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    • Finding the Winter Light - winter walk in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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    Ice, Ice Bathing – Not for the Faint-Hearted

    Diving into a frozen lake in winter may sound insane to many. For Patricia Schuhmacher, however, it’s the perfect remedy against the winter blues. We spoke to her and water rescuer Hansjörg Ransmayr about ice bathing.

    Fighting the Cold With the Cold

    The landscape is covered in a blanket of white snow and on the horizon the mountains rise into the clear sky like a crown. The Zauchensee lies in front of us, almost unrecognisable due to its thick layer of ice. The dark water can only be seen through a small hole that was cut using a saw and which Patricia Schuhmacher is now focusing on. The native Californian takes a deep breath and slowly enters the water. Here, at 1,350 m above sea level, the water temperature in March is just above freezing point. What does that feel like? "It is shocking in the beginning. Your body feels like it is burning or that you can’t breathe", explains Patricia. So why does she put herself through this?

    • The landscape is covered in a blanket of white snow and on the horizon the mountains rise into the clear sky like a crown. The Zauchensee lies in front of us, almost unrecognisable due to its thick layer of ice. The dark water can only be seen through a small hole that was cut using a saw and which Patricia Schuhmacher is now focusing on. The native Californian takes a deep breath and slowly enters the water. Here, at 1,350 m above sea level, the water temperature in March is just above freezing point. What does that feel like? "It is shocking in the beginning. Your body feels like it is burning or that you can’t breathe", explains Patricia. So why does she put herself through this?

    • After moving to Linz, Patricia – a true sun worshipper – had to get used to the cold winters in Austria, and she found that ice bathing of all things helped. What sounds strange at first actually makes sense: the cold season took its toll on her at first, until Patricia decided to actively counteract. By directly confronting her body with the cold, she was able to overcome her fears and get out of her comfort zone. "Once I had begun, my attitude, my state of mind, my entire perception of winter changed. It helped me learn to love the cold season and recognise its beauty."

    • Inspired by her husband, who had already discovered ice bathing, Patricia began taking cold showers. Nowadays she regularly dives into the Danube or the Ausee near Linz, even in winter. "I noticed that it boosted my energy. It boosts your endorphins, these natural kind of drugs, happy drugs in our bodies and I noticed how my mood would change as well and be more stable." After her first ice bath, Patricia had so much newfound energy that she could barely fall asleep.

      Hearing Patricia talk about ice bathing makes it sound like an extreme form of meditation. It’s all about the moment and breathing, according to Patricia, which should be slow and deep. "You have to focus … ok I’m breathing. You have to release, you have to let go. You’re literally in the here and the now. So you’re able to be in the present moment and appreciate that."

    "I noticed that it boosted my energy. It boosts your endorphins, these natural kind of drugs, happy drugs in our bodies and I noticed how my mood would change as well and be more stable."

    Finding the Winter Light - winter walk in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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    Patricia Schumacher

    The Next Big Thing

    Ice bathing (also known as cold water immersion) seems to be gaining more and more fans. Perhaps this is thanks to Dutch wellness guru and "Iceman" Wim Hof, who demonstrates the benefits of cold water in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix series "The Goop Lab". Or perhaps it is simply the desire for the feeling of freedom and of being at one with nature.

    Hansjörg Ransmayr from Salzburg is not just a water rescuer, but also a passionate winter swimmer who thinks ice bathing is going to be "the next big thing". Especially since the beginning of coronavirus, he has experienced an increase in people wanting to brave the cold water, mainly to boost physical resilience.

    Finding the Winter Light - ice swimming in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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    But Is Ice Bathing Really Good for Us?

    Ice bathing, however, is not a new trend. Hippocrates already believed in the positive effects of cold water and Kneipp water applications have long been used as therapy in health resorts. Even our grandmothers knew that cold showers tighten the connective tissue.

    Whether Hippocrates or our grandmothers – they were all right. Hansjörg Ransmayr can confirm the multitude of positive effects for body and mind too. Immersing yourself in water around freezing point has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, it strengthens the immune system, can reduce rheumatism and other joint pains as well as combat depression. Ice bathing triggers the release of adrenaline and happiness hormone dopamine, as well as anti-inflammatory corticosteroids for regeneration.

    Finding the Winter Light - ice swimming in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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    Top athletes have been climbing into ice tubs after training for some time now. Researchers at Cambridge University recently even discovered a connection between cold water shock and a protein, which could protect against degenerative diseases such as dementia.

    Spending a prolonged time in cold water is said to be a great way of alleviating sleep disorders too. "It’s like having a cup of tea", Hansjörg explains. "A quick cold shower wakes you up. But if you stay in the cold water for a long time, the body becomes incredibly tired because metabolism is sped up. This guarantees a great night’s sleep."

    Hansjörg also observes that bathing in cold water is particularly popular with women suffering from menstrual problems or the menopause. It helps them feel themselves and their body better again.

    Finding the Winter Light - ice swimming in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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    As Patricia confirmed, ice bathing also trains mental strength, willpower, and self-confidence. Those who manage to get into the cold water overcome their own limits. The fear of the cold is all in the head. Some who have already achieved this victory fondly refer to it as the "Himalaya feeling for the unathletic".

    Finding the Winter Light - ice swimming in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee

    Patricia’s and Hansjörg’s Favourite Spots for Ice Bathing in Austria

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    Not Without Caution

    If you’ve already got your swimmers on and are ready to head off to the nearest frozen lake, be aware: ice bathing should be enjoyed with caution. In addition to the beneficial effects, it also harbours health risks and can lead to death from hypothermia or drowning in the worst case. It’s best to seek advice from your doctor beforehand, especially if you have asthma, high blood pressure or heart problems.

    You should always prepare for your first ice bath slowly. Hansjörg Ransmayr recommends starting in summer or autumn and "swimming" into the winter season. Those who then have more practise can follow in the footsteps of Patricia and prove themselves at the Ice.Challenge in Zauchensee. The reward is a certificate and feeling like you’ve been reborn, as Patricia describes so beautifully.

    "Exposure to cold water is the best therapy for the winter blues."

    Ice Bathing Almsee, Filzmoos
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    Hansjörg Ransmayr

    From Warm Showers to Cold Conquests – Hansjörg’s Tips:

    • Get used to the icy water in slow steps. Begin with cold showers and keep increasing their duration.
    • Start in open water in summer or autumn when it is still warmer.
    • Never go alone – always with a buddy. There are often local groups that meet regularly, meaning you can combine your hobby with a social event.
    • Never jump into cold water. Dip your hands in first and wet your face, then enter the water slowly as you exhale.
    • Make sure there is a buoy in the water, which you could hold onto in an emergency.
    Finding the Winter Light - ice swimming in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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    • Breathing exercises help relax, even in cold water.
    • Do not stay in the water for more than a few minutes.
    • Keep warm before and after swimming. Dry off quickly and put warm clothes on because the body will continue to cool down outside of the water.
    • Do not exercise to warm up after an ice bath as this could put strain on the circulation and lead to dangerous conditions of shock.
    • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which widen the blood vessels and create a drop in temperature. Opt for hot ginger tea instead, which is particularly good at warming from the inside.
    Finding the Winter Light - cosy mountain hut in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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    •                 Finding the Winter Light - cosy mountain hut in the region of Altenmarkt-Zauchensee
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      Patricia Schuhmacher

      Love was the reason for Patricia’s move from California to Austria, where she particularly values the nature, from which she also draws inspiration for her two professions as a chef and singer.

      Find out more about Patricia
    •                 Ice Bathing Zauchensee / Altenmarkt Zauchensee
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      Hansjörg Ransmayr

      Hansjörg Ransmayr is a true water fanatic. He is a water rescuer, author of the book "Wild Swimming Alpen", and organises various swimming projects for tourists. 

      Find out more about Hansjörg

    Author: Hannah Zajic

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