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Your Expanding Universe

Recently, on several FB groups I belong to, I have been seeing a growing cadre of people involved in ice bathing or cold-water conditioning – plunging into cold tanks, swimming in oceans, frozen rivers and lakes and even stuffed into tanks of ice! Led by people such as Wim Hoff and Tony Robbins, photos of people bathing in sub-zero water and ice choked rivers have flourished across the internet. They make me cringe and shiver! Every time I see one of those posts, I feel compelled to respond - NOT ME!

Last week, one of those posts provoked me - an attractive silver-haired Finnish woman, Trina, showed off her cold-water prowess in minus 2 Celsius water (that is 28.4 F!!). Showing neither stress nor shivering, Trina looked happy and comfortable. I found myself once again commenting - NOT ME! I wondered how could they do it?

In my hometown, a group of elders have been sea bathing for over a year at a nearby beach - every single day! They have neither died nor been found frozen like a popsicle (that I know of) and temps around here can hover in the teens for days. Instead, a recent article in the local newspaper peeked into this apparent insanity. The group follows Wim Hoff, a Dutch extreme athlete, known as the Iceman. Hoff, along with others, believes that cold exposure strengthens the immune system and reduces inflammation. Hoff has sat in tanks of ice, hiked snow-covered mountains in shorts to name a few of his achievements. With the payoff of downshifting the evils of inflammation and gaining control over their minds people are rising to the challenge of cold exposure.

Last weekend, I found curiosity getting the best of me. I kept thinking about what it felt like. Then, without much fanfare or thought, I declared to my partner, Andrew, that I would put my feet in the ocean to see what it felt like. I set myself two goals: First, to see what it felt like and, in this experiential endeavor, learn a lot more about it than merely thinking could ever achieve. And secondly, if I did not drop dead on the spot, to see if I could manage a full two minutes of immersing my feet in the cold ocean water.

I headed out on my walk Saturday afternoon and I added a little extra mileage to the end to make sure I was nice and warm before heading to the beach. That little extra walk was through a local cemetery - an in-your-face reminder that we live a short life and are dead a long time. I was rather excited at my plans and never debated the idea at all, despite an air temperature of 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the walk was completed, I drove back to the beach I had walked across just 30 minutes earlier and scampered down the rocks to the water. The tide was low and Annisquam Light stood sentry, a witness to my insanity. Putting my phone in a safe place, I removed my shoes and socks. The cold of the sand beneath my feet was the prelude of what was to come. With determination, I walked into the water.

The low tide required me to walk out a bit to cover my feet and I continued to walk out up to my knees. Waves lapped at my legs and soon I was wet above the knees. The kitchen thermometer I brought with me (best I could find on short notice) indicated 41.9 degrees. I was surprised it was so warm in early March and slightly warmer than the air. Warm is relative of course, but Trina from Finland was swimming in 28.4-degree water! I was a bit disappointed it was so WARM. Nevertheless, I persisted. My legs began to turn a rosy pink from the cold waters of the Annisquam.

As I made it up to knee level, the undulating seabed proved tricky. Attempting to walk backward I hit a dip and boom! I stumbled and fell in. Yes, I fell into the 41.9 degree sea. It was not as shockingly cold as I had expected, maybe my mindset had something to do with it; I had to laughed. Everything below the waist was soaked and a whole lot above. Dripping wet, but unfazed, I stood up and resumed my exposure. My determination did not waver, and I remained in a full 5 minutes. Honestly, I could have stayed longer - how much I cannot say. I was happy that my IPhone XR was safe and not in my soggy, dripping pocket.

Returning home, just a few blocks away, my hot shower felt heavenly, and I felt different. What I had believed was possible for me just a few hours earlier had expanded. The weather turned more beastly the next few days with a 25 mile an hour north west wind blowing powerful waves onto the beach so I haven't gone for round two yet. I will though. Now that I know it is possible. Still, I wondered: "What's next?"

Taking on a little more of the challenge in this cold exposure theory, I tried a cold shower this morning as it is another popular cold-water experience making the rounds (not all of us have a cold ocean conveniently nearby). Using Hoff's guidance for how to do it, I felt a lot of resistance leading up to my try. I lacked the determination I had when facing feet in the ocean.

Following, my normal hot shower, I emerged before remembering that I had not tried the cold shower. I was certainly not as enthusiastic as I was with my ocean experience. I ran the water cold and stepped to the back of the shower out of the water’s path.

I put my hands under the cold tap for a minute Brrrrr.......! Next, I put my feet under the cold flow before moving up to arms and legs, then one side and the other. I will not lie - It did not feel good. I resisted the idea of putting my head beneath the cold shower tap and letting the water run all over me at once. I followed Hoff's advice not to push it. It gave me a convenient escape clause. Still, I spent about 2-3 minutes in cold water. Not bad for a first try. But my courage was not so strong this time - I was not ready to run the cold over my head. Maybe I will try that next time, maybe not.

Living alongside the ocean most of my life, it had never occurred to me to enter it anytime other than between Late June-Early September (and rarely then) but, I have done it. I never believed it was possible.

The cold shower experience is apparently an acquired taste – one I will have to work on. Still, I broke with fear and expanded what I believed was possible, first on my own initiative and then with a not so gentle nudge from the universe.

Which brings me to YOU, intrepid reader, have you ever considered what is possible for you? Where is it you need to push the boundaries of belief? How will you expand your comfort zone and find strength you did not know you had? Can you do it? Most emphatically. Will you do it? Now that is up to you.

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