Key lessons I learned from jumping in cold water on a weekly basis
Embracing my #bluemind and finding connection deep within myself, my community and aligning my path to my purpose
The cold is a teacher. Your breath is your anchor. Learn to separate your wants from your needs — you want to quit, but you don’t need to.
The cold connects
You want me to what? Come to the beach on January 3rd, 2021, breathe intensely for 10 minutes and then walk into ice-covered lake Ontario with a group of people and just sit there, wading in the water for two minutes? The thought of being on my knees in waist-high water covering my shoulders and the base of my neck, immediately caused me to exclaim the first thing out of anyone’s mouth when I would tell them, I am practicing cold exposure: “You’re insane! I could never do that.” Right there was the problem, a block I needed to release to go beyond the subconscious limits I had already set for myself. I was craving connection, needing new and in year two of the pandemic, I needed to get out of my own way and invite this new experience into my life. Because what was waiting for me on the other side of this impossible two minutes in freezing cold water, is something I never thought I would find. At the time, I had no idea how this would become a new addiction, a high that I would crave and an innate power that I would cultivate within myself. Jumping in cold water on a weekly basis from January to April, I found connection — to a community of people who like me, forcing themselves into discomfort to discover the parts of themselves they didn’t know existed. I found connection to myself, my creativity, to new mentors, my fears, my shadows, my identity, my path, and my purpose.
We have this instinct to doubt ourselves and our abilities. We are quick to judge or dismiss an opportunity by standing in our own way.
When you challenge yourself to do something you thought you could never do, you build resilience, you start to rewire your brain and your thought pattern. You are stronger than you know and exploring beyond your personal limits is exhilarating.
“The cold is a teacher… your breath is your anchor… separate your wants from your needs.”
“The cold is a teacher,” she would say in a low, calming voice. Ash was grounding in her presence. She was the image of resilience and having become an incredible mentor, taught me that on the other side of fear is power. Water is power, it can heal you or it can drown you. And whether I was in the lake, in the waves, in an ice hole in Muskoka, or in a tank, dealing with the elements and tuning into my breath and body, the cold revealed so many lessons. Some days it brought me clarity, some days it was peaceful. Some days, it brought up emotions I didn’t know were lurking below the surface. But emerging from the water everytime, it was like being renewed. I started to crave this sensation. It was no longer like knives stabbing me, it felt warm and comforting and the cold became a tool. It was like I could enter this ideation tank, pure focus. It was the 2:30mins per week where I was not distracted by anything else and the only thing I had to do was survive and breathe. When I needed answers or a reminder that I could handle anything — I’d turn to the cold. Mornings before work meeting on the beach at 7am, we’d have discussions on our deepest fears and our ideal lives and most importantly, what was standing in the way of us taking the next step and living our most authentic selves. I started to feel more creative, producing better ideas more regularly and in that, I knew that the water was helping to shift my mindset. I was getting stronger, attentive, and sensitive in better ways and I wanted to keep going.
Reframe the risks
My first experience was not pleasant. The car ride to the water, I was so scared. But why was I was afraid? Truly, what is the worst that could happen to me in the two minutes with a certified WimHof breathwork instructor and 20 strangers who had all shared similar first-time experiences and now make it look effortless and relaxing. Would I scream so loud and not be able to handle it and feel embarrassed? Funny enough, the fear was not of freezing to death or getting hypothermia, there was no real, tangible thing to fear. The word impossible, is an over-exaggeration. To do an impossible thing once a week, set me up to be able to handle anything the week of work would throw at me.
“Your breath is your anchor.”
You have air in your lungs and the power to control this experience. The cold stimulates your vagus nerve which is the regulator of your parasympathetic system. This is responsible for your fight or flight response. Slipping into the water, your first 45 seconds are the hardest part. You are forcing your body into shock and you need to ignore every impulse telling you to get out, to quit, to give up and run. Focusing on your exhales and releasing the tension your body finds its rhythm and calm state. Power through, you’ve still got over one minute to go. Sometimes, you could smell the ice — I would focus on anything but how cold I was. Sometimes I would sing a song in my head, or breathe audibly. I knew I was going to be ok. I was in a container and I was safe. The breath is your anchor no matter what situation you are in. Take 10 seconds before reacting to pause and breathe. Take a deep breath, we say it all the time, and it rings true.
“Separate your wants from your needs”
I was never one to swim in friend’s pools, on the dock at the cottage in 30 degree weather, you would find me in sweatpants and a sweatshirt with everyone else in a bikini. As a scuba diver in Mexico, I would opt for a 7mm wetsuit where most people at 3mm and here I was a new cold water junkie. It was truly the last thing I thought I would be able to do, but I found a strength, resilience I knew was in there, but had been lost. The only way out is through
Through all of this, I was feeling clearer mentally. Asking questions about myself and my life I had never thought to ask. Releasing thought patterns and opinions that were no longer serving me. And then, the words of a mentor came to me. You’ll know you’re on the path when your passion, purpose and proficiencies are aligned. Maybe water was my passion? My purpose is to use creativity for good and contribute something meaningful to the world. So, here we are. The cold connected me to my creative power, to my purpose — to interests and science I didn’t know I was curious about. Water healed me, transformed me and I am excited to dedicate my life to it.