When I went to see Ida Lennestål on a cold January day, she pulled an ax out of her car and put on warm boots. A few minutes later, she lit a fire in a nearby sauna and walked a short slope to a frozen pond near her home in Georgetown, Maine.
She rode into the ice with an ax and carved out a rectangular opening, shedding layers of clothing as she warmed from her work. When her hands or back got tired, she would stop and stretch. Eventually her partner and children joined us as we laced up our skates and swirled and toddled along the surface of the pond. Two friends from the area, Nicole Testa and Ariel. Burns also joined in, using a ladle to scoop clumps out of the water to make way for his body.
Ida grew up in northern Sweden, near the Finnish border, in an arctic climate where her parents and grandparents lived. An aspect of her cultural and family tradition that has been passed down for generations, the habit of combining a sauna with a cold plunge is what she brought to Maine. She sees it as a way to share her own culture with the community and feel connected to her own home and herself. “This has become especially important during the pandemic, when the distance between me and the people at home has felt even greater than before,” she said.
Once the ice was ready and the sauna warmed up, everyone stripped off their bathing suits and boots and took turns soaking themselves in the cold water. The sun came out, but it didn’t feel warm.
“Saunas and dips for me are a way to get out of my head and into my body,” said Ida. “When I am in a hot box”—what she often calls a sauna—or in ice-cold water, my body cares about the future and the past, how I look and whether I am loved. I don’t want the body to just teeth“
After the first plunge, our bodies felt calm and slow.It was time for the sauna. When I went inside, it smelled like cedar, and I immediately felt hot enough to sweat. My body seemed to enjoy the opposite experience as the cold and heat affected my circulation and altered my breathing.The group consisted of plunge, sauna, plunge, sauna, plunge, Repeated his sauna plunge three times. Each transition felt like a bit of an update.
“These sessions are a direct experience of the body that keeps me in the present moment,” said Ida. Taught me to be careful Taught me to listen to my body and listen to what it needs It’s a ritual It’s almost sacred And what a bliss when it’s all over Time will follow.”
Afterwards, I was intrigued by the experience and started asking about other women seeking colder water. I surf with women all the time, many of them newbies like me. But the cold plunge process I discovered was its own distinct experience, with its own intent and power.
Later that winter, I parked my car by a farmhouse in Bremen, Maine, and walked across frozen meadows to the shores of a lake. The snow had frozen to a smooth crust. Undaunted, a small group carried food and refreshments to the lakeside. Taking turns using axes, hammers, saws, and drills, the group spent hours carving a giant heart into the lake to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
A year ago, Caitlin Hopkins and Kelsey Hartley, who hosted the dip, posted signs around their community that read, “Valentine’s Day Mermaid Sightings.” They went to local beaches, dressed in mermaid tails, and played on rocks and in the water. Several families brought their children to witness the episode. Winter Beach He was thrilled for some walkers, and baffled for others.
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That day, Caitlin and Kelsey began calling themselves the two main mermaids. They visit various locations throughout the year, often wearing costumes and crowns, bathing to celebrate the new and full moons, and sometimes using the name Ebb and Flow group. , birthdays, solstice points, full moons, and anything else you can think of at the beginning of Covid. It gives us exactly what we need and it never fails.”
Only half the group decided to jump into Cutout Heart on that cold February day. In bathing suits, boots, and mitts (the sort of thing a kind surfer would wear), they immersed themselves in the water, mingling with tiny icebergs and slush. Some hugged the ice or pulled their bodies into large chunks to rejuvenate their spirits. They monitored time to test their stamina and protect their bodies from frostbite. Most he stayed for 5 minutes, some he stayed for 7 minutes. When they appeared, they smiled through their bluish lips.
“I don’t rush to put on a towel or a dry robe after being outside,” said Kelsey Engstrom. “I want to wear my swimsuit for as long as possible. I like how my skin feels after I’m in the water.”
“I feel so strong, happy and calm after my swim,” she added.
Katie Stevenson, who also participates in the Two Maine Mermaids, took a year off from medical school to enroll in a course on medical pastors. “Although I’m not practicing any formal religious traditions at this point in my life, being in the water feels more sacred than any church service I’ve ever attended,” she said.
“When I’m stressed in the hospital, I try to find the nearest window where I can see water,” she told me. “Feel the waves crashing on your chest, feel the pressure in your lungs deflate and expand against the frigid cold, focus your energy on slow, measured breaths, watch incredible sunrises, I look at the sunset or the full moon and imagine myself in the water, the most recent I’ve seen. I can imagine the pain you are going through.”
The annual tradition of polar bear ramming has existed in the United States and abroad for over 100 years. But informal cold plunge groups seem to be on the rise. red hot chilly dippers Vermont.of Puget Sound Plunger State of Washington.of Bluetits Chill Swimmers and the Wild & Silly Mermaid In the UK, just to name a few. What feels different these days is the sense of mindfulness around the plunge process. Many of the people I met by the water told me they were there because the cold swoon gave them a way to live with some degree of fulfillment. It gave trauma, pain and the process of intimacy, and combined more challenging emotions with joy and humor.
Amy Hopkins organizes a ladle group in York, Maine. They meet on local beaches and bays, where the water is sometimes very cold and slushy, the consistency of a margarita. I met her and a group of women at the edge of the beach around sunrise on a foggy morning. The sky was milky white and the sun slowly appeared. They stepped into the water, submerged their heads in the water, and swam swiftly like a baptism.
For them, the most rewarding part of the ritual is the act of submersion, the moment of total submission to the cold. “That low temperature instantly shrinks and protects everything. Blood rushes to your vital organs.”
Losing two parents and mourning the collective loss from the pandemic, Amy finds her way to cold water. She now promotes women’s dip trips and works with school counselors to cold plunge high school students at a business she named. Saltwater Mountain Company But she started by organizing a free and open community plunge called Dip Down to Rise Up. With that feeling after the dip, participants often come out of the water holding hands to splash and hug each other.
In places like Maine, your relationship with nature can be difficult, even painful, six months out of the year. Cold air hurts exposed skin. The wind makes my lips rough and my eyes moist. Running errands usually requires scraping the windshield or shoveling snow. Winters are harsh and unsettled, but they are also dauntingly long.
As such, the common culture retains a pride in harshness, an ability to find joy in perseverance in all. There is no warmth without it.
Amy Hopkins said, “You can’t think of a Maine winter without talking about depression. Depression happens just by being in a long winter.” Instead of complaining, you are meeting the seasons.”
“I never liked winter until I started doing this,” she said.