– Margherita Capacci and Pedro Rodrigues
Even at midday, the Stadsstrand, City Beach of Groningen is frozen. Surrounded by the snowfall, a small pool of water remains free from ice. As passers-by shiver, Ari Fratzoglou and Bart Knot take off their clothes and get ready for the dive. The two friends are among the increasing number of people challenging their bodies and minds with an icy routine: cold baths.
This practice has grown in popularity over the last years in the Netherlands, the sportsman Wim Hof’s homeland. He developed a method based on the advantages that breathing and cold immersions have on the immune system. Also, this method allegedly improves people’s physical and mental conditions.
The Lens Press contacted doctor J.J. Stam from Huisartsen Ossenmarkt to know more about its efficiency. He warns about such practice risks, such as hypothermia and possibly infected water. He also emphasizes a lack of scientific evidence regarding cold baths’ health effects but sees “not many health disadvantages.”
However, with the imposition of a lockdown and COVID-19 related measures, this routine has gained new relevance. In Groningen, the hype is growing considerably after the pandemic restrictions have made it difficult for people to exercise and keep their mental health. The swimmers, Oscar and Martjin, say that many new members have joined the Whatsapp group Swim City over the last few months. The group now counts 184 members, who use it to organize cold bath events all over the city, informing and bringing anyone interested closer.
“For me, it’s like a meditation,” says Bart Knot before his second swim of the day, “I’m becoming calm, focusing on my breath and all the sensations of my body” . On his side, Ari Fratzoglou says that diving in the cold water gives him a boost in his immune system and helps him feel less stressed and anxious during the day.
The Groningen artists Anna Joe and Esse agree. “Corona, it’s not really that positive, so it’s important to find a positive focus, and this is a really good one,” they say. During the last year, they have been swimming around three times a week. “When you jump in, you’re really in the moment, it’s like the world stands still, and you’re in the now,” Anna Joe says. Then you have to learn how to “embrace the cold,” and when you go out, “it feels like you’re on fire, and really cleaned up, reborn,” Esse says.