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Member guest blog: How the sea can help us overcome our fears and bring us joy

Today's blog post is courtesy of Claudine Nightingill-Rane of Seascape Blue. She recently led her fellow Co-Women in a sea swim and meditation, and shares more of her thoughts on the topic here...


I love helping people get in the cold sea who aren’t used to it. I love helping them overcome nerves or fears and submerge in the briny water, hearing the whoops and cheers - and swears - as they feel the buzz, seeing their big grins as they come out, back onto the beach, and hearing the cheerful chatter as they get dressed.


I recently hosted a group session of Co-women at the beach. I talked to them about how to manage their cold shock response (basically by knowing you aren’t going to freeze to death, and as long as you keep breathing, you’ll be fine). I said that there are different ways to get in, and everyone is unique, but particularly in a calm sea at low tide, when you have to walk quite a way before you’re deep enough to submerge, I prefer to just keep walking and keep breathing. We entered the sea as a group, some diving straight in to get it over with, others dancing and gasping at the shore, knee deep, many of them experiencing the thrill of cold water dunking for the first time, there were the sounds of joy; one of the key principles of Co-women.


After the swim, we chatted about how and why water is so good for us. It’s not just for hydration, but for myriad reasons from the meditative “blue mind” state we can get into just by watching the waves, for the positive mental health benefits we gain from being out in nature, looking at the seascape and having social connection, and for the physical benefits we get from cold water immersion such as relief from inflammation and boosting the immune system. So many of us are drawn to the sea and we don’t necessarily know why. In my younger years, my mum was amused that whenever we were near a lake, ocean, river or stream, I couldn’t resist taking off my shoes and socks and paddling, no matter the weather. Now I have an urge to plunge into any body of water I see. I feel an immediate reset, as many wild swimmers report, as the cold takes over and gives me something else to flood my senses, distracting me from the incessant internal chatter, even if just for a while. I am known amongst my swim friends to always sigh and whisper, “ahh, that’s better” during every swim. No matter what is going on in my head, my body, my life; it all feels a little more manageable after a cold dip. Partly due to the happy hormones released by the plunge.


Some of the work I do as a blue health coach involves getting people into the water if they want to, but something is stopping them. I am not a swimming coach or lifeguard, however many of the people I support are perfectly capable of swimming, but fear is holding them back. I relate to this, having lived by the sea for 11 years before fully submerging in it. That was something other people did, and I reserved for turquoise waters on holiday. But one chilly spring day, I saw three hardcore figures walking out of the water. Something urged me to go and say hello (very out of character for this introvert) and I said “you’re amazing, I wish I could do that”. They all stopped, mid-change, looked at me and asked why I couldn’t. At that moment I realised the only thing stopping me was me. I had no real excuse. It was cold, there might be creatures, it was the grubby English channel not the Med, I’d have to get changed on the beach and be seen in a swimsuit. For me, all excuses - not genuine grounds to stay on dry land. And given I’d swum with lots of creatures, by choice, on trips abroad, that certainly wasn’t a good reason.


So a couple of weeks later I got in the water; slowly, tentatively, and swearing loudly. I was hooked. There was such a feeling of immense achievement, overcoming my own barriers and self-imposed obstacles, that this is why it is so powerful in the work I do with my clients. If I can help them shift their mindset and get in the sea when they thought they never could, then they will have the self-belief to overcome anything. And those who have no desire to swim; coaching them at the beach, looking at the horizon enables them to open their mind and shift their perspective in a way that coaching in a small counselling room wouldn’t. Offering meditation and hypnotherapy with the sea as soundscape transports people into a new state of being.


As for my biggest focus, helping people feel comfortable in their skin with my body image work, this is the perfect environment. Learning to overcome the assumptions that everyone is looking and judging. In this situation, I’ve found most onlookers are either staring and wishing they could do it (like younger me) or saying I’m “mad”, to which I respond that it’s actually the thing that keeps me sane! It’s the perfect backdrop for work on self-acceptance and body kindness.


So, if you’re doubting yourself for whatever reason, take a deep breath and dip your toe in; carefully, safely and not alone. Wash away those mental barriers, and feel your self-doubt float away.


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