Health

How to swim wild | Tessa Wardley

Take the plunge and try swimming on the wild side

Standing on the bank I can feel the mud squidge between my toes, the water is smooth and inviting; cool but not frigid. The backdrop of pines shelters me from the wind and imparts a pine-fresh scent to the clean over-water air. I pause to take in the angry chatter of crows bartering in the branches and the lap of the gentle waves on the shore. I feel the familiar clench in my stomach, a mix of anticipatory excitement and adrenaline, that always precedes a wild swim…that launch into the unknown.

The most perfect physical exercise, swimming develops flexibility and strength without the wear and tear of land-based activities. But swimming is also good for the spirit. The incidence of mental health problems and social and cultural dysfunctionality is increasing in our societies, and the value of open spaces in inner-city areas is finally being recognised.

Being outdoors decreases anxiety and increases well-being, and being outside beside water has an even greater beneficial effect. Just being around water inspires feelings of calm and tranquility, and immersion in the water accentuates that further. The activity of swimming encourages social interaction as well as clearing the mind and boosting positivity. Being in the water quite literally buoys you up.

In the UK, swimming in wild waters seems like an extreme activity but we are out of step with the rest of the world where it’s a regular pastime. Happily, the era of polluted natural waters and the desire for fully packaged experiences is now waning, more people are drawn to reconnect with the wild and are discovering our beautiful rivers, lakes and seas.

Swimming in wild water always provides a unique experience, changing by the minute, the day and the season. Any kind of swimming for me is a joy but the memories from pool swimming tend to merge into one, while a dip in wild waters forms indelible memories.

The sensations of the water on your skin, the weightlessness of your body and the firing of impulses in the brain means it is easy to be fully absorbed in the moment, everyday anxieties are washed away leaving just the sensation of being alive, calm and focused.

As you leave the water to the sound of laughter and chatter, you can measure the effects of the wild waters in your companions’ energised and happy faces.

If you want to experience some of the natural waters available in the UK have a look at the wild swim map set up by the Outdoor Swimming Society (wildswim.com) and remember to swim responsibly by bearing in mind these safety tips:

  1. Take your common sense
  2. Go with friends
  3. Know and stay within your limits
  4. Never mix alcohol and water
  5. Take plenty of warm clothes for when you get out.

Tessa Wardley is the author of The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming: Reflections for Zen Seekers (Leaping Hare Press, £8.99)

Illustration: Mitch Blunt

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