The cure for anything is salt water

Guest blog from Salty Seabird Rowena about her sea swimming experience with us.

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Guest blog by Seabird Rowena

I’ve started throwing myself into the sea… in the UK… in spring… and it’s wonderful!

Bear with me…!

 

There is something about it, when the water is around 10 degrees, that brings you uncompromisingly into the here and now – both physically and mentally.

For the first few minutes, there is little you can do but be in the moment, focus on your breathing, finding it again from where it’s been whisked away from you; experience your flesh and nerves being first bombarded with cold and then numbed by it; feel the adrenalin flowing.

For some (me included) the first minute seems to be accompanied by surprisingly guttural sounds from deep within them. It’s a different way to use your voice, a different way to express yourself, one that has no filter to it.

You know you’re completely safe, that you’re going to become comfortable, but you feel on the edge of it, outside of your comfort zone physically and maybe mentally. It’s a good place to put yourself on a regular basis.

And as you acclimatise, a smile spreads across your face. Your system settles, but the exhilaration of it remains. You’re proud of yourself for jumping in. Your body is making decisions that you feel more acutely aware of than when you’re sedentary. Your capillaries have opened up and the blood is flowing. Your limbs are abandoned in favour of preserving your core, your essentials. The non-essentials are stripped away.

You feel whole. You feel solid. You are surrounded by water, as in your most formative state.

You clamber out: connected, grounded, a little bit brave.

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Wild swimming is having something of a renaissance in the UK, and around the world. The positive impacts on our mental and physical health are moving from anecdotal to researched and evidenced.

As well as being bloody fun, and perhaps a little terrifying, it’s about moving out of your comfort zone; trying new things; stripping away the non-essentials; being brought into the present moment; the euphoria and achievement afterwards; (and getting to feel a little bit smug that you did it).

Joining a group is a great way to get yourself out there! I’ve joined one here in Brighton called The Salty Seabirds . As well as being lovely, welcoming people, their conversations about ‘arctic flaps’ (I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself) drew me to them! 🙂

We’re not all fortunate enough to live by the sea (I count myself very lucky), but lakes and rivers are just as exciting. There is any number of websites to inform and inspire, including www.wildswimming.co.uk

If you’re not able to swim in, or get to, an outdoors space, swimming or floating in any capacity is great for your body and your mind. Local authority swimming pools are one of the many things we can be grateful we have in this country.

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I invite you to bare with me!

You can read more of Rowena’s blogs on her site

Marine Life

Ten years ago Charlotte swam in the sea. Ten years later she has returned to her salty roots. So what has changed?

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Charlotte

Ten years ago I belonged to a different outdoor swimming group. It was a group (of mostly men) who prized distance and speed and endurance above all else. How many times you could swim round the Palace Pier. How rough the waves were. How much you had to battle the current to stay on course. I went through the winter with them (just). I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Once I had to climb up onto the barnacled struts of the Pier to find my breath again, overcome with cold, fatigue and my own overarching ambition. The last time I swam with them I actually had to be dragged out of the sea by another swimmer after I lost my goggles and a contact lens being tumbled in massive unswimmable waves. Nothing like shame to stop you suddenly in your tracks.

And now ten years later, post spinal surgery and at least two stone heavier I have found my love of the sea again thanks to the Salty Seabirds. The last ten years of my life have been about finding boundaries to protect my highly sensitive nervous system. I have realized that I do not like swimming out of my depth. I do not like big waves. I like calm seas. I like splashing about and feeling the sun on my face. I no longer feel the need to push myself to near death experiences in order to feel alive. I do however like connecting with the natural environment and I like the cold. Anything that makes me concentrate on my breath whether it be yoga or sub zero waters brings me into presence. The elusive present. And what a gift for an overactive brain that is. The cold sea brings me resolutely and immediately into my body. I have spent so much of my life not liking my body. My miraculous body that walks and eats and sleeps (most of the time) and dances and has given birth and is infinitely stronger than I think it is. Here again is a way in which the Salty Seabirds has been liberating for me. For our Seabirds come in all shapes and sizes, as diverse and beautiful as gulls and gannets and petrels and shags. And how glorious and released are their bodies in their natural habitat. I never thought I would rejoice in the thought that I am increasing my body’s brown fat (whatever that is). But I do. It is a kind and accepting group. It is community functioning at its best- everyone joined purposefully in a sole pursuit. Our tangential lives intersect for brief moments of escape.  The same faces. New faces. No questions asked. But always the same shared euphoria afterwards. For me I love the sweetness of the post swim walk up the beach. As the cold sinks through my heavy amphibian limbs, as analgesic as that first Friday night gin and tonic. I like sitting among the flotsam of our belongings. Feeling the earth beneath me, looking out to sea, thinking “I was in that”.

Note from Seabirds: We receive such wonderful positive feedback from the Salty Seabirds that affirms the need for a Swimming community group that is fluid and free from constitutions and committees. The Seabirds swim free and cannot be governed by rules and regulations. The Seabird Community are kind, compassionate and inclusive –  the sum of our parts is what makes it work. Charlotte’s experience is all too common but when the time was right we all found each other – our flock. 

 

For the love of Swimming….

A Valentines Guest Blog by Seabird Didi

In her own words “here is my loved up offering post swim….warning….it’s gushy as I’m still high on endorphins……feeling the love!”

Managed almost 7 minutes in the sea today….although a good amount of that was me squawking and backing out and just splashing my face to try and acclimatise. Because this is the thing….I have always hated cold weather and cold water….but I know how amazing I feel when I have been in………and actually I have always loved the extremes of sauna and cold water……….but it’s also more than that…..there’s something in me that just feels the pull to swim outside and dive through that cold shock and I can’t put it into words but it feels as vital and important as breath. I can happily swim for ages in warm water…..dreamily and no effort…..I’ve always considered myself a strong swimmer, very much at home in the sea. But the WINTER cold sea; that’s a fairly new and challenging experience for me.

For for about 10 minutes before I go in I am getting anxious and then feeling stupid for feeling anxious about a self imposed activity that’s meant to be fun……..everyone else is smiling and excited whereas I am gritting my teeth and trying to squash down my fears. Butterfly nerves make me jittery and a little ungrounded. Then I am standing there with my hefty frame, in just my swimsuit, feeling ungorgeous, unglamorous and quite frankly ridiculous. I’m the biggest I have ever been and NOW is the time I take this up?

At this point some beach walkers usually clock us and stop to have a look. Sometimes they take photos. My private humiliation not quite complete….I then venture down to the sea’s edge and take quite a while dithering and flapping and shrieking…….watching my friends leap and dive in with confidence and joy.

My breath catches sharply, alarmingly and I feel like I have forgotten how to breathe out. FOMO wins every time though and VERY reluctantly and in a sort of disbelief I submerge myself….I practice my long out breath…..I steady my nerves…..I find my focus and then suddenly my arms and legs are paddling like crazy and I’m properly swimming…….in the winter sea with no wet-suit…..I feel like I’m crazy wild woman and I love it…..after 2 minutes of biting, painful sensations on my skin I can feel my physiology waking up from its domestic slumber and finally I feel THAT joy. I feel like a kid again.

My body remembers ancient and primal skills and starts activating clever responses to cold stress and physical challenge that I didn’t know it had. I feel euphoric and clever and strong and free and happy. I gurn like a loon to my swimming companions and blabber a lot at them about all sorts of nonsense. I marvel in the wild untamed beauty of the sea…….I coo at my clever swim socks, that delay that numbness just enough. I look back at the shore my perspective changed and my eyes feel soothed by the vast space and innocent beauty of it all. It feels like we are protected from the busyness, out of the spinning hamster wheel for a wonderful and precious little moment.

I feel so so so grateful to live here, to have this on our doorstep and even more grateful that I have a shared love of this with friends and now a growing community of Salty Seabirds, Sea Sploshers, Kemptown Kippers and of course the amazing iSWIM crew and most of all my lovely mate Laura without whom I would not have dived in at all.

Love (and friends) and the sea is all you need

💖💖💖Happy Valentines Day Salty ones 💖💖💖

How to Surf the Urge

Guest Blog by Seabird Sally

Note from author: Fellow seabirds… a little blog by moi, bringing together two of my passions… sea swimming and productivity training. (New sessions in Brighton in Feb and March – link at the bottom of the blog… 

Do you have some big important goals, but find your days filling up with other priorities? In a year’s time, will you look back and wish you’d made different choices?

You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf!

One of our productivity coaches, Sally May, is a keen sea swimmer. She connected with the term Surf the Urge as soon as she heard Kelly McGonigal’s talk The Willpower Instinct. The idea is: you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.

In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly refers to an experiment with a group of smokers in which they are ‘tortured’ by the researchers who prevent them from smoking and then ask them to note their cravings. The interesting thing is that the week after this experiment, half the participants were smoking 40% less than before, even though no-one had asked them to.

What was the difference? Those who were smoking less had been taught a simple technique called ‘surfing the urge’, which meant that they no longer had to act on the impulse.

How to Surf the Urge

These are the steps to learn how to surf the urge:

  • Notice the thought, craving or feeling: try placing your hand on the part of your body where you notice it
  • Accept and attend to the inner experience: don’t judge it, just accept it
  • Breathe and give your brain and body a chance to pause and plan
  • Broaden your attention, and look for the action that will help you achieve your goal, such as doing a weekly review and reminding yourself of the important, but not urgent stuff.
[source: Kelly McGonigal – The willpower instinct]

The conclusion of the study was that the smokers were no longer making a connection between stress and smoking. They still had trigger moments, but when previously they would have reached for a cigarette, now they were allowing that moment to pass. They’d learned that the distress they were feeling was temporary. They breathed and waited, and the result was that they smoked less.

Quick test

If you want to try a quick distress tolerance test on yourself, here’s one to have a go with, as long as you are in good health and it’s not risky for you:

    1. 1. Get a timer ready and set it for 15 seconds.
    1. 2. Breathe in, breathe out, and start the timer.
    1. 3. Don’t breathe in again until the 15 seconds are up.
    1. 4. Notice how you feel during the 15 seconds before you breathe in again.
    1. 5. For some people, distress may kick in a little sooner than 15 seconds, for others, it may be longer.
    1. 6. Just notice the urge to breathe in, and experiment with not giving in to the urge.
    1. 7. You can then move on to the ‘surfing the urge’ steps outlined above, or if you prefer, experiment with guided ‘surfing the urge’ videos you can find online.

Surfing the Urge is a tool you can use for changing habits, such as adopting the new behaviours you’ll learn in a productivity course. You can also use it for coping with difficult feelings and emotions.

The more you practice urge surfing, the easier it gets to sit with the distress. You’re training your brain so it learns that it doesn’t have to react to its impulses.

This makes you more likely to make better choices for what you do with your time, so you’re more likely to be able to look back and be pleased with having accomplished your goals and enjoyed the journey.

As a sea-swimmer, Sally has found that learning techniques for working with the waves is a better way to live life. “I wouldn’t have half as much fun if I only went swimming on calm days,” she says.

At Then Somehow, we teach productivity systems and tools, and help you understand how to take more control of your own behaviour so that the changes you make are more likely to last.

For details of our NEW series of productivity workshops: Be the Boss of Your Email, Get Sorted and Stay Sorted, Prioritisation, and Saying No – check out our Eventbrite page for details.

Link to original blog “ThenSomehow”! 

Finding my inner Mermaid

Guest Blog by Amy. Beautiful honesty, a true Seabird

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Amy

I first started sea swimming in 2013 when I dipped my toe into the world of triathlon. I’d run a few marathons and had my eye on completing an Ironman for my 30th birthday (because that’s what you do for your 30th right?!). I got into the water, and HATED it! Running was always my strength, I was OK on a bike but swimming, swimming was my absolute nemesis. I had never learnt properly as a child and despite hours and hours in a pool I just didn’t seem to get any faster or better. Despite loving being in the water I never found the love of chasing a time or covering distance. I just never felt good enough despite my desperate attempts to become the mermaid I knew I was inside.

After Ironman I carried on swimming despite my complaining, not wanting to lose the hard work I’d put in to my swimming fitness. I even entered some long distance events including the Dart 10k and swam round Comino Island in Malta. I wanted to be the streamlined graceful dolphins that seemed to be part of every group I swam with, but I still just never felt like I found my inner mermaid.

 

Fast forward to 2017 and all thoughts of sporting events disappeared as I started to suffer with my mental health. Throughout 2018 I fell into a black hole where I didn’t want to live anymore and was hospitalised twice consumed by the hideous monster that is depression. Running had in the past been my salvation, but even the enjoyment of my favourite trails wasn’t improving my mental health and so I looked to the water.

It was during this time that I started just going in the sea for fun. I have some amazing, caring friends who would literally drag me out of bed and off onto the Downs for a run or into the sea to watch the sunset. Being in the water I realised was the place I began to feel at peace. Long gone were any worries about chasing a fast time or covering a certain distance, just the peace of floating around, feeling the water on my skin was the only thing that stopped the incessant chattering of the racing thoughts in my head that I suffered with the rest of the time. I ditched the wetsuit and fell in love with cold water.

As the year wore on and the temperature started to drop there were less people willing to get in the water with me and my friend Claire suggested I look up the Salty Seabirds. This amazing group has allowed me to continue with my winter swimming and has become a valuable part of my journey towards recovery.

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There is always a friendly face or 17 to chat to in the water and everyone is so supportive of each other with no competitiveness. Last week I even found myself setting my alarm for 04:30 am to swim under the Blood moon at 5am with 17 other brave seabirds. The thermostat on my car showing -4 degrees as I drove down to the seafront wondering what the hell I was doing! It was one of the most magical experiences, organised by seabird Sam, made even more special to share it with such a lovely group of people.

Although the waves of depression still get me, they are getting smaller and I am getting better at staying afloat. Maybe I have become that mermaid after all, or seabird. The future feels brighter, and definitely salty!

A Cold Water Love Affair

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Kim Moore

I hate the cold with a passion. Ask anyone who knows me, friends, family and they will all agree to this. I’m always the one to take extra coats, hats and scarves on a walk, to pack slippers and blankets with me on weekends away and to cuddle up with a hot water bottle as soon as the summer slips away. So why is it that I love cold water swimming so much? Honestly, it’s a bit of a head tickler even for me, but I’ll try to explain.

There are times in all our lives when too much unhappiness can tip the balance of our mental health. That was me a year ago. Doses of medication, therapy and meditation followed and the recommendation to exercise more. Now I’ve always been a swimmer and have lost track of the numbers of pools I’ve swum in over the years, but the charms of the busy, chlorinated echo chambers were starting to wane.

Reviewing my options, I discovered Pells in Lewes, one of the oldest public outdoor swimming pools in the country. The adults only early morning session first attracted my attention, that and the natural setting, it’s bordered by pines and a fishing waterway. You can hear the ducks as you swim and watch birds coast on the clouds as they bluster by. The cold water was a problem though, I’m not going to lie. Just dripping my toes made me cry and I’d spend many a session, cowering on poolside being laughed at by hardy lifeguards who’d been cold water swimming for years. But over time and with some steadfast encouragement, I grew to welcome the cold, not to love it, but to accept it. I was still in a pool though and pounding up and down in the lanes, a banal exercise that allowed me to wallow in my thoughts, not escape them, and so with winter beckoning, I went to the sea.

I’ve lived in Brighton for over 20 years and have always swum in the sea in summer when the sun makes its annual appearance. To swim in it year round, in all weather was quite another thing. Like most people, the sea is what brought me to Brighton. I’d spent my whole life desperate to live within walking distance of its windy shore. But fast forward a family, my own business and a move to the city outskirts and the sea was suddenly taking a back seat.

My illness was to be the catalyst to change that, but I’d lost confidence in sea swimming and was uncomfortable being too far off the beach, so I called a sea-loving friend and laughing, we set out to reacquaint me with the many pleasures of our briny shore. There’s no dallying with my friend Lara, she ran to the waves and threw herself headfirst into the maw. I, ever a procrastinator danced a while in the surf, gasping at the cold that was numbing my ankles, before joining her in the deep. As we swam and chatted we became accustomed to the chilly water and the sun came out to warm our smiling faces. I’d forgotten the sheer joy of being moved by the sea’s waves, of being held and carried along by it is both humbling and exhilarating. There’s a sense of letting go in the sea, of acknowledging Mother Nature’s greater power, it is extremely liberating and especially so for a mind that’s knotted with anxiety and depression. The combination of the chilly water and the energy of the sea focuses your attention on the here and now. There’s no room for agonising, deliberations or ruminating, the sea demands all of your attention and it’s a relief. And there are multiple medical benefits that have been shown to be gained from cold water sea swimming.

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Mindfulness – a popular therapy for depression – is not a modern enigma, most ancient cultures teach it in one way or another and sea swimming is a master class in it. There is only the present, defined by the startling sting of the cold water on your body, the wind whipping the sea spray into your face, the roar of the waves as they meet the shore and the ecstatic scream of the gulls as they skim the sky. You must pay attention to the sea at all times, to reach safety past the breakers, to swim with the current and the swell and then, to time your exit without being dumped on by a sudden wave.

Anyway, I was hooked. Lara and I laughed and giggled like school girls once back on the beach, where sticky with seaweed, we hastily dressed and gulped back cups of scalding tea. Since then, even with the temperatures diving, I’m a double dipper, that is I try to sea swim at least twice a week. I get tetchy if I can’t, physically yearning for the release that the sea gives me. My family tells me I’m a nicer person when I’ve been swimming and I think I am. How could I not be when I’ve been washed clean by the sea, both mentally and physically?

For more info and inspiration on sea swimming take a look at Seabirds of Brighton!