Icy Water Urgency Barrier

Have you REALLY confronted yourself recently?

A dip in the icy cold Irish sea is no mean feat. The cold water swimmers who meet daily to swim are really impressive, they have broken through the urgency barrier. They casually quip, “it’s Baltic out there,” as they nonchalantly head into the water, only in bathing suits. 

The urgency barrier in Rebirthing Breathwork is the point in the early stage of a breathing session, at which you overcome the urge to give up and stop. You get over the struggle, surrender to the breath and simply keep going and your breath flows.

When it comes to cold water, you dip each foot into the water and gradually walk deeper, remembering to connect your breaths. The coldness on your skin starts to pierce you, particularly around your feet and hands. It’s like you’re surrounded by a painful force field, that you can’t get out of and the pain just keeps getting more intense. With every second, you feel like you’re in a decision making stasis, should I stay or should I go? How long can I tolerate this for? How long will I suffer for? The urgency is palpable because this feels like life or death. Because it is indeed, a warning system. When you break through the barrier, the strange thing is – you really feel alive whilst you’re submerged. The feeling of intense pain gradually subsides – if you stay with it.

The cold water swimmers comment that 8°C/46°F doesn’t seem cold when it’s air temperature, but in the water it literally feels like freezing water. For some reason, the liquid phase temperature feels so much colder. They’re right, it is seriously cold. They told me the initial pain doesn’t go away, you just know you can get through it.

Wim Hof has shown true mastery of icy water. His method involves cold water immersion with cold showers and ice baths. Over a few weeks a person’s tolerance to cold water can increase significantly. The Wim Hoff method, is about mind over matter and the cold water swimmers concur. The Wim Hof technique involves a controlled breathing technique out of water. Cold water rebirthing is different as a connected breath is done the whole time whilst you’re in the water.  

As the pain builds up it’s easy to give in. You have to confront yourself and your psychological urgency to get out is palpable. Getting through the pain is an incredible achievement. Because you realise that when you allow it to happen, it eventually fades. Every time you get in the water that pain still happens, but you know it doesn’t last. This is exactly the same as pushing through the urgency barrier of a dry rebirthing sessions.

Of course, until you master physical matter like a yogi, you need to understand that there are physical limits to enduring cold water so know your limits and don’t put yourself in danger. Unless you want to be listed in the Darwin awards (for stupidly taking yourself out of the gene pool). Cold exposure kills, so do not underestimate the danger you can put yourself in. Icy water really is challenging so be responsible, take your time and do it gradually – little by little. 

Mastering icy cold water is a great achievement, as you emerge back into air a renewed zest for life is realised. “My life urge is definitely greater than my death urge.” 

The aim of cold water rebirthing is to stay in the water longer, it’s not about instantly shocking your body. You gradually build up tolerance over time by progressively adjusting your body to the colder water temperature. Having observed people’s reactions to cold water for four decades Leonard Orr noticed that in general working through deep fears and the death urge significantly improved people’s tolerance. Of course this is not always the case, if you live in a hot climate, it’s more likely that you’ll struggle putting one foot into cool water let alone icy water.

Leonard taught his students to go slowly, because this isn’t about proving how brave you are. So start in just less than body temperature and work your way down to cooler temperatures. As the temperature gets cooler, your sessions probably won’t be as long. Little by little you’ll be able to stay longer.

At a winter Rebirthing training in Virginia we went into to a lake which had ice in it. We were told to take our time, because we may only get to ankle depth in one hour. It doesn’t involve instant immersion into the water. Another Rebirthing teacher I learnt with immersed me in cold water with a snorkel and the cold went to my bone, I got a cold. 

Know your limits, take your time and be responsible. Until you’ve mastered prolonged sessions in cold water below body temperature, your session needs to always be facilitated by an experienced Rebirther.

Breathing in the icy sea


Breathing in an icy lake


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