Becoming a yearly tradition for some, an icy dip in the St. Lawrence River to begin 2021 means a fresh new mindset.
Hovering around 3C, the river was the perfect temperature for practicing Wim Hof Method, a type of yoga from Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof.
"It’s based on three principals; three pillars which is cold exposure, breath work and most important, mindset training," said Dan de Luis, wellness coach and Wim Hof instructor.
"What we do is we prep ourselves with breathing technique, actually based in Tummo meditation, which is over in Tibet, a very ancient meditation technique that the yogis used to do to be able to sit out in the snow and actually heat up ice sheets that they put on their back," de Luis said.
"The breathing heats the body up and actually gets you into a really nice frame of mind so that you’re not to timid to go into the water."
Next, it is into the water for the cold exposure, which only lasts a few minutes.
"Then after we like to do sometimes some meditation to feel the effects of what the breath-work and cold exposure does," de Luis added.
Becoming increasingly popular within yoga circles, some studies show that going into the cold for short periods of time sharpens immune function, brings down inflammation and helps with auto-immune conditions.
"Because Wim has become very popular in the world, science is really starting to take a look at it now - especially for mental health because it creates such a clarity to help you with. I use it with law enforcement, military, I work a lot with them coaching for PTSD and it’s really helping with the mental health aspect of it for sure," de Luis said.
Eight people joined de Luis at Centeen Park in Brockville for a quick cold exposure session, including message therapist Clarke Flynn.
"I started about five years ago when Dan introduced it to us," Flynn said standing near the riverbank.
"We did a new year's dip one day and honestly it was like a rebound. I jumped in and was back on the dock in my jacket and back in the building before Dan had even got to the end of the dock! And then we just progressed from there," Flynn said.
He started prepping by taking hot showers, and then turning the water to cold for the last 30 seconds.
"Every week you would add another 30 seconds and so for me I just went straight to the cold and I’ve been doing that now. I think my count, its 25 months straight - every morning cold shower and it just, you just really work with yourself to get focused and get through your day and you're awake when your done that’s for sure," Flynn said with a smile.
For him, the Wim Hof method helps deal with the anxiety and depression that can come throughout the day.
"Just sort of paying attention to ourselves and our bodies and our thoughts and by using our breath work and really focus just on breath. Not being anywhere else in your world, not being ahead of yourself or thinking about the day prior or other issues in your life, just on the pure breath moving in and out through the nose," Flynn said.
"That to me has been one of the biggest things; for those two to five minutes that you’re involved in that exercise you’re really on you and when you come out of it or when you start to take in the rest of your day you realize that you have moved 5 minutes through your day on something about you and whatever issues you may have been dealing with in your mindset that you had is now much cleaner and purer," Flynn added.
"You’re able to move those negative thoughts out and I think in today’s world that’s really important just to be in yourself, on yourself and how you’re moving through the day."
Friday’s temperatures were mild for the team, with de Luis saying that sometimes they have needed an axe to get into the river.
"Yeah we like to get our axe out and chop, it's kind of a fun little thing we do once it freezes over. Today we're not frozen over so we just kind of walk in, we got the nice steps here. This is one of our favourite places in Brockville, Centeen Park."
With a quick meditation session for everyone after getting out of the water, everyone felt refreshed and ready to start 2021
"I feel amazing man; it’s awesome, refreshing, kind of enlightening. You feel like you have a lot of energy which is so clear because all of the other stresses go away after you handle that stress," said de Luis.
"Excellent. Honestly rejuvenated, energized," said Andree. "It's amazing how sometimes you can apprehend sometimes going in but its the after you know, everything that happens during but the after, you feel amazing!"
"It’s always great when you're in there, the thoughts you have then calming your mind and then when you get out, you’re ready so I enjoy it. The whole process," added Flynn.
"Honestly; light, energetic, amazing clear minded.....I’m a whole new woman for a whole new year!" said Dan’s wife Tania.
"2021 here we come - full of energy, excitement and woo-hoo! (The) Wim Hoff method seriously has changed our life and you know what we all need that energy this year so happy new year everyone! Be happy healthy and strong."
De Luis says anyone interested in practicing Wim Hof method should check out his website and other breathing exercises on YouTube.
He will also continue to teach classes one the lockdown lifts at Subramanya Yogae Centre on Parkedale Avenue.
"It’s much more tough when the water is wavy and when it’s windy and the water is moving it makes it that much tougher," de Luis added. "But that’s what we develop. We develop the mental like fortitude to be able to withstand the stressor and when you can handle the stress of the cold water it kind of cross adapts into the stress of life and then they don’t seem to be too bad."
During Ontario's 28-day COVID-19 lockdown, a maximum of 10 people can gather for outdoor organized public events and social gatherings, with physical distancing measures in place.