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September 17, 2022

How Wild Swimming Changed my Life

As a little girl I have always been told to wear a swimsuit to jump into waters or even if I was just going to sunbathe. There’s a whole industry built around bikinis and swimsuits. Most of us are probably not regulars on nudist beaches but maybe you should give a second thought to consciously forgetting your swimwear at home.

I always thought about myself as a person who gets addicted to things easily. Now, I don’t think drugs by that, but other kind of things… I used to be addicted to unhealthy things such as processed food, complaining, overthinking, and beating myself up. I had a life changing moment when I almost lost my life when I was 22. Since then I’m more addicted to healthy stuff like spending time in nature, yoga, eating well and healing. And when I say healing, I mean all kind of healing methods of the soul. One of my favorites is re-parenting and inner child healing.

Both are approaches to recognizing and healing childhood trauma. Our behaviors as an adult stem from our childhood experiences. Inner child work focuses on addressing our unmet needs by re-parenting ourselves.

During the years of my inner child work, I have done lots of shadow work, journaling, hypnotherapy, etc, but none of them worked as much wonders as learning to listen to the needs of my inner child did. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sit in silent meditation for hours until your legs go numb from sitting in lotus and you hear a child’s voice in your head telling you what he or she needs. It’s more like remembering. Yes, all I do is digging deep in my memories to find things I loved to do as a kid or things I always wanted to try but my caregivers never allowed me to do them.

So I used to love to play in nature (mainly in my grannies fairy-tale garden or in the nearby forest on my own), collect herbs and wild flowers, and make potions from them. This resulted in me spending most of my time outdoors, hiking, living in a tent, working as a tree planter. I used to love to draw as a child, and even now coloring relaxes me, I loved to jump and clap when something excited me. A an adult I allowed myself to do the same, even if others think I’m ridiculous and it resulted in a wonderful sense of feeling free. I still love to wear mismatched socks and collect rocks with unique patterns. And I love to tap my toes in every kind of water.

It was a balmy August day in Spain, when I first got into the sea topless. It was extremely hot and I was exhausted after a long day of walk on the El Camino, a pilgrimage route in the Spanish  Northern mountains. I’d just arrived at the accommodation in a monastery run by nuns. My roommate, a lovely German girl, was electrified by the weather and despite being knackered, she invited me to join her on the beach.
“But I have no swimsuit with me,” I objected.
“That is no problem, you can wear a plain panty and go topless, it’s normal in Spain,” she said. And she was right. I was only wearing my black hiking underwear and nothing else and no one gave a dime about us. Since then I became an advocate of wild swimming and skinny dipping. While some people like to skinny dip occasionally on their birthdays, on the first day of the year or when it gets dark, I skinny dip whenever and wherever I can. (In the worst case, I still keep my panties on not to offend anyone, but hey if guys can be topless, so should we.)

I blame my love for wild swimming on the late English naturalist and filmmaker Roger Deakin, who wrote the classic book Waterlog. Deakin loved breaking the rules and doing things his way, which for me is the most inspiring. Above all, he loved swimming in rivers, lakes, ponds and the sea.

I had fallen in love with his book at the same time I had fallen in love with wild swimming. Though here in Scotland I have yet to come to love cold waters as well. Unlike in Spain where every water I dipped in was relatively warm even on a colder day, here it’s the opposite: the water is quite chilly even on the hotter days.

It’s a magical way of collecting experiences as well. For me, after suffering for years from depression and anxiety, then almost lost my life due to mistreatment of my kidney disease at the hospital, one of the main rules of my life became “feel alive.” Probably another  addiction, I chase every opportunity that excites my soul and makes my blood rush. I have been swimming in the seas, oceans, lakes, ponds, rivers, under waterfalls… and I’m still counting.

I love the sense of doing something in wild, untamable waters. I can’t get enough of the sense of excitement and same time, calmness while in the wild water and after when  I get out. It feels like a complete renewal, a therapy and cleanse.

I can deal with my bothering and negative thoughts and emotions and memories that arise. It also helped me to build my confidence, resilience and bravery. Wild swimming made it to my mindfulness activities as well and helped me tremendously to be present in the moment.  It also helps me to find my place in new communities when I meet friends who share this passion for wild swimming with me.

If such a “radical” activity isn’t enough to celebrate the skinny-dipper living within you, also note that swimming regularly in cold water has been shown to have  plenty of health benefits . While swimming in general is a great form of exercise for all ages as it can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, relieves stress, helps to strengthen your immunity and metabolism, stimulates your blood flow and circulation, and improves your sleep.

There is way less research on the benefits of skinny dipping, a 2017 review published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that engaging in nude recreational activities had a positive impact on self-confidence, body image, and quality of life.

The review also examined past research regarding the relationship between parental nudity and its effects on children. Kids exposed to parental nudity during childhood were at a lower risk for drug usage and had higher rates of self-acceptance.

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