Body, nurturing rituals

Embrace the Health Benefits of Cold Water Swimming

I started swimming in cold water with extremely limited knowledge on the subject. I was invited for a group swim and I was up for the challenge. Little did I know, that once I dipped my toes into the world of cold water swimming, not only would I be hooked, but I immediately reaped the rewards of the incredible health benefits in so many ways.

I’ll never forget the day I went for my very first cold swim. My body’s initial reaction to the cold was to flee the scene! Abort mission! Abandon ship! Luckily, with guidance from some more experienced cold swimmers I was able to navigate through this challenging moment and came out the other side a brand new woman. Looking back now, countless cold swims later, I can proudly share first-hand the profound impact and benefit this practice has had on my health, my well-being and my overall approach to life.

Cold water swimming offers the ultimate exchange: a short-term physical and mental challenge, in exchange for long-term positive health benefits. So what are you waiting for?

This post will cover the following:

Beni is basking in the benefits of her cold water swim, bursting with joy.

The Wim Hof Method – The Ice Man’s Fundamental Principles

If you haven’t already heard of the Iceman, it’s about time you do. Wim Hof is a Dutch trailblazer, a modern icon for his incredible achievements in science, based on his own experiments withstanding extreme temperatures. Accumulating decades of experience in ice cold water, he has developed an effective method based around 3 pillars: Breathing, Cold Therapy + Commitment. A few of his most memorable achievements include: running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle, barefoot only wearing shorts. Swimming under ice for 66 meters. Climbing the highest peaks of the world only wearing shorts. Scientifically proving that the autonomous nervous system in relation to the innate immune response, can be willingly influenced, etc. Furthermore, the Wim Hof Method (WHM) has helped people heal chronic illness, motivated people to achieve the “impossible” and has supercharged the health, strength and happiness of millions around the world. Let’s dip into the 3 pillars:

  • Breathing
    Wim Hof has developed a specific breathing technique that keeps the body in optimal condition and the mind + breath in complete control even in the most extreme conditions. The breathing method is really simple, anyone can do it! Follow this guided video to practice the method yourself, right now, and begin experiencing some of the incredible health benefits.
  • Cold
    Frequent cold exposure is linked to numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation in the body, increasing the speed of metabolism, improved quality of sleep, more focus, an improved immune response, among many many other positive effects.
  • Mindset
    Mind over matter, and you’ll achieve the impossible. Commitment, willpower and determination are very important factors to general contentment in life. By practicing the WHM, you’ll be surprised how quick you learn how to re-wire some ingrained thoughts and begin forming new empowering brain pathways to live by.
Beni is submerged in a small hole cut out from the frozen lake in Oudega, Sudwest Fryslan, NL.

Positive Health Benefits of Cold Water Swimming

These key health effects and benefits of cold water swimming will most likely intrigue you and motivate you to get started. Let’s dive in.

  • Reduce + control negative stress
    It is normal to experience stress. However, too much negative stress can begin to ail your physical and mental health. The WHM helps you bring down your stress levels in tense situations. The commitment you’ll develop by regularly practicing the breathing techniques and frequent cold exposure will help you to be able to control your stress in challenging situations. After practicing, you will immediately feel more confident and secure. 
  • Increase in willpower
    The frequent practice of exposing your body to cold temperatures all while keeping your focus inward, improves focus and instantly makes you self-aware. The commitment to this practice puts you in control of not only your body, but your mind!
  • Improved cold tolerance
    The more regularly you expose yourself to cold temperatures, the more your tolerance for the cold will increase. Your body will be able to feel more and more comfortable in cold temperatures.
  • Improvement in overall mental well-being
    The feeling when you are able to conquer the negative thoughts and physical challenge of swimming in cold water is like no other. Practitioners of this method feel significantly better about themselves instantly.

Beni is celebrating herself in the North Sea, welcoming the health benefits of cold water swimming coming her way.
  • Strengthens mind – body connection
    It’s all about mindset. The practice of devoting your full attention and focus to your body, your breath and awareness of all the uncomfortable thoughts passing through your mind when swimming in cold water, strengthens the connectedness, the oneness that lives within you.
  • Supports burnout recovery + prevention
    The WHM provides techniques and exercises which will aid you in getting your own energy back to a good place, find control and devotion to your mind and body. With frequent practice and adequate support, this practice will help both prevent and recover from the experience of burnout. You’ll be able to light the flame from within you and find power that may have faded along the way.
  • Immune system boost
    A strong immune response to pathogens and viruses can be naturally stimulated by cold water swimming. Hopefully, you’ll find that with regular cold exposure you won’t catch a cold or the flu as often as you currently do.
  • Metabolism boost
    When voluntarily exposing yourself to cold, the body activates a shiver response, forcing itself to generate heat from within, and starts protecting the key cell structures and organs. Read about the impact of cold exposure to the brown fat in the body here.
  • Natural Anti-Inflammation
    Cold swimming leads to increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (putting the body in a relaxed state). Therefore, suppressing the innate immune response and reducing inflammation and symptoms of many sorts in the body.
Beni, mid-cold water swim. Fully in the zone, focusing on her breath and sensations in her body.

Some Short-Term Effects of Cold Water Swimming

  • Initial shivering or trembling
    Initially, when entering cold water, your body might begin to shiver or tremble. This is normal as your body is generating heat. Additionally, when coming out of the water your body will begin to warm itself up again by shivering. Just connect to your breath, remember that this is normal. Listen to your own responses and know your limits.
  • Energy boost
    You will be surprised by the energy you’ll walk away from an ice bath with. If you’re feeling low energy today, get your dose of cold for the day.
  • Migraine relief
    Cold water swimming, especially when combined with the Wim Hof Breathing method, will almost instantly relieve you of headaches as you shift your focus inwards. Try it for yourself!
  • Increased athletic performance, stamina + strength
    The willpower and fire that you’ll take with you from an ice bath almost instantly boosts strength and stamina. In combination with the breathing method this can be very powerful.
  • Quicker workout recovery
    Athletes around the world swear by cryo therapy for faster recovery. After your workout, take a cold shower or cold swim and allow your muscles to naturally release and recover.

Beni is sitting in her makeshift icebath, made from a second hand whiskey barrel.

Different Ways to Access Cold Water Swimming or Cold Exposure

  • Cold shower
    Most likely, if you’re reading these words, you have access to a shower, at home or in public spaces. A cold shower at the end of your warm shower will give you the same health benefits as swimming in cold water in nature. Even in the warmer months of the year, the coldest setting on your shower will range between 10-15 degrees which is still low enough to offer your body the benefits of the cold.
  • Swim in natural pools, lakes, rivers, seas
    Look for wild swimming areas near you. Make sure to check the water quality and general safety of the water body. Firstly, be sure to have an easily accessible entrance and exit point. Ideally, you want to begin in areas where the water level is not too high so you can keep your feet on the ground. Secondly, check for wind conditions ahead of time using apps such as Windy. Wind chill from strong winds can make swimming outdoors much more challenging, both while in the water and when coming out to get dressed.
  • Purchase an ice bath, old whiskey barrel or tub
    If you’ve got some outdoor space available in your home or neighbourhood, you can very easily set up an ice bath in your garden. Second hand baths or barrels are easily available, as well as new products such as this ice tub. Be sure to replace the water occasionally, especially when the temperature begins to rise to avoid algae growth. Moreover, don’t forget to empty your tub when temperatures freeze to prevent damage.
  • Make a snow angel!
    If you have enough snowfall in your surroundings, you don’t need water! Get your swim suit on, as if you were going for a swim, and roll around in the snow for a couple of minutes, if you dare.
  • Walks outside in shorts + short sleeves in winter
    All of the above aren’t feasible options for you, but you still have access to cold, you may consider going for a stroll around your neighbourhood in your shorts on a cold day! Granted, you may get some funny looks, but you’ll also get your cold kick for the day!
  • Barefoot grounding
    If you’re an early riser, go stand in some frosty grass for a minute or two daily. As a result, by simply grounding you feet to the earth you will still tap into the mind-body link to push through the chills running up your legs.
Beni’s immediate reaction upon her immersion into the cold waters of the canals in IJlst, Netherlands.

How to Begin Cold Water Swimming – for Newbies + Beginners

  • Breathing Method
    Begin by getting familiar with the Wim Hof breathing technique. To best support your practice, use the breathing method before going into cold water. Never perform the breathing method while driving or operating any kind of vehicle.
  • Cold Shower
    Build your tolerance up slowly by ending your warm shower with cold water. Begin with 15 or 30 seconds the first days or week. Then gradually increase the time to 1 minute, and eventually, 2 minutes for full health benefits. Important note: only begin cold water exposure when well and healthy. If you have a slight cold, you can try in small amounts, but if you are genuinely ill, most likely, your body’s immune system is already fighting to build back up, wait until you are in good health to start.
  • Find a community of cold water swimmers near you
    Scout out some cold water loving buddies! Jumping into ice-cold water becomes a lot easier when done with support and companionship of other like-minded folks. By creating a support system of other motivated powerhouse humans, you’ll be more committed and disciplined in finding consistency with this practice.

Sudwest Fryland Cold Exposure Community enjoying a weekly group cold water swim!

How to Enhance and Strengthen the Practice

  • Wim Hof Breathing Method Combined with Mindfulness
    Follow-up your breathing exercises with a mindfulness practice. A few moments in silence connecting to the sensations in your body, your breath, any emotions that arise. Get familiar with your own energy, connect to your heart. Looking for some extra support? Head to the Heart tab of this site and dive into some of our mindfulness practices.
  • Learn the Horse Stance
    Warm your body up very gradually, before, but especially after, an ice cold swim. The horse stance allows your body to generate heat without increasing your heart rate.
  • Commitment
    Just as with anything in life where we seek results, finding consistency and discipline in this practice will take you far. Stay committed, come back to the cold regularly to reap the amazing health benefits!

It is my hope that after absorbing all this information you feel a little more confident to embark on your cold water swimming journey! Take these tools you need, ease into this practice, and watch as your body, mind and soul thank you for it!

I am not afraid of death. I’m afraid not to have lived fully.”

Wim Hof