Cold Water Therapy - a Mindful Pursuit
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
A fellow mindfulness coach Angie Giles has been interested in cold water therapy for a little while now and is taking a journey into the why's and how's of it all. As part of her exploration we did a short interview into my experience and thoughts of it, the results of which are below.
As a swimming lover and coach my absolute favourite place to be is in the water. Salt, fresh or chlorinated, they all have their special place but these days cold water it has to be. For me swimming is mindfulness in practice, much as others find yoga, I (and many others) find swimming.
I was literally hooked at Dip 1. Funny, people ask what it is about it. I just say its a bit like chilli, you like it even though it hurts....
What are the benefits of cold water activities as a coach?
The science bit...on immersion into cold water there is an immediate rise in cortisol levels (the flight or fight hormone) which is produced by your autonomic nervous system. This rise, in turn, results in a reduction of something called ‘inflammatory proteins’. Inflammation caused by these pesky proteins is linked with many conditions such as autoimmune diseases like arthritis and multiple sclerosis. It has also more recently been linked to depression.
As for the physical and mental benefits consciously experienced of cold water there is immediately a rush of euphoria lasting long after you leave the water; a feeling of achievement having challenged yourself, which supports positive mental health and a feeling of being physically ‘alive!’ For those that suffer with chronic autoimmune disease the physical effects can be nothing short of astonishing with range of movement returned for the immediate period post immersion, effects lasting up to twelve hours.
Who can take up the activity?
Anyone at all can do this, of any age although those with heart conditions, high or low blood pressure or pregnant should consult their doctor.
What do I encourage tri-athletes to do regarding breath work?
When in the water the single most important thing to do is breathe OUT! Many (most) on first getting in tend to take short in breaths (as you are anxious and the cold can be shocking) and forget to expel the air fully. The result is that you will feel light headed after a couple of minutes, this can cause panic. If this is the case, remain calm and turn onto your back, look up at the sky and think ‘breathe OUT’. The feeling will pass after a minute or two and remember this happens to lots of people, you’re in good company!
More generally in terms of breath work out of the water I personally practice the Wim Hof method daily.
Is it useful for runners (park or ultra) too?
I would have to say it’s useful for everyone especially post run or exercise. Ice baths have been used for decades as a post sport therapy to reduce inflammation and encourage muscle recovery.
Does it get any easier over time?
Yes it does. Start small and build on it. Start in the shower for a few moments and build that up to a minute and then more. You can even take the temperature down slowly to start with. Remember to breathe out.
If you are outside in a body or water the same thing applies. Short and sweet. Start in the summer (although I didn’t) if you can and start with a minute or two in the water.
A few important thing to remember is not to stay in until you feel ‘shivery’. The body will continue to lose heat for about 20 minutes after you exit the water. Warm up naturally, with clothes, sunshine and a warm drink. Do not take a hot shower or bath immediately after to warm up. Doing so tricks your body into thinking you’re actually hot so begins to cool you further.
Also most importantly, if you are going to be swimming in the open water, make sure you swim in a safe place with lifeguards on site and don’t ever swim alone. If possible swim with people more experienced than you (I do!) who know the water or in organised groups. The sea and rivers can be incredibly deceptive. They look calm and tranquil but the currents and tides are invisible until you’re in them. Additionally there can be hidden objects under the water. Overall be safe. Be over cautious.
For where to swim in the U.K - Outdoor Swimming Society.
For groups and locations in Norfolk and Suffolk go to
Norfolk and Suffolk Outdoor Swimming Society Facebook group.
For information about Wim Hof Method visit his website or download the app (which is very good)
For some useful safety information visit the Broads Authority website
For organised swims with triathlon look no further than Tri-Anglia who swim at Whittlingham (currently closed due to Covid 19). These are predominantly wetsuit swims.
Links to Angie's social media