What is a Cold Water Immersion?

What is a Cold Water Immersion and Why Would I Want to Do It?

Water Heals: Cold Water Immersions in Natural Settings (Wild Swimming)
Nancy L. Frey, PhD
1 December 2022

Cold Water Therapy

Why would I want to do cold water immersion in a natural body of water such as the ocean, river or a lake (aka, wild swimming)? The benefits for body and mind of exposing oneself to nature’s healing power are well-documented. In Chill: The Cold Water Cure author Dr. Mark Harper describes how people who regularly dip in cold water experience immediate improvements and life changing benefits to overall physical and mental health and well-being. Deliberating exposing oneself to cold water in beautiful natural settings, paraphrasing Harper, transforms, connects and helps reorient the modern, stressed wandering mind and spirit as well as promotes weight loss and better sleep, decreases inflammation and lowers blood pressure.

How cold is cold? Cold water immersion does not imply icy water! Deliberate cold water therapy tends to be most effective in water temps of 15-20C/59-68F and below. Resistance to ‘getting cold’ is normal and many people have a knee-jerk reaction of ‘that is not for me’. Learning to overcome an initial resistance to “cold water” is a normal and very important part of this therapy’s effectiveness. It can be a very powerful tool to carry with you into your daily life that promotes resilience, mental and physical health & well-being and strengthens the nervous, vascular and immune systems.

Being around water heals, soothes and expands body and mind. Simply by listening to water sounds - whether it be rain, waves lapping upon the shore or a river’s constant pulse and gurgle – the human psyche experiences calming and relaxing effects that benefits all of our systems – cardio, nervous, digestive, etc. Walking by water combines both, creating a multi-sensory experience that most people find deeply satisfying. And, immersing oneself in natural water sources only adds another positive dimension to the overall well-being effects that water affords – the flotation, the aromas, the analgesic, soothing effects on tired muscles and simply the joy and delight that being in water in a beautiful place evokes. Sharing these experiences with others heightens the collective joy and overall benefits.

On tour we have the benefit of often walking near or within site of the grand Atlantic Ocean. Galicia is also blessed with gorgeous, crystalline waters both fresh and salty. We’ll be immersing in different types of water courses that will vary in temperature. Ocean temperatures in June range from 15-18C/59-64F. River, waterfalls and lagoons can range from 13-20C/55-68F. Our immersions will range normally from 2-3 minutes to 30 minutes depending on the comfort level of each person. Each person’s body reacts differently to cold water based on many factors: body type, immersion experience, cycle, health. Staying in the water for ‘long periods of time’ is not the goal of the immersions but rather to engage with these different waters on a full sensorial level in order to listen to and feel their wisdom. An immersion is whatever you would like it to be. If you only want to stick your feet in and observe the water or submerge fully, that’s up to you. Doing a wild swimming immersion requires that you know how to swim but you do not need to be a 'good swimmer'.

The benefits of an immersion relate more simply to getting your body in the soothing water, especially after a hike, and enjoying the overall sensations without having to make a big physical effort or cover a distance. As an avid wild swimmer myself (and certified Open Water Swimming Coach), I wanted to offer the possibility of engaging with these beautiful waters with simple, safe immersions.

cold water therapy

Photo credit: Caroline Moyer