What has swimming got to do with mosaic art I hear you cry? Absolutely nothing yet absolutely everything! Let me explain...
How did it begin?
A year ago I was searching for something, I wasn't quite sure what it was that I was seeking. I knew it had to involve the outdoors and I have always been drawn like a magnet to water, hence moving to beautiful Cornwall. I looked at womens surf clubs, gig rowing and swim clubs but none of them hit the spot. I then stumbled across Wim Hof (The Iceman) a motivational speaker and extreme athlete and watched loads of his videos which then sent me looking for groups I could join who dip in cold water all year round for the health benefits.
I found The Bluetits, signed up and went along to one of their group dips a year ago and the rest is history. I know I will head to the sea during all seasons, as often as possible in all weather (as long as it's safe) for the rest of my life. The transformation in me is quite dramatic. I should know, I've lived in this headspace for 45 years and have never felt 'lighter'
What exactly does it involve?
Cold water therapy is the act of submersion in cold water. In the winter months, for me, there is very little swimming taking place at all. I walk into the sea steadily controlling my breath as the cold water hits my legs, I carry on when I'm ready up to waist height which is when it really makes you gasp. At this point I'm usually jumping around and swearing quite a bit! Then as I go further I need to tell my body not to run for the beach, everything is telling you "No, It's too cold!" I tell myself "You can do it!" as I go further in until either a wave crashes over me taking the decision to fully submerge when I'm ready to or I steadily dunk down to my shoulders. It is at that precise moment that the world disappears. It is only myself, in my body, feeling the sensation of the icy water on my skin. It tingles and I feel calm and my head empties of everything but hearing the sounds of my breath and the ocean.
I feel total serenity wash over me. In slightly warmer water I like to go beneath the waves and explore a little below. The act of letting a powerful wave rush over the top of you seems to cleanse as it rolls by. I like to imagine that wave is washing away my worries and troubles and I emerge feeling so much lighter. In the photo below I look like I'm flying in the clouds...it's a powerful wave I've just ducked under and I felt weightless and at it's mercy. I felt exhilerated, powerful and like I could tackle the world afterwards.
Ok, so what has it got to do with living your life as an artist?
I truly believe anyone who runs a small business would benefit from wild swimming/cold water therapy. As an artist it is only me, alone, day in day out in my studio (a freezing cold garage to be precise and not so 'la-di-dah' about it...which incidentally doesn't seem quite as cold as it did before! 5 degrees? Pah! positively tropical!)
It resets and relaxes me. I return more focussed and ready to tackle whatever project it is I'm working on. I'm outside in nature, expanding my blue mind (look that up, it's a thing) and being inspired by the coastline which reminds me that things are ever changing. Every single dip is different, we don't go for a swim and say that's it we've done it, no point going again. Why is that? because it is a completely different experience every single time.
The landscape looks different, the light changes. I have entered the sea with the sun on my face, been battered by rain and left beneath a glorious rainbow. I see wildlife, I laugh with wonderful people who join me for a dip, we share our troubles and we eat biscuits in the mizzle. I have seen the sun set and dawn break with people I would otherwise have never met. I have become more positive, I have left my physical insecurities on the beach. I hadn't worn a swimming costume on a beach since I was probably 20 without covering up in shorts or a beach dress! Why did I care? Who knows. All I know is I really couldn't care less what anyone thinks of me these days, whether in a swimsuit or not. Life is for living, not hiding.
I have never liked photos of myself, never guess now would you!? I will never be this young again, tomorrow I will be older. I like recording and documenting the joy the sea gives me. My smile is bigger than ever and I know there will come a day when I can no longer do the things I love. A fact we all face.
I have been so inspired by my surroundings that it has heavily influenced my work too, you'll remember my sealife collection in the Summer. I love taking photographs and then translating that into a painting with tile. My surroundings spark ideas and inspire me to push myself out of my comfort zone with my work too. I'm putting myself out there more than ever and it's all down to the sea.
Physical AND Mental Health benefits...
I no longer feel a weight crushing down on me, there is no dark cloud. That's quite a big statement. The sea alone has done that. Physically, I don't suffer with back ache anymore. Sitting for hours on end working at my table is not something I do. I get up and move every so often and of course, down tools and head out to the sea if I really start to feel tense. I feel like I can conquer anything, you do feel like you're doing something so unusual and life enhancing that you just want to encourage everyone to strip off and join you!
I can't talk about sea dipping without mentioning safety.
You have to be careful as you can very quickly become hypothermic which can be extremely dangerous, but if you take it steady, listen to your body and leave your ego behind the benefits are quite something! I was told the one minute rule when I started, that you only stay in the water for one minute per degree, so if the sea is 10 degrees celcius, you stay in for a maximum of 10 minutes...this is advice is wrong! Do not feel tempted to follow this rule it's reckless and dangerous. You can do damage to your nerves or become hypothermic way before your 10 minutes are up.
Always get out of the water BEFORE you feel you need to, if you are shivering, you've already left it too late. Get out and get dry and dressed ASAP.
Wear clothing that is warm and easy to dress in afterwards, joggers and a couple of thin jumpers, thick socks and footwear you can slip on easily. Forget laces and buckles, you need to get warm fast.
When I say get warm fast I mean steadily...get your layers on (helps if you've wrapped them in a hot water bottle for when you exit the water) but don't warm up too fast. I don't have a hot shower immediately when I get home as it can make you feel faint. Your body continues to cool (afterdrop) even after you've got dressed and are warming up.
Warm up steadily from the inside out. Your skin cools first as you enter the water and then your organs. When warming up do it from the inside out by sipping a hot drink or soup from a flask.
Don't be in competition with anyone else, go at your pace. If you arrive and don't feel it, trust your gut and don't go in. If you do, and only get your ankles wet before deciding enough! Then that's fine too. If you are with someone who is used to it, don't try and keep up, they may be more acclimatised than you are.
This one is important. WEAR WHAT YOU WANT! There is no shame in wearing a wetsuit! Whatever helps you to get in the water and experience it is a good thing. I wear skins, (swim costume) gloves and boots as I like not having a barrier to the cold water 'hit' but can enjoy it with warm hands and feet better than without, but we're all different. Some swim groups can be a bit judgmental about it. Find another group!
Don't go alone, or at least tell someone where you are swimming, how long you will be and wear something high vis in the water, take a tow float with a charged phone inside and check tide times, weather reports and likely hazards before going in. Ideally have a friend on the beach to 'spot' you and they can call for help if you get into difficulty.
Be aware of sewage pollution. Get the free Safer Seas and River Service app and check your area for pollution alerts. Magic Seaweed is a good one for tide times, sunrise/set times, wave height and wind direction. Check beach cams for more live info too.
Your weight, whether you've eaten, how much sleep you've had, female cycles and many other factors can influence your swim. Someone thinner than me won't be able to stay in the water as long generally speaking, as I would have more insulation than them. That's just physiology.
What I love about this activity is it really doesn't need to cost much, although it can do! I've seen towelling dryrobes made out of sewing two large towels together and all sorts of genuis hacks. There are however some kit that will last, make your experience more pleasant and be a good investment if you are going to regularly dip. The following are my personal recomendations/favourites. I have paid for them. This isn't a sponsored or endorsed blog!
SWIMSUITS - My favourites are Batoko and Davy J. They are made from recycled plastic, comfortable and made to survive a dive!
GLOVES - I have Lomo and they keep my hands warm and dry.
SWIM BOOTS - My favourites are C-skins, they have a tough sole for when I climb out of the sea into rock pools etc protecting my feet, are non slippy and keep me warm.
DRYROBE - I have the original Dryrobe Advance, there are so many on the market, I've had 3 makes and this one is the best at keeping me warm and dry, zero wind chill gets though too!
TOWELLING DRYROBE - Gamechanger! keep your modesty and change quickly and easily underneath.
SKI SUIT - Honestly my second hand onepiece ski suit is amazing to pull on post dip! Never been so toasty.
BAG - Swimferal make bags for cold water swimmers. You can stand inside the bag on an insulated panel to keep feet off the cold wet sand and it's so roomy it holds everything you need. Made in the UK out of lorry tarpaulins they are completely waterproof ensuring your kit is dry on land when you get out. I have a turtleback and a terrapin. I love them both.
TOWFLOAT - I have a drybag/towfloat by Ulu, it is high vis, ties around your waist and inflates keeping the contents dry. Approved by the RNLI they can be seen from a distance so you have peace of mind and can take valubles like your keys and phone with you too.
GOGGLES, DIVEMASKS AND EARPLUGS - Optional, I have Cressi divemasks and snorkel sets but not everyone will want to use them. Earplugs prevent water getting in causing swimmers ear.
SUN PROTECTION - Wear an ocean safe/friendly suncream.
FLASK - Take a hot drink to sip afterwards. Essential!
WETSUIT - I have an Orca made for swimming which is thinner around the shoulders for ease of movement in the water. I've literally worn it once! There are different thicknesses for Summer and Winter so take your time researching.
CAKE - Or biscuits! A sweet treat post swim is divine and gets your levels up.
BOBBLE HATS - wear in the water or just to pop on after, conserve that heat that escapes from your head.
SWIM CAPS - Personal preference, I generally don't wear them, but if you were to swim out it's advisable a) to keep your hair out of the way and b) to be seen easily. Choose the brightest you can, ditch the black.
FOOTWEAR - Something warm, no laces, buckles or zips. You want something ideally waterproof you can just pull on. Lined are best as you can ditch faffing with socks too. Remember your fingers don't work as well when they're cold post-swim.
I really do think more people of all ages would benefit from cold water immersion. It should be prescribed by GP's. The high from the endorphins is like no other. It has other benefits too...
Boosts the immune system
Help skin conditions
Reduces cellulite (? not convinced by that one)
Teaches you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable
None of this is new, it's new to me as I've only been regularly doing it this past year, but what I can tell you is it's life changing and if one person reading this takes the plunge and it does the same for them as it has me, then I'll be very happy.
HAPPY DIPPING! X