Balance Praised for its numerous health benefits, cold-water swimming has a long-established tradition in the Nordic countries. Typically enjoyed out in nature or open-air bathhouses specially built for that purpose, this invigorating outdoor pastime not only extends the swimming season but is regarded as a social activity.
The open-air bathhouses are usually situated along coastlines and lakes with direct access to water, allowing visitors to enjoy the beautiful nature surrounding them. The wellness ritual of cold-water dips is interlaced with hot sauna sessions that complement the therapeutic experience. Most open-air bathhouses have dedicated areas for men and women, but some places also acknowledge transgender and non-binary people, making all amenities available to everyone.
‘Swimming is a routine for me. I would usually go to the sauna two or three times a week in the winter and swim in the bay. Many of the people I’ve met there over the years would talk about cold-water swimming without the sauna. At first, I thought it didn’t make sense at all. Then I became curious as I realised, I had already started building up confidence and resilience to cold,’ says Stockholm-based model and doula Erika Wall, who is also a seasoned outdoor swimmer.
‘When corona happened, the sauna closed down. Many friends in my sauna-community who never did cold-water swimming alone, started meeting up to swim together in different parts of town. This was when I joined in.’ The cold-water ritual comes with scientifically proven health benefits that include mood-boosting and energising effects, improved memory, decreased tension and stress relief. These health benefits, together with the soothing experience of connecting to nature, have contributed to its growing popularity.
'I relax completely – every muscle.'
‘When I’m in cold water, I use the same breathing technique I learned from a midwife while giving birth to my second child. It was so effective and created such an amazing experience that it inspired me to start working as a doula, to help other women experience childbirth this way,’ says Erika Wall.
‘I relax completely, every muscle. I breathe slowly, quietly and surrender to the feeling. About three minutes in, my mind becomes crystal clear, and my body – calm. I watch people walk by in their coats and hats, not noticing me. I feel connected to what’s happening right at that moment.’
‘Now that my beach season is all year round, I don’t want to stop. I get a natural endorphin kick that lasts all day. Why would I want to be without it?’