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25/12/2021 Covid-19 Pandemic (Coronavirus), Ireland. Day 640 since start of lockdown. Day 230 of eased restrictions. Christmas Day Swim. Pictured on Sandycove Beach this morning are Mimi Tyrrel from Dublin and Mariann Kling from Norway enjoying the annual Christmas Day Swim.

Níall Ó Murchú Some top tips for getting the most from your Christmas Day swim

The Wim Hof instructor has some good advice for anyone brave enough to venture a Christmas swim.

THE SEA IS majestic. It’s beautiful. It can be restorative and healing. It can help us feel calm and peaceful again.

But, it’s also powerful, ferocious and merciless and must be approached with respect. So, given all of this, how do we get the most out of our time in the sea? Especially that Christmas Day dip!

What is your intention?

What do we want from the experience in the cold? What is our intention? For me, I want the sea to be a force for good in my life. I want it to enrich my day. I want it to make me healthier. I want it to bring me alive and give me energy. So, that is my intention.

Of course, your intention might be different: perhaps you are preparing for a race or something like that. Then, your intention is different. But, being clear on that informs how we approach the cold.

Christmas Day Swim 037 Christmas Day 2020. Pictured are bathers entering the sea off Dunmore East Dock in County Waterford today; one of many traditional Christmas morning swims taking place around the country this morning.

So it begins

Once we are clear on what we want from the experience, then it’s time to get in! The moment we see those waves and feel that freezing wind, our body starts to react.

Our heart rate goes up, we get tense and we move up into the flight/fight stress response. Our mind even begins to focus on the worst case scenario. All of this is to help us survive.

This is an important reaction. But, we can learn to take control of that fear and panic and we can change that into a sense of control and even calm. How?

Christmas Day Swim 014 Ciaran O Keefe and David Duggan after taking a dip at the Forty Foot for the annual Christmas Day swim of 2020. Sam Boal Sam Boal

Chaos to calm

As we get into the water, we feel the chaos and the shock of the cold immediately. Whatever fight/flight response we felt earlier, is hugely amplified as we hit the water. We might feel pure panic, pain, shock, confusion and everything in between. But, that is part of the experience.

What we do next is most important: firstly, we try to find our breath in all the panic. Secondly, we begin to focus on our exhales.

The first few exhales will be non-existent. But, if we stay focused on them, slowly we will gain control of them. Finally, as we get control of our breathing, we can then slow those exhales down and when we do, a sense of calm arises in the body despite the pressure of the cold.

Less is more

The cold sea has been proven to improve our immunity, decrease inflammation and reduce stress and there is even promising research showing that it may play a role in the battle against dementia. And if our intention is for it to do all of those things, to become a force for good in our lives, then we don’t need to spend lots of time in the sea.

114Fortyfoot Christmas swim Pictired are brothers Dean and Ryan Byrne from newbridge at the Forty Foot Christmas swim in 2019. Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

When it comes to the cold, less is more. So, put away the timer, and instead listen to our breathing. It will tell us everything we need to know.

Jump into the sea and pay attention to your breathing. At first, as described above, it will be chaotic and erratic. But, then, if you focus on it, you’ll regain a sense of control. Stay focused on your breathing and try to slow it down. If your breathing is controlled and calm, then that is how you will feel.

How we breathe is how we feel and the great news is we can voluntarily change how we are breathing in every moment. By doing so, we change how we think and feel.

wim and niall Niall has studied under Wim Hof, the Dutch athlete who has developed a whole technique for harnessing the health benefits of cold water. Níall Ó Murchú Níall Ó Murchú

So, in the sea, keep working on your breath until it’s under control. Then, if you can, slow it down. When we are able to do this, then a sense of calm arises in the body and mind. We can then feel calm and peaceful despite the pressure of the cold.

When you reach that point, you can settle into those feelings of control and calm. Enjoy them. The cold will be relentlessly testing your resolve, But, stay with your breath. When it is controlled and calm, then our body has adapted to the pressure; it has moved into the parasympathetic (peaceful) part of the nervous system. Then, you are getting all the benefits we have described. The cold has become a force for good in your life. Then, it’s time to get out.

Niall O Murchu Alan Rowlette Alan Rowlette

When people gather at the sea, there is often a sense of competition: “how long did you stay in?” But, there is no messing with the sea. We must respect it and when we begin to understand the importance of our breathing in the sea, then we can let go of the timing and just enjoy it.


The body makes an infinite number of calculations and adjustments to help us deal with the cold when we’re in the sea. For example, the blood vessels in our feet and fingers constrict (often painfully) to help keep our core temperature warm. This essential adjustment keeps the heart, lungs and much more safe despite the cold.

winter-swimming A swimmer places a mug of tea on ice as he swims in partly frozen water at the Serpentine Lido, in Hyde Park, London, as members of the Serpentine Swimming Club take part in their annual Christmas Day swim. PA PA

So, the opposite is also true when we get out of the sea: our body makes a whole other set of calculations and adjustments to help us adapt to the air temperature and to stay warm.

With that in mind, here are a few things to consider:

Stand and continue to breathe calmly for a minute or two before putting your clothes back on. This allows the body time to adjust again to these new conditions.

Stay focused on your breathing. The real mastery of the cold is afterwards: if we feel like we’re getting really cold, we can panic and that makes everything worse. So, stay focused on breathing calmly. By doing that, you will remain calm and your body will do what it does best: adapt.

Move the body slowly, allowing the cold and warm blood to mix slowly and naturally. Avoid fast intense movement when you get out.

Christmas Day Swim 011 Christmas Day Swim. Pictured on Sandycove Beach this morning is Niamh Kelly from Dublin with dog George Kelly (1 year old) enjoying the annual Christmas Day Swim. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

Our instinct is to run around the place and put our clothes on and turn the heat up in the car. We should instead, stay focused on our breathing. Move slowly and slowly put our clothes back on. All of this allows the body to transition back into the warm again.

The sea is magnificent, restorative and healing. It’s a pleasure, and privilege, to go for a dip. Once we understand how to harness its power, the sea can then become a force for good in our lives. And above all this Christmas, stay safe and mind one another out there.

Níall Ó Murchú has been a full-time Wim Hof Method instructor for the past five years. He helps people all over the world improve their health, strength and happiness by teaching them how to breathe and use the cold as a force for good in their lives. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Blissful Breath.” More on and Instagram. 

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