What does practicing yoga and swimming in cold water have in common? A lot, in my opinion. I’ll share my experience how I think the two go hand in hand. Since I grew up near the Atlantic Ocean, I never really had an issue getting wet in low temperatures, but swimming in winter is another story. Last Autumn, I began meeting friends for a weekly swim in Lausanne. We would strip off under the cold grey skies and gear up to shock our systems when entering the 6 degree water. After swimming out to the buoy and back, sometimes twice, we would wade in the low water, then come out, dry off, sip warm tea and bundle up in layers. Side note, they say you should never exceed the number of minutes equivalent to the water’s temperature. (When the water is 7 degrees, your maximum time spent swimming should be 7 minutes.)
I quickly noticed how focused you need to be on your breath when cold water swimming. You can’t let your breath escape you when your mind is frantically telling you to get back to shore, asap! You need your breath to be steady while swimming in what feels at times, like icicles. I found a likeness to when I am on my mat. Of course, it’s less dramatic, but the attention to the breath is similar. When flowing from one posture to another, you need to remember to breathe. And sometimes you need to force yourself to breathe – hold the pose, not the breath. Makes total sense, especially since breathing is one of our body’s autonomic functions. But there is a sharp contrast to your body being submerged in frigid water, and you standing warm on the beach. There’s also a big difference in effortlessly breathing in a difficult yoga posture and feeling stuck on your mat because you’re not inhaling smoothly.
Another remarkable similarity I can draw between these two activities is the fact they both produce endorphins – and a lot of them. I systematically feel a buzz after I finish swimming in cold water. It’s difficult to describe, but I would liken it to the feeling after sipping a double espresso, served in Italy (which can only mean one thing – quality coffee).
I always notice a release of the feel-good chemicals in my brain after closing my yoga practice – namaste. There are many studies which prove exercise boosts mood and can even help with anxiety and depression. For me, this experience is leveled up by doing yoga. It’s a slightly different buzz from when I do a HIIT workout or go for a run. Whatever floats your boat. Get out, or get down in your dog to pump some happy hormones in your bloodstream.