As I opened my window blinds on that cold Sunday morning, I found myself humming the Rocky theme song. I knew it was going to be one of those days that took me way out of my comfort zone, and I was nervous but very excited. I was heading down to Gunnison Beach in Sandy Hook, New Jersey to participate in the annual “Polar Bare Plunge.” Yes, you read that correctly … a voluntary plunge into the ice-cold ocean, completely naked!
I only found out about the plunge two days before the event, so I didn’t have too much time to psych myself out, but there’s no getting around the fact that the ocean in early January is cold, cold, cold. This was a totally new experience for me, and my head was full of questions. Will I really be able to immerse myself, or will I chicken out and just get my feet wet? Is this even safe? Are there any purported health benefits? How do I warm myself up afterwards? The only thing I didn’t have to concern myself with was: What should I wear?
Doing some research on cold water plunges, I found out that the Polar Bear Club was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, who was an early supporter of a healthy holistic lifestyle. He believed immersing yourself in the ocean during the cold winter months increased one’s stamina and sex drive while also boosting the immune system.
Tim Ferriss, the author and New York Times #1 Bestseller of The 4 Hour Body claims that by regularly being exposed to cold water therapy, we can activate our brown fat (fat that prompts the burning of energy as a replacement for storing it) and possibly increase our fat burning potential by 300 percent.
However, along with these claims of the health benefits of cold water plunges, there are also potential negative health risks.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, an expert in alternative medicine, advises:
Jumping into a body of near-freezing water is not an activity to be taken lightly, and if you do decide to do it, you should be in relatively good shape first. To put it simply, the cold water will generate an enormous shock to your system, which will result in:
● An initial ‘cold shock,’ which will leave you gasping for air and unable to hold your breath.
● Blood vessels along your outer body constrict, attempting to shift blood to your inner organs.
● Your muscles will get very cold and may become paralyzed or weak.
● Drowning, even after just one or two minutes, is therefore a very real risk if you’re not careful.
In addition, if you’re not in good physical shape, cold water immersion can increase the risk of a stroke.
After finishing my research and feeling confident about being a healthy woman, I decided to go for it and take the full plunge. However, while sitting naked on the beach (freezing my butt off) I still appreciated the pep talk my photographer kept repeating to me: “You’ve come this far, don’t give up now! Once your adrenaline kicks in, you’ll be fine. And,” he shivered, “the water can’t be as cold as the wind.”
With 30 seconds to spare, I removed my fluffy robe and lined up with the other bare plungers 30 feet from the shoreline. The next thing I knew, the bell rang and we all starting running towards the cold ocean water together.
As my feet hit the water, it did seem a few degrees warmer (“less bone-chillingly freezing” might be a more accurate description) than the wind, so I kept running until I was up to my neck. I was only in the water a minute before I scuttled back out, but I felt energized and alive! I loved it! As soon as I got out, I felt like I wanted to do it again and again. That is, of course, until I realized that my robe had been swept up by the wind and was now bobbing on the waves, quickly transforming from warm and fluffy to cold and soggy.
Lost robe aside, though, the plunge was an amazing experience. I was surrounded by supportive, non-judgmental bare plungers, many of whom were doing the plunge for the first time just like me. I never planned for this to be a big, meaningful step in my journey toward authentic living, but it was an adventure that turned out to be fun and surprisingly empowering. I decided to make a memory and not take myself too seriously, and by stepping into my fear and vulnerability in this way, I came out on the other side as a more confident woman (who was in dire need of a hot beverage on the ride home).
I have no doubt that this new year will be filled with similarly fun and adventurous activities because, ultimately, there is nothing more important than finding joy, making memories, and taking risks that make you a stronger, happier and successful person.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 8, 2016.
Originally published at medium.com