Taking the cold plunge: a year of healing and renewal


Taking a cold plunge is not for the weak of heart, or for those simply seeking influencer points. Follow #SeekersAmbassador Stevie Gaultier as she shares her journey into the cold.   

In the heart of my journey, I discovered an unexpected source of solace. It wasn't the rugged shores of Vancouver Island or the endless prairies of my past that called to me. Instead, it was the embrace of icy waters, a ritual born from a year of trials and tribulations. 

After a very difficult pregnancy and a demanding C-section, my body, mind, and spirit felt like a battlefield. I was searching for something that could at least soothe my weary muscles and aching joints. It was then a memory from my days as a ballerina resurfaced: the icy, end-of-day soak, a ritual to ease the strains of movement and bring calm to the body.

Secret Beach Vancouver Island British Columbia Tristan Hinder-Hohlweg ZenSeekers
Finding your Zen in the chill of Western Canada's oceans, rivers and lakes can be restorative (when done safely).

This time, however, it wasn't just my legs that needed solace. It was my entire being. My shallow bathtub would not do. 

Luckily, where I live, icy waters beckon in every direction—rivers, lakes, and the vast expanse of the ocean. With trepidation and determination, I set forth on a journey of weekly cold dips throughout the winter. 

Taking the cold plunge: day 1

My first polar plunge took me to the ocean. To stand on the rocky shore, gazing into the frigid depths, was to confront a primal fear. This was no fleeting New Year's Eve plunge, where you spend mere seconds jumping in and out of the water, giddy and triumphant. 

This was to be a deliberate and sustained practice, an immersion into the chill. 

The first minutes were a symphony of shock, shivers, and deep breaths, a dance with nature's icy punch. Then, a strange transformation occurred. 

As my body adjusted, I found myself enveloped in a curious calmness. The adrenaline coursed through me, carrying with it an inexplicable surge of joy and peace. 

It was as if the chill had chased away the shadows that clung to me, leaving behind a renewed spirit. I had premeditated my cold swim to last 15 minutes.

I allowed myself water socks to stay sure-footed and vowed to sink into the water until it reached my shoulders.

I emerged from the water cold, happy, and feeling more myself than I had in over a year. The benefits lingered for two hours. My sore muscles found solace, my dry and itchy skin was soothed, and a peculiar sensation settled within as my outer layers of skin began to warm, cold emanating from within me as if I had become one with the very element that had challenged me. 

Building the weekly ritual

Week after week, I continued my mission to become a cold-water mermaid in rivers, lakes, and sea. Some weeks I went alone, other weeks, friends and family shared in this peculiar ritual, some eager and others apprehensive. 

I found myself feeling impressed, and also a new level of camaraderie with those that dared brave the cold with me. With company, these polar bear dips became a source of pure joy. 

Learning traditional wisdom

Through it all, I learned the fascinating Coast Salish history of River Bathing—a ritual that transcended the physical, a cleansing of both body and mind, and a rite of passage into adulthood.

WATCH: Stephanie Adeline explains the Coats Salish tradition of river bathing

While not universal, taking cold dips as part of a personal journey of development has roots in other Indigenous traditions as well, notes ZenSeekers' Jim Barr. 

"When we were producing this piece in Vernon and the Syilx First Nation, we learned how boys go through to manhood including ceremonies that feature cold water plunges: controlling your emotion no matter the chaos your mind or body is going through."

In between cold dip sessions, I started finishing my showers at home with a minute or two of cold water keeping that lesson on river bathing in mind. 

As the weeks unfolded, I encountered the denizens of these icy waters. Crayfish in the lake, eagles and other birds overhead, and even a few curious seals that ventured close, no doubt pondering the curious human in its realm. 

Dark, cold and alone: considering safety risks

Through my year-long experiment, I do have a cautionary tale. One particular night, after a busy week, I found my only opportunity for a cold swim after dark, during an ice rain, by myself. 

Armed with an umbrella to keep my head dry, and a lamp tied to the umbrella, I foolishly made my way to the ocean. As I settled into the water in a familiar spot, the waves whispered secrets of ancient tales, and every shadow held a mystery in my overactive imagination. 


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It was a test of fortitude and, for better or for worse, a reminder of the power of solitude. While the experience was tinged with fear, it was also a moment of profound connection with the elements and a new appreciation for the wildness of nature. 

Though I came out of that cold swim unharmed, it was dangerous and foolish. Please, reader, promise me you will not attempt your own ice bath alone, outside, at night, in moving water. Stay safe in your icy meditation. 

Cold plunges and the healing journey

As I became used to my weekly winter swim, even though it was uncomfortable, each cold dip just felt right. It sounds super corny, but I started to feel at one with nature when I was in the water. 

Like I was meant to be there, in that moment, connected to the world through the water molecules bumping into my skin. 

As I emerged from the embrace of the icy waters, a profound sense of renewal washed over me. The trials of the past year seemed to melt away. 

I stood on the shore, tingling, wrapping an extra large sweater around me, a testament to the resilience that resides within us all, and the power of nature's touch.

How to find serenity in the chill

tips for your own cold water journey 

Start slowly 
Begin with shorter dips and gradually increase the duration as your body acclimates. Studies show 12 minutes a week will give you maximum benefits, but the magic is you can break those minutes up into several days. 

Safety first
Wear water socks or shoes for traction and consider neoprene gloves for added warmth and dexterity. I find a hat also helps keep you from becoming dangerously cold. 

Embrace the chill 
Remember, the first few minutes are the hardest. Focus on deep breaths and let the cold wash over you. But stay alert so you don’t drift beyond where you can touch. 

Buddy up
There are quite a few polar plunge clubs out there. Check Facebook, or your local community groups. Going with others helps you stay motivated and safe. 

Connect with nature
Observe the wildlife around you and savour the beauty of your surroundings. It’s like pure magic to a weary soul.

#SeekersAmbassador insights
ZenSeekers' Jim Barr had this to add, from his own experiments with cold plunges:

"Learned a valuable lesson recently: runs and immediate cold plunges do not mix, quick way to tweak a muscle. A cold plunge post yoga has been the way to go. 
As I learned this past March from winter plunges in Tofino (Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation), the traditional Tla-o-qui-aht way is to go head water under three times. Once for your ancestors, once for your family and ideally the third time is the longest because it is for yourself.

One other hot tip I have about cold plunges, breath out as you are going in the water, especially as you go fully head under the water and watch out for that "slurpee brain freeze."

Cold plunges: not a one-size-fits-all approach

Lastly, while cold plunges can be a great restorative, everyone is different and every body will respond differently to cold water immersion. 

Be sure to listen to your body above all (and a physician, if you're dealing with any underlying health issues.)

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