The Life Lessons of a New Year’s Cold Water Swim

Jan 21, 2020

On 2nd January, I went for a New Year’s winter swim in Lake Luzern. It was evening, my first time and 0 degrees air temperature, 7 degrees water temperature.

I wrote a little post about it on Instagram at the time but there was a lot more to this New Year’s decision that I feel an explanation, thoughts and reflections are worthy of some space here in the hopes it may inspire you to explore and try a different approach to life’s challenges.

Habits and Progression

I took up the challenge to have cold showers as a healthy self-care practice every morning and haven’t missed a day in over 18 months. The challenge began in Thailand where the water isn’t really cold, so I eased into it and certainly felt the difference once I returned to Switzerland.

A winter swim seemed like a logical next step and an inspiring way to start the New Year!

Benefits of cold water showers

As a result of taking a daily cold shower, I realized I’d gone through the whole of 2019 without falling ill or catching a cold -and I’m convinced that cold showers played a role in keeping me healthy.

Seasonal changes and disconnect

As I developed my self-care practice, I began thinking more about the seasons and my approach to them. In the past, I’d battle through the year, focusing on work with no real awareness of nature and the outside world unless I had some time off and could hike.

There was also a time when nature was part of my fitness routine and I’d power walk up the hills and through the forest before work, but most of my focus was on what I was doing rather than what I was experiencing.

Facing Fears

I’ve been teaching more about mindfulness and meditation lately, encouraging clients to acknowledge and explore emotions (especially negative ones) that may come up, to name them and by naming them, bring their attention to the intelligence and message beneath the emotion. It’s interesting to begin noticing how this can completely shift the energy, that once you bring your awareness to what is happening it eventually becomes something else.

This led me to look closer at my own behaviour.

I’ve never liked the cold. I feel it easily and have relatively poor circulation in my hands and feet. My natural reaction was to resist the chill, unaware that the more I resisted, the more uncomfortable I felt.

I knew I was afraid of the cold, I would push, resist and complain – often feeling miserable when I felt frozen.

As I approached New Year excited that there were many exciting plans on the horizon, I also acknowledged that there would be pitfalls and life challenges along the way. It’s often part of our journey.

So I consciously decided to attempt the cold New Year swim as a life exercise in meeting discomfort. To befriend it and acknowledge it for what it was. To be fully present, to embrace it and see what happens.

What I learned

  • Preparation Helps

I thought a lot about the swim ahead of time, I was aware of the countdown and hours leading up to meeting the group! This helped to shift my mindset and I focused on what I would learn from the experience.

  • Do Not Underestimate the Power of the Breath

Having a regular pranayama practice certainly paid off in the water, it was pleasant, powerful and effective. It was interesting to use the breath in this way in such an unfamiliar situation. I imagined a similar experience when free-diving, if you practice breath work and pranayama and learn how to manipulate your breath and calm the nervous system then it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

  • How to work with the unexpected

I took time to warm up afterwards, I wasn’t prepared for this as I felt good, posed for a photo or two and took my time getting dressed. Then the body began to react and slowed down. I realized I wasn’t in control of my body, I wasn’t sure what was happening or how long it would last but put all my energy into focusing and trusting that it would pass. One step in front of the other.

  • Reward

It took time took to warm up afterwards (work in progress) but I was rewarded with a real high and sense of achievement once I thawed.

  • Community

Our guide and leader, Gerda Imhof, was excellent at guiding us through the whole experience. She had brought together a wonderful group of outdoor enthusiasts, many were regular cold water swimmers. We buddied up and I was put in very capable ‘hands’ as we all joined hands and waded into the water.

New experiences are wonderful if they are shared. There is warmth, energy, support and connection.

Try Something New

I’d love to encourage you all to try something new to support your health, that requires you to be fully present. You’ll likely find you’re not alone. What will it be? 💚

The Yoga and Self-Care Retreat registration is now open. We’ll be in the beautiful hills and forests of Miglieglia in Tessin with picturesque mountain landscapes to explore and if you’re curious to try it out, there’s at least one beautiful waterfall to find and dip into!

Karen x

P.S. If you’d like to know more about winter swimming in and around Luzern, check it out here.


Karen Kurzmeyer
Private/group/corporate yoga teacher. Helping busy professionals prioritise health & well-being through yoga.

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