Winter blues & greens
When blue and green are mixed together they produce teal, a colour that is meditative, calming and serene, that sings of the sea and the sky and the elegance of peacocks. Teal encourages feelings of relaxation, openness and communication, which in turn boosts creativity and imparts a sense of balance and stability. With this in mind, it is no wonder that our blue spaces which are often connected to our green ones, have such a therapeutic effect.
Blue and green spaces are the major components of nature. The medicinal effects of being immersed in watery and leafy environments have long been recorded and are being increasingly evidenced by science. The charity Bluetonic, whom I recently became an ambassador for, are an organisation that promote wellbeing in, on and around the water. One of the ways they help to achieve this is through their brilliantly conceived Awaken Your Blue Mind Winter Challenge which runs from Oct 29 - March 31 each year. Participants from around the world are invited to complete 21 out of 80 water related activities that are aimed at helping us embrace the winter months.
If you want to try winter swimming they will support you to do that, or if not there are 79 other awesome things to try, in, on or around the water: from magnet fishing, to reading or writing by the water, to river and canal walks or simply catching snowflakes if they appear! Indoor activities also count such as doing a water themed meditation at home, ice skating, indoor swimming or an ice bath! Entry is £10 and all funds raised, help the charity carry out their invaluable work in helping communities access blue spaces and their natural surroundings. You will receive an ideas sheet, a journal to record the activities you've completed and a beautiful finishers badge. Efforts are also shared in a FB group which is a really inspiring and motivating resource.
Swim the seasons
The main reason I’ve signed up to this initiative is for motivation to exercise outdoors all year round, and to embrace winter swimming as a lifestyle. Many people who do, are particularly drawn to the therapeutic effects of cold water. While this is certainly important to me, it is not the main reason I am prepared to immerse myself in ridiculously low temperatures. Firstly, for the purpose of enhancing mental health and wellbeing, I want to maintain that powerful connection and relationship with nature that I’ve developed over the preceding seasons (I’ve talked about it at length in previous articles that you can read HERE). That Scandi saying comes to mind: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad cloths! Learning to gradually acclimatise and knowing what to wear means that weather need not be a limiting factor.
Having said that, swimming in cold water in the context of ice swimming is classed as an extreme sport, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. There are many factors that affect how we regulate our body temperature in cold water including our levels of body fat, where women may be in the menstrual cycle, if you have eaten enough, slept enough or have consumed alcohol the night before. Learning how to be safe in open water is crucial but with the right knowledge you have access to some incredible parts of our landscape.
Looking through my wild swimming journal in the spaces designated to record post-swim reflections, the words empowered, confident and powerful frequently re-occur. These words also apply to indoor swimming but going through the stages of cold-water shock week in and week out and getting used to them, develops a particular type of mental and physical resilience. There is a sense of achievement in embracing challenging sensations that enable you to grow stronger. It is also an opportunity to listen to your body and how it feeds back its response to being in an extreme situation. This in turn sharpens self-awareness and helps us feel more in control and make intelligent choices to keep safe and protect ourselves both in the water and in daily life. From this perspective it can be argued that winter swimming is a form of mindfulness.
There are so many other ways to connect to water, and for every outdoor swim I intend to do a watery activity from the winter challenge list. The human body being composed of up to 75% water means that we are already deeply connected to it. Nourishing this fluidity within ourselves by attending to how it supports us from the outside can be seen as creating a sense of osmotic balance; we are home to water and water is a big part of our home on this planet. Through completing and recording the various activities presented in this challenge, we are invited to explore the many qualities, dimensions and benefits of this life sustaining element. It is in essence, a study of water (and therefore of ourselves) in an experiential way.
In Ayurveda (Traditional Indian Medicine and the ‘sister science’ of yoga), winter is a time of reflection, to slow down and process the year. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to literally reflect on water! Developing our connection to it through a variety of different interactions keeps us mentally sharp while providing an opportunity to tap into its calming and soothing qualities. Science tells us that one of the keys to preventing cognitive decline as we get older is to try new things and constantly challenge ourselves. In relation to this challenge, add in exercise, fun, the therapeutic effects of being outside, cold water and being immersed in nature, then we have a very powerful tonic at our disposal.
As we awaken our blue minds individually as well as collectively, there arises a great sense of warmth from the sharing of experiences from within the UK as well as across the world. Beautiful moments captured on camera, inspiring stories and places to visit, healthful things to do as well as the burgeoning of friendships and micro communities on and offline, all go a long way to growing awareness of the importance of blue spaces for our health and wellbeing. Through advocating in this way we are, in the words of Gandhi: being the change we want to see in the world. It is an elegant form of activism that is not so much about protest but about inspiring the sort of behavioural change that is needed to really tear out the roots of denial and inaction destroying our blue and green spaces.
The thing that drew me to becoming an ambassador for Bluetonic was my poetry. Having inadvertently written 2 books themed around water, I realised how important it was to me. On a parting note here is a poem from my first book The Glass Puddle (Vole, 2021):
A steep climb
in slow reverse helter-skelter
up through the woods
and onto the lake crowning
Here she lay in state;
liquid gold, smelt
from the strong rays
of the sun.
We paid our respects
resting on an overlooking bench
eating sandwiches as we watched
a variety of birds peck
into her wrinkling skin.
Someone threw a stone
but it could have been a jewel,
her kiss from the sky.
As the day deepened,
the air began to hold its breath
allowing people to chant
their everyday lives and dreams
as they circled around her mouth.
I had an urge to throw in
a penny and make a wish
or at least a promise
to always flow like water,
so that I may finally
come to rest like this.
To learn more about the Bluetonic Awaken Your Blue Mind Winter Challenge or to sign up visit: