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'Walruses' Find Their Winter Chill Out

Published: January 28, 2003 (Issue # 838)



  • One of St. Petersburg's hardy morzhi, or ice swimmers, preparing to take the plunge by the Peter and Paul Fortress on Friday.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

While Sergei Ivanov's colleagues at St. Petersburg's metro system hurry to grab a bite on their lunch breaks, he races off for a quick, refreshing dip near the Peter and Paul Fortress in the frozen Neva River.

"I feel extreme excitement and physical euphoria when getting out of that cold water," said Ivanov, a 43-year-old engineer, pulling on his clothes over skin reddened by the sub-zero water on Friday. The air temperature was minus 2 degrees Celsius.

Ivanov is one of at least 100 St. Petersburg ice swimmers - or morzhi ("walruses") - who regularly make their way to the 12-square-meter pool formed by cutting through the 30-centimeter-thick ice on the Neva.

Nina Lyubitskaya, at 66 years old still energetic and vibrant, with sparkling eyes, is another of the site's afficionados. After undressing and stepping into the pool, she swam gracefully back and forth across the opening, smiling all the while.

"It was a passionate desire to live that made me take this up," Lyubitskaya said after her swim. "You don't need to have a strong will for that."

But her husband, Alexei Kirillov, also 66, undressing for his swim on the snowy edge of the opening, wasn't quite as certain.

"I have to force myself every time to get into that water," Kirillov confessed. "It was only because of pressure from my wife that I tried it for the first time."

"I had to obey. She is the head of the family, and she knows what's best," he said with a grin.

The morzhi tradition finds its specific origins in the teaching of a 20th-century Russian folk healer, Porfiry Ivanov. While taking a quick dip in cold water after some time in the banya or sauna is a long-standing tradition, Ivanov, who would walk barefoot wearing only light undergarments year round, stressed the ice-water swims as a way to improve health through a union with nature.

Ivanov died at the age of 87, in 1985, having survived torture while a prisoner of the Germans during WWII, the appalling conditions of a Soviet psychiatric hospital, and general Soviet restrictions on the activities of folk healers. But his ideas gained and maintained currency, and thousands of Russians follow his teachings today.

The morzhi say that swimming in the icy water charges them with energy, and helps prevent colds, flu and nervous breakdowns, among other illnesses.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Tuesday, Oct. 21


The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organization’s office.


Take the opportunity to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing office@spiba.ru before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.


Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Center’s series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this month’s lessons being “visual arts.”



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