Since the turn of the year, when able I’ve taken to the sea for meditation and contemplation.
Whilst New Years Day brought several hundred to the beach and a communal spirit of togetherness, today marked a different experience.
As the temperatures in the UK starts to plummet, so have the numbers of “dipper”. I got to the beach at eight this morning to find only a few folks milling around the car park, the sea completely barren of near-zero bathers.
Undeterred by the cold -2c read-out displayed on the dashboard, I waded into to the duck-pond calm waters of Liverpool Bay, surrounded only by gentle waves and whistling white noise the sea was making as it ascended and receded on the not-so distant shoreline.
Eyes closed, body cooling, the tiniest of crescent moons focused my morning meditation and shut out everything else in the known universe. Meditation allows for breaks in the chaos, the disorder, the high entropy of the broken system we find ourselves in at present.
Quite soon, there is no cold, only stillness, calmness, nothingness, like a dissolution of the lower self as the higher self takes total control, and blocks out all materialism.
Eventually (fifteen minutes in), the lower self returns and the body reawakens to suggest it’s time to get out before hypothermia kicks in.
A wade back to the shore is greeted by winter-wrapped dog walkers with amusing grins, a nod to the crazy person emerging from the icy cold waters.
Back home, as the rest of the house still slumbers, the wood burner heats the frozen body parts on the outside and the warm poached eggs and coffee does likewise inside.
When I got home from work last Friday (moved from the office/bedroom to the dining room – I do love my commute these days), I saw an excited wife, surrounded by neoprene goodies.
Not wanting to do things in half measures, she had bought a wet-suit, wet-shoes, wet-gloves and soon-to-be wet-robe.
Either she was leaving me for a life on Bondi Beach with a surfer, or she was contemplating something closer to home.
I was perplexed, given the fact that December was just around the corner and her sensitivity to cold is extreme when compared to most.
Intrigued, I asked her what was all the gear for, to which she explained that she had just joined a club. The local club, which has 1,500 members is called The Chilly Dippers, so first thing on Sunday we took the short five minute drive to the beach at high tide to see what it was.
We were totally shocked at the amount of people there, there are usually plenty of car spaces when we take our pooch for a walk at similar times (albeit when the tide is out). There were lots of people in the water already, kayakers, paddle-boarders, swimmers and “dippers”.
It was the dippers that caught my eye (in a non-pervy way), some just wearing swimming costumes and coming out of the sea red raw. So these were The Chilly Dippers. My wife is a good swimmer and I wrongly assumed that her new club was a sea-swimming club. Not so. The premise is to go into the sea for no longer than ten minutes, until the body reacts to the cold water and your internal temperature starts to rise, all for health (mind and body) benefits.
Still scratching my head as to why one would do this, I coincidentally saw my yoga tutor on the beach and asked her what she thought.
It turns out that the practice is an ancient one called ishnaan, which the Sikh use as hydrotherapy.
It is used like a kriya in kundalini yoga and “L” does it every day, not in the sea of course, but by showering at home.
The practice and benefits are as follows:
1, Start the freezing cold shower with the extremities, feet first then rising up to the leg, rubbing, massaging using opposite foot and legs, avoiding the thighs.
2. Avoid the reproductive organs as they don’t need to be exposed directly to the cold water stream, they will get it indirectly from the torso.
3. Next it’s hands, arms and shoulders, again rubbing and massaging.
4. From there, move the cold water stream to the navel, abdomen, chest and back.
5. Lastly, up to the face, with eyes, nose, mouth, ears, cheeks, but not the forehead or your hair, as this could send one back into the sleep zone.
6. Cycle is repeated until it has the desired effect or your body has chilled enough for you to stay in the stream constantly, to a maximum of ten minutes as the body would eventually go into shock / hypothermic state.
7. Dry yourself with a warm towel and place several coins in the swear jar!
1. Keeps the skin radiant.
2. Opens the capillaries.
3. Detoxifies organs.
4. Keeps blood composition healthy.
5. Activates the glandular system.
6. Strengthens the entire nervous system.
7. Reduces CO2e by not using a gas-powered heating system.
So this morning I took my first ishnaan (which I intend to do each day now as part of my routine) and truly felt a difference. Of course the water was freezing cold and the noises coming out of the bathroom sounded like Norman Bates was giving it large with mommy’s kitchen knife, but overall it was an invigorating experience.
My body was red (not too dissimilar from the brave costume-wearing Chilly Dippers), and I did have a mild mystical experience. Towards the end of the shower, I felt light headed and my mind appeared in a slightly different time and space from the rest of my body; a reiki type warmth coursing around my neural pathways.
I guess the science behind it is lower blood pressure to the brain giving me that light-headed feeling, as most of the available blood was rushing to the assistance of the top four layers of skins which were being blasted awake by cold water.
From neoprene suits to ancient Sikh daily rituals in a short space of time, life is full of surprises…