“Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing, that makes it water and nobody knows what it is” D. H. Lawrence
It is no wonder that humans find water the most relaxing source of all as it is said that this private, aquatic realm takes us back to our most peaceful state of existence – the ‘amniotic waters’ of the womb. Submersion in water takes our subconscious back to the glory days, when we were happy, little embryos without a care in the world.
There is a wonderfully touching and quietly powerful tale written by Roger Deakin, of his swimming journey that took him meandering through the U.K, by the name of Waterlog. The first few pages could not capture more wholly the essence of wild swimming, as he writes, “When you enter the water, something like a metamorphosis happens. Leaving behind the land, you go through the looking glass surface and enter a new world in which survival, not ambition or desire, is the dominant aim.” And just like that, a desire was set off in me to be submerged in that same simple, unfettered existence. The stillness and exhilaration that follows after the immediate shock is overcome is when the magic begins.
I sadly must concede that, this expedition having taken place in the depths of winter, means I did reach for my wetsuit before I set off to discover my own weir to wade in to. Something Mr. Deakin may have had a thing or two to say about as he affectionately describes them as “a species of whole-body condom,” depriving you of the full sensation. Whatever your say on the matter, there remains an undeniable serenity in standing at the edge of the water you are about to enter. I felt that private, suspended moment between us which no one else can touch. From the onslaught of ads and social media, to the traffic of the roads and pavements, it has become very difficult to escape the relentless stream of stimuli forced upon you, and let your mind rest. But once you embark on a wild swimming adventure, your senses are narrowed to the now. Your mind becomes hyper aware of the present and nothing else. A true rarity in this day and age.
The best thing about this outdoor swimming business is that you don’t have to be Bear Grylls, nor Michael Phelps, to experience and appreciate this natural wonder. All you need is a body of cold water, swimwear (or perhaps not) and a little bit of spirit. The beauty of swimming lies in your singular relationship with the water. You can be a 6 a.m. submerger, an in-it-for-the-long-hauler or an in-and-out-ASAP-shrieker, because it makes no difference — everyone leaves the water with a smiling soul. What really matters is that you’ve got off the sofa, got out of the office and got into the real world. The best part is that we all have the chance to experience this simple pleasure. Everyone has the chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
If you’re more of a stats and science person, I’ve got you covered. There are now a myriad studies that demonstrate the benefits of wild swimming for one’s mental and physical health. These include boosting your immune system, increasing your metabolism and raising your libido, to name a few. With many doctors and professionals now advocating a cold water dip as an effective stress-reliever and additional remedy for cases of depression and anxiety, the scientific evidence is on the rise. These special, beneficial effects of swimming have been beautifully captured by Ben Cox and Joe Minihane in Waterlog, a short documentary that is both a quiet ode to Deakin and a stunning exhibition of just how positively swimming impacts mental wellbeing.
There is now an increasing number of initiatives encouraging this wild swimming movement. From Facebook groups to regional clubs, finding the best swim spots and sharing your adventure (and perfectly candid Instagram) with friends is easier than ever. ‘Chilly Dippers’ is a great example of how the forces of social media can be put to good use, a fun platform for wild simmers that goes by the mantra of ‘Freezing the body to free the mind’. With regular snippets of swimming inspo, the page shares photos of all kinds of dips and gives you the chance to challenge your friends to do the same. Check ‘em out @chilly.dippers.
It is not a sense of purpose that hurtling, modern day life give us, it is a sense of detachment. Wild swimming has the power to recalibrate our personal priorities and put us back in touch with ourselves. It is a reminder to not stride blindly through life, but stop awhile. We have a connectedness to the world we live in, if you allow it. This is the long standing ethos of the wild swimming community. There is a remedy for the ever-changing, complicated problems and worries of the mind that has always been there. The most complicated things can be helped by something so simple. All you have to do is take the plunge.