We are all different, and we sometimes find our passion and purpose in unexpected places. Passion creates the possible; doing things that from the outside may not seem likely, or even possible. This is what gives us each our superpowers — these things that to us seem not only normal, but as essential to our being as breathing. We all have these; often we don’t see them as being at all special. Au contraire. This is what makes each one of us so amazing.
Carina likes to swim, alone, on a very small island, in waters shared with apex predators, where the water is very cold, every day. To her, this is of course what she does, it is not even a question. To others, it may seem wildly unpleasant, even terrifying. Seeing her images, listening to her speak about her life with yoga and the ocean swims, it is clear that this is not something many people would aspire to do.
Why do you swim?
I have always loved swimming. I am at home in the water. I would swim in a puddle. The dial always clicks back into place whilst swimming. I can’t NOT swim. I get up and go. Sometimes I think I am really a mermaid.
“I can’t NOT swim. Sometimes I think I am really a mermaid”
What do you get from year-round ocean swimming?
It is a relationship. Quite an intimate one at that. I am in it and it is in me. No swim is the same (the temperature of the water, the quality of the water). Sometimes it is quiet, like glass. Sometimes it is very upsetting. Sometimes I am the one that is quiet and sometimes I am the one that is upset. This daily morning swim frames the day. If I accomplish nothing else, at least that was done.
Do you feel there are health benefits from cold water swimming?
Too many to mention. Increased immunity. Inflammation reduction. Mood-boosting. I never regret a swim. I always feel great during and after. I needed stitches on a nasty gash last summer. Not only did it heal quickly. I have no scar.
What is the water temperature in the winter?
The average water temperature in the winter is about 4°C.
Do you think there is something about being Austrian that makes you ok with being in the cold?
Zero! The irony is that I am the person that could sleep with a parka in July. Go figure!
“Every day I share the water with an assortment of seals, otters, mink, herons, and bald eagles”
What sort of sea animals are you swimming with?
This is the best part. I swim off the coast of British Columbia. Every day I share the water with an assortment of seals, otters, mink, herons, and bald eagles. On the extra magical days, there are orcas and humpback whales in the water as well.
Do any of them interact with you?
The seals are VERY curious. Often they will swim within a few feet. The otters as well.
Do you ever get fearful that the orcas may mistake you for a meal?
It has crossed my mind. What I am more concerned about would be being dragged down with the force of the water as they dive. I will take my chances.
What sort of preparation do you do before getting in the water?
I do a few rounds of Wim Hof breathing.
“I have found the Wim Hof breathing gets me out of my nervous system. Somehow I am oblivious to the initial shock of the cold water”
How does it feel to swim in water that cold?
I have found the Wim Hof breathing gets me out of my nervous system. I finish my last round and do not feel anything. Somehow I am oblivious to the initial shock of the cold water. After a few seconds, I acclimate and it feels fine.
Does your partner ever swim with you, or are you always alone?
This is primarily my thing. I get up and go. He started coming in the past few weeks. He has a daily meditation practice. Instead of doing that at home he sometimes does it at the beach while I swim.
How is your yoga practice related to your swimming?
They are almost interchangeable. They are both meditative. The body moves in a rhythmic, steady fashion, breath linked to movement. I am focused. I am often chanting in my head in both swim swimming and yoga.
“I am often chanting in my head in both swimming and yoga”
You mentioned that with yoga, experience and knowledge are respected. How did you experience that?
In yoga, you just keep learning. The older you are, the more you have experienced, read, and learned. There are no ends to the postures. The older teachers and practitioners are so full of knowledge. It shines through them. A young gymnastic yoga practitioner has nothing over a senior practitioner. Zero.
Who is your canine friend? She seems very special.
Amber is a Sealyham Terrier. She is very zen. There are more pandas and white tigers than there are Sealyhams. These little dogs are quite special.
How does Amber feel about you going into the water?
Amber guards my shoes on the beach!
Why did you move to Galiano Island?
My partner’s family has an inn on Galiano (https://driftwoodvillage.com). It has always been an oasis to escape to. For the past 19 months, during the lockdown, I have been working at the inn. This island is peaceful. Nothing much changed with the lockdown except the introduction of masks.
Where did you come from?
I was born and raised in Montreal to Austrian parents. My mother tongue is German. I also speak English, French, and Spanish.
What sort of work were you doing earlier in your life?
I flew for 35 years. I LOVED it. 20 years ago I fell deeply in love with yoga. My airline job was the perfect vehicle to study around the world with the best yoga teachers. I loved teaching yoga. Sometimes if my flight was delayed I would blow into the yoga studio and teach in my airline uniform! Too bad I wasn’t into cold water swimming during my airline career. I spent A LOT of time in the Canadian Arctic.
Follow Carina Roter on Instagram: @amberthesealyham
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