By Erin Mckee
ver the last 6 years, Wasing Wellbeing have held all sorts of festivals, retreats, and ceremonies in the woods and host regular yoga and pilates classes and a wild swimming and sauna club. Explore more on their website. Join The Healing Travel Club on The Stack World App for more wellness travel, meetups and inspiration.
Despite the seasonal shortcomings of January, there is beauty to be found in turning to nature at this time of year - even though our human inclination may be to retreat inwards on these shorter days, where darkness seems to envelop us.
45 minutes out of London, the grey concrete of the city transitions to the wide fields and open skies of the peaceful Berkshire countryside - immediately offering an opportunity to exhale the angst of the metropolis. Sitting in the heart of a 4000 acre, family owned Estate, is Wasing Wellbeing - a haven surrounded by ancient woodland and lakes - the perfect place to recharge, switch off and reconnect with the natural world.
“The ice bath provided an opportunity for a sacred pause - total immersion in the moment. For me, anxiety beforehand around what may happen was more palpable than the cold itself - a true lesson in mindfulness.”
My day out of the city couldn’t have come at a better time, as I found myself on the cusp of a seasonal slump, with the heady pressures of being productive and ‘new’ in the New Year feeling all too real. I’ve often sought solace in nature and found that being outside helps to regulate my nervous system, so I was keen to explore the sacred offerings at Wasing and the teachings of Will Van Zyl, a Level 2 Wim Hof Practitioner, who runs wellbeing courses and retreats involving breathwork and cold water immersion.
Although I’ve heard of Wim Hof (aka The Iceman), and read about the benefits of cold water immersion through cold showers, ice baths and wild swimming, my tendency is always to seek the comfort of a piping hot shower, unless forced by circumstances to endure otherwise, so I was a little nervous. However, open to exploring new sensory possibilities, I didn’t hesitate at the invitation to meet with a group of others for a day retreat.
Arriving at Wasing, the blue sky was sparkling with winter sun and the chorus of wood pigeons offered reassuring familiarity. Whilst the muddy earth squelched beneath my feet and the cold, refreshing air turned my cheeks rosy, I was reminded of how lucky we are to experience the seasonal changes and all that they bring. Out of London, I already felt at ease. My shoulders dropped.
The morning was spent in the beautiful Pavilion, where big glass windows give the sense that you’re out in the field. Guided by Will, we took some time for Yoga, followed by Breathwork. Will’s reassuring consistency and gentleness supported what was quite an intense experience. Although I’ve practised Breathwork before, the Wim Hof Method can be a powerful and transformative tool in processing anything you may have going on, both physically or emotionally; a practice that can lead to deep release.
Easing back into the physical world after this meditative state, we walked through the woodland, under the canopy of the soft forest which opened out to a huge lake. In a secluded corner, sits a jetty and a Scandinavian wood fired sauna. Two bathtubs filled with ice greeted us on arrival at the clearing, challenging us to access our inner calm. Guided again by Will, we were taught about meeting the cold of the ice bath, where we would spend 2 minutes before getting out and practising Horse Stance Exercise, another form of Wim Hof breathing, to warm up before hopping in the sauna.
The ice bath provided an opportunity for a sacred pause - total immersion in the moment. For me, anxiety beforehand around what may happen was more palpable than the cold itself - a true lesson in mindfulness. 2 minutes went quickly, after which I felt a buzzy sense of achievement and, no doubt, endorphins too. We headed into the wood fired sauna, with the scent of orange essential oils warming us to our core. I followed this with another invigorating dip, this time a wild swim in the lake. I felt totally blissful, at peace and perhaps even elated. The cobwebs were fully blown away. We ended the day, gathered round an open fire on which our lunch had been cooked, connecting with one another over our experience and in gratitude for the natural world.
“What I found most amazing, was that sitting through the discomfort of the unknown and embracing the expanding capacities of cold, provides a blissful moment of regulation in an often messy and muddled world.”
Connection and authenticity are core values at Wasing. Di Dugdale, Founder of Wasing Wellbeing, shared a little about her journey “The first time I came to Wasing for a gathering back in 2001 I immediately knew it was a very special place. I now call Wasing home and feel incredibly lucky that we have this magical space to share with people and help them on their wellbeing journey, whether that's a yoga class or a fully transformational 4 day retreat”.
What I found most amazing, was that sitting through the discomfort of the unknown and embracing the expanding capacities of cold, provides a blissful moment of regulation in an often messy and muddled world. A reminder that coming back to the breath is the simplest opportunity for the profound to happen, if we are just able to surrender.
A day at Wasing Wellbeing exploring the Wim Hof Method through breathwork and cold water immersion.
By Erin Mckee
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