With winter well underway and the UK’s coldest swimming months (February and March) fast approaching, most of us are now faced with embracing the water at dawn or at dusk and totally in the dark.
With fewer daylight hours at this time of year and with work or lifestyle commitments gradually impinging on our leisure time many of us will be forced to venture into our regular wild swimming spots with limited light and often very unforgiving weather.
Over the years that I have been all year-round dawn swimming, I have found many people to openly express their valid fears about swimming outdoors in very little light. As I pondered their safety concerns whilst I continued to swim in the cold black sea, I came to consider that alongside well documented safety risks there were in fact a wealth of therapeutic benefits to be gained from regular outdoor swimming in the dark.
- Darkness conceals identity and decreases our inhibitions
Sadly, for many of us that are new to swimming, we feel conscious about how we look to other people in our swimsuits. When I first found cold water swimming my initial thought was, what will people think of me in my costume, with no makeup, a swim hat and goggles?! But as time crept on and as my early morning swims brought solitude, peace and internal acceptance into my life I no longer thought about how I outwardly appeared to other people. Instead of worrying about my blotchy legs and non-mascaraed eyes it was suddenly only about how I ‘felt’ not how I looked. I gradually started to focus more on my quiet time, my genuine feelings of joy and my strong sense of feeling soothed by the sea. Swimming when it is dark allows us to start the process almost undercover. Darkness gently decreases our inhibitions leaving us free to focus solely on the main reasons we are there - to accept ourselves completely as we are and to challenge ourselves to try new things without fear of judgement from other people.
- It’s Colder – so you will burn more calories
Without any warmth or light from the sun the temperature of the water and the outside air will be much colder than usual. This temperature drop often results in your body needing to work much harder than it would normally need to. With exercise in mind this is a real positive when considering our desire to tone up and burn some extra calories. When we are cold our heart pumps much faster to maintain our body’s internal core temperature. When we swim in the cold all our blood rushes to protect our vital organs which amazingly speeds up our metabolism! So, swimming in the dark can actually help you to stay healthy and lose weight! It is also well documented that post swim shivering can result in burning calories for up to an hour after your swim!
- You will have the place all to yourself
When you swim at dawn or at dusk you will notice that the world around you has turned wonderfully still and quiet. Most people at these times of day are usually at home getting ready for work or settling in for a nice cosy evening in front of the TV, leaving you free to enjoy your favourite wild swimming spot in solitude and peace. Swimming when it is dark at either end of the day provides us with a sort of magic time that feels purely for ourselves. It is a time that is untouched by the chaos of everyday life - there is a special kind of quiet to be found at these magical points in the day and there is something quite significant about savouring these beautiful moments for yourself. Places that you regularly outdoor swim can feel very different when there are lots of people around, the feeling of peace and connection with nature can be lost in very busy environments. Having the place pretty much to yourself in the dark better supports your ability to really connect with your surroundings, to reflect on the day ahead or the day passed and to focus on the sights, sensations and sounds of the wild open water around you.
- You will feel like a warrior
What isn’t brave about swimming in the dark? Especially also if it is in the depths of winter. Safe swimming in the dark dramatically affects our confidence and boosts our feelings of positive self-esteem. To swim in open water at dawn or dusk is an achievement on so many levels. Something I hear so many new outdoor swimmers say is how proud and brave they feel after their daily dawn or dusk swim. Winter months especially bring rain, ice, snow and wind – adding even more to the feeling of being out in the elements and of being an intrepid and fearless adventurer! Doing something extraordinary like outdoor swimming at the start or end of your day can dramatically increase your confidence and self-worth. This inner feeling of being a real-life warrior positively supports our self-concept resulting in a long-term change in how we positively view and value ourselves.
- You will feel more closely connected to yourself and to nature
When you swim in the dark either early in the morning or late at night there are less traces of human intervention around - less traffic, less people and less noise. With decreased human activity we are more likely to encounter wildlife, successfully soak up the sights, scents and sounds of the water and generally feel a greater connection with the natural world. With very few people around it is easier to really be present and focus on what is happening around you. There are only the sounds of mother earth to take notice of – the calling birds, the whistling wind or the rippling river, lake or ocean. When you swim in the dark you can better connect not just with nature but also with yourself. In a world with so much noise it is vital to honour time each day to focus on your own breath and to really listen to your own intuition. This time to ourselves can enable us to better tune in to the complexity of our own minds and recognise its link to the overall health of our physical bodies. Paying attention to our breath and the sounds of nature reminds us to slow down, to take a moment more regularly and to really pay attention to our own mental health and wellbeing.
- Everything suddenly becomes clear!
When we swim in the dark all our other senses are immediately heightened. Swimming in the dark encourages our brains to fall into a meditation like state due to only being able to focus on what we feel in that very moment. Due to the darkness our attention is drawn to just the physical sensations around us – the cold, the wet, the scent, the shadows and the sounds, distracting us from our usual nagging day to day thoughts. Due to this the limited light encourages us to be completely present in that very moment, our focus becomes sharp and our minds become more relaxed. When swimming in the dark our senses become free to assess situations without the usual distractions. I find that when I am swimming at dawn or dusk the dark water enables me to find complete clarity in my thoughts, often solving troublesome issues that have plagued my overwhelmed busy mind for days. Where I have struggled, I can find answers in a flash, where I have felt hazy with poor judgement suddenly, everything becomes clear.
A Few Cautions to Consider
- When it is dark you may lose sight of fellow swimmers or of landmarks in wild and choppy lakes, rivers or seas – make sure you stay close to the land and well illuminated with a brightly coloured tow float, swim hat and adventure light available at Swim Secure – be safer be seen!
- There may be floating debris that you cannot easily see in the dark – fishing buoys, lobster pots, foreign objects, washed up gill nets or ropes can present a risk of becoming easily injured or tangled. Ensure you consider the swim area and do not swim in very dark harbours or bays after a very high tide or rough storm.
- Remember it is harder to judge how far you have swum in the dark. To avoid getting too cold or unable to make it back to the bank or shore plan your swim and know your swim area well before you set off. It’s harder to judge distances by night. Find a reference point too on shore if you can – a streetlamp or building lights to give yourself a clear route home. Do not swim in the dark when there is risk of drifting fog or mist.
- Always go with other people and stay together if you can. Dawn and dusk are often popular times that fishing boats will make their way in or out of local harbours and directly through regular swimming areas. Ensure again through the brightly coloured safety products at Swim Secure that you are easy to see and easy to navigate around!
- Not a nice thought but dawn and dusk are feeding times for marine life – we are pretty free of dangerous sharks in the UK, but it is a time that most fish (big and little) will be out having a nibble! Try not to panic and do a bit of homework as to what is likely to be common marine life also swimming in your local area!
- Use familiar routes to get into and out of the water, ones that you would usually navigate in the daylight – this will avoid any dangerous slips, trips or falls in darkness due to unfamiliar terrain!
- Ensure that you can warm up very quickly after your swim, take lots of towels, a mat to stand on, warm clothes, gloves, a hat and a hot drink!
And Finally – Happy Outdoor Swimming in the Dark!
Katie Maggs, Tonic of the Sea