December 02, 2023

Take The Plunge


As many of you may know, when covid hit and the pools closed, much to my own shock, I became a cold water swimmer. My very dear friend CYNTHIA BRENNEN has written this great post on her experience and the benefits of cold water:

"I’ve discovered something new and exciting in my life. After many years of resistance, I finally dipped my toe (well, my whole body actually), and experienced the most exhilarating feeling I’ve had in a very long time. It’s hard to describe that “hurts so good” feeling but I will do my best to portray the paradoxical exchange of emotions mixed with the physical effects. But first, a little background..

I practically grew up in the water. Being born a Pisces I suppose I was destined to at least test the fluidity in my life and see if it aligned with one of the many reasons I showed up here. I quite liked swimming and especially attached to the camaraderie and excitement of swimming competitively, but the one thing I absolutely abhorred was that first plunge into the pool. The shock of cold water against every cell of my body sent me swimming as fast as I could just to warm up. Early morning swims were always the worst, still feeling half asleep and wanting to crawl back into bed with my warm blankets encasing me. I sometimes struggled with the reason I chose to take this path, and then I would see my teammates and feel the connection between us as we journeyed those waves side by side. The physical pain we endured to reach the thrill was worth every stroke.

It was during this journey I met my swim sister, Louise. We met in the pool in fifth grade and developed a bond not only through swimming, but through the twists and turns of life. We’ve encouraged and listened, cried and sang with joy, felt the agony of defeat and celebrated our wins, all while testing the waters of life. Louise has been such an inspiration in so many ways, but when it comes to H2O inspiration we become totally synchronized. If it wasn’t for Louise, I likely wouldn’t have plunged back into Masters swimming after 30 years, and I certainly would never have even entertained my latest plunge.

It’s been a few years now that Louise has talked about her year-round cold water swims in Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. I’ve always admired her bravery in doing so, but in my mind, it was the worst torture anyone could experience. She would then express how it’s the best natural high she’s ever experienced, and I would smile politely and say, “That’s great, Lou, I’m so happy for you, but that’s something I could never do.” Remember my trauma of jumping into cold pools my whole life? Well that little mini trauma swam around in my head and never left. And then, Louise sent me an article on stimulating your vagus nerve for better mental health, and lo and behold, the very first thing on the list was cold exposure. It talked about researchers finding that exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase your parasympathetic “rest and digest” activity through the vagus nerve. Now it was starting to sink in. This was something that could not only benefit my physical health but my mental health as well. I decided to dig a little deeper and read many articles on Cold Water Immersion Therapy. The benefits of taking cold dips were eye opening; decreases depression and anxiety, decreases inflammation, boosts immune system, manages pain, increases energy, soothes muscle soreness, to name a few. That was enough for me. I called Louise and told her I was filling my bath tub with cold water and ice and taking the plunge! She was ecstatic for me. My first try, the temperature was 72 degrees and I lasted about three minutes, and it was challenging! It’s been two months now and I’ve moved down to 59 degrees for six minutes. It sure is cold when I first get in but I’ve learned to accept the pain to enjoy the gain. The funny thing is, it’s still the first few seconds getting in that hurts, but then a calm sets in and I feel as though I’m enveloped in polar bear skin. It is the most peaceful feeling as I focus on my breathing and move into a meditative mode. And then, I can’t even express the exhilaration I feel when I emerge from the water! My endorphins are so happy afterward that I actually caught myself giggling yesterday as I was drying off. Now I get it, Lou. You’ve got a swim sister on another level now, and I can’t thank you enough for lightly nudging me when my ice wall was up. Your patience and warmth always turns it into a pool of peace.

Over the past two months, I must say that my inflammation has decreased and my mood has elevated to a more positive level. Of course, it is only one piece of the balance wheel. Diet, exercise, meditation/relaxation, and adequate sleep are all pieces of the health puzzle. For me, if I don’t pay attention to the amount of sugar I put into my body my cells scream inflammation, and it won’t matter how many plunges I take. Balance in everything we do is the key of life. I’m just grateful I found another healthy opening for that key to fit into.

*If you’re considering taking the plunge please do your own research and talk to a health care professional you trust to be sure this endeavor is for you.

If you give yourself the green light, welcome to the world of exciting exhilaration and hop aboard the Polar Bear Express!"

For further reading on my own experience of cold water click HERE.

And have a nice holiday season!