Once upon a time, my swim workouts began with a few laps of floating on my back while actively searching for my mental happy place, which more often than not was chocolate milk. (Yes, chocolate milk is one of my happy places. Seriously, what can go wrong with chocolate milk? Unless of course you’re lactose intolerant. And there are all kinds of substitutes to get around that factor.) Often it also would include putting on zoomers with the intention of taking them off after my warmup (that rarely happened) and taking lots of deep breaths while staring down my pool lane.
Bottom line — it took a lot of emotional energy to get me in the pool, let alone through my swim workout.
Four years after first learning how to swim, I now sit on the edge of my pool lane, put on my cap and goggles, ease into the water and just start swimming. In the grand world of swimming, this is not a big deal. However, I do not live in the grand world of swimming. I live my world of swimming. And to me, this is a big deal.
Part of developing ease with swimming comes from experience, good old-fashioned practice and time in the water. I’ve developed my skills enough to create some confidence. But it’s not just about technique.
It’s about getting out of my mind and being in my body.
Author Mina Samuels posted a blog about getting back inside our bodies. Instead of evaluating them from an outside perspective, perhaps it’s time to step out of our minds and into our bodies. Nothing quite sums up my swimming transformation so succinctly. It’s about where I chose to put my focus that makes all the difference.
To be sure, I still think. Getting out of my mind is a skill that requires constant practice for me. But while swimming, I attempt to keep my mind occupied with simple tasks, like counting laps (counting being one of the few math skills at which I excel) or reciting mantras.
These days, I’m thinking less and feeling more. I place myself in the present moment by stepping into my body, feeling it move through the water, feeling the joy of the muscle fatigue. Getting into the present, and into my body, took lots of practice. The most effective way for me to start was by consciously scanning my five senses. Here’s how it might look during a swim practice:
- I am seeing … the black line at the bottom of the pool.
- I am hearing … the splashing of the water from the lane next to me.
- I am touching … the cool, slippery metal of the pool gutter.
- I am smelling … an overdose of cologne from one of the guys on deck.
- I am tasting … a little bit of (ick!) chlorine.
The beautiful thing about this exercise is I can do it all the time and everywhere. Whenever I feel the need to focus, to be centered, to be in my body, I do this exercise. With practice, the exercise became so ingrained I often do it without even realizing it. Checking through my senses puts me in the present, makes me focus on what is right now, in front of me. It also puts me inside my body where there is much wisdom. Maybe the push, the extra effort, is what my body craved all along. Maybe the body is telling me I can go further, be stronger, do more, be more. Maybe if I’m in my body, I can relax and enjoy the being and not obsess about the doing.
Oh, and my body and mind both agree, chocolate milk remains a happy place.