an exercise4happiness specialist. Forget the bikini body or the 6 pack, exercising to feel good is where it's at! Join me in my adventures in happiness, on the bike, in the studio, or in the classroom and I will infect you with my enthusiasm to get out there and be active too! You will feel good, I promise you.