A chilling technique to fight pandemic blues

Albert Nerenberg, left, and three other members of Kingston’s InsideFire pose during an outdoor cocktail party on a frozen Lake Ontario.

Imagine willingly jumping into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario throughout the fall and winter. 

No? You can’t? Well, believe it or not a group of Kingstonians did just that — willingly, once a week throughout the pandemic. 

Albert Nerenberg, local filmmaker and man of many hats, spearheaded the initiative, which is technically called the ‘Wim Hof Technique’, as a way to fight the pandemic blues, so to speak. 

“I was never a great winter sports person,” Nerenberg said of himself prior to starting the Wim Hof Technique. “I used to avoid winter. Winter was something you rushed through.” 

But there was something about heading down to Lake Ontario during a cold winter’s evening and jumping in that rekindled his love with the coldest season. 

A member of InsideFire posing during a cold dip. Photo from Albert Nerenberg

He laughs about it now, but Nerenberg added that, at one point during the beginning of their exploration of the Wim Hof, some passerby’s thought something sinister may have been taking place, what with the willingness to submerge oneself into the frigid Lake Ontario waters. 

“These are places where no human goes,” Nerenberg said on a zoom call from his Kingston home. “But the benefits were so immediate and so obvious. You feel so good, you sleep better. You literally get stronger — that’s the weird part.”

The flipside, Nerenberg said, was that he started seeing the beauty in winter, and now this past year’s season wasn’t something he tried to rush through. 

“I was sitting and noticing it,” he said. “Every day became gorgeous — without exception.”

One of the theories behind the Wim Hof technique is that the human body has the ability to meet every environment, but over the years, as new methods of heating and comfort have been invented, Nerenberg believes it’s an ability we’re losing as a species. 

“We probably had (the ability) for tens of thousands of years that we can meet the environment and your body responds,” Nerenberg said. 

A Kingston Twist 

As if jumping into frigid waters during the winter wasn’t odd enough, Nerenberg and his crew have added their own unique twist to the Wim Hof Technique: posing for photos before, after, sometimes during — and some days it replaced going into the water altogether. 

From cocktail parties to ‘snow-ga’ which is, you guessed it, yoga in the snow, the photo sessions also served as an alternative to actually going in the water on the days where the already-unbearable hobby was too unbearable.

“That’s why we’re doing some of these crazy pictures, to demonstrate that you don’t actually need to go into the water to do cold exposure,” he said. “You can just go out.”

“Part of the game is that you get to go out together, have fun and it’s COVID-safe… we’re keeping a distance.”

Nerenberg and his group of about five other cold-dippers have been commissioned to film a documentary on the process which, when released, should give a chilling view into this ancient technique.  

And, if this sort of thing interests you at all, you can always check out the Kingston Cold Swimmers, InsideFire, on their Facebook page.

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