The roil of the sea on a fresh May day can be a beautiful but frightening thing. But many brave souls embrace the chill of our city’s greatest natural asset – and maybe we should be joining in.
“There’s a lovely group of ladies from Brighton who sea swim each morning; they saw me on social media and came to Finland to swim with me, which they loved. They’ve invited me to Brighton to do a workshop – now I’m doing two!”
Leigh Ewin (pictured) is modest about his impact on this growing cold exposure movement; the Australian is an instructor of the Wim Hof Method, a practice which focuses on cold therapy, specialised breathing and the commitment to performing both. As Leigh explains, “It’s a gradual process – cold showers, progressing to bare feet in frosty grass, then sea swims, or – in our workshop – an ice bath. Then it’s about developing your mindset, choosing to do breathing and cold exercises.” The result is a balance between a sense of achievement and calm that so often evades busy lives.
It’s not an easy start – as Leigh can attest to. “At Christmas parties in Finland, you head to the sauna, drink beer and dive into a frozen lake. I dreaded it at first; the locals thought it was hilarious and filmed me as I got in, swearing, with my socks on, because I was convinced my feet would stick to the ice. Crazy experiences taught me about cold the hard way, but, eventually, I enjoyed it. The cold provokes the same physiological response to jumping out of a plane – your heart rate elevates, there’s a burst of adrenaline. It’s a great tool to train the nervous system to be calm in stressful environments; you can find your comfort in cold.”
But that’s not all it does, as seen in the guru himself – Wim Hof, aka ‘The Iceman’ – who developed the method. “When I first saw this Dutch guy on TV, he was in ice water for almost two hours, hooked up to biometric machines. But his temperature didn’t shift. While studying Wim, they found he’s produced brown fat, found in new-borns who need it for protection while their nervous systems develop. Brown fat keeps the body warm, providing an additional fuel source.”
And in the relentless pursuit to make life less hectic, this biohack also offers a way to cope. “The method is something to follow, a hand to hold to feel confident. We’re trying to get adults to experience things in nature – and when the cold water touches your skin, to give control away. The workshop is a safe space where you don’t have to worry about your phone or feeding the dog.”
But, Leigh’s quick to emphasise, it also just feels good. “The positive charge you get, wiggling your feet in the sand, or the water, is great.” Then, after a pause, “Ok, in Brighton you have stones, but that might be nice too!”
Leigh leads two Wim Hof Method Fundamentals Workshops, 11th & 12th May, 11am, wimhofmethod.com/activities