Existential Swim Coach

July 23, 2011

I think that you have to be a long time swimmer (and maybe even a zen-nut) to draw parallels between moving through water and moving through life.

I found myself doing just this as I bounced between the walls and over the black line, stuck to the gutter and sharing a lane at the community pool during lunch.

Here, against the concrete lip of the pool, I have to keep my strokes precise to avoid smacking my hand on the deck, or clocking my lane partner with my watch. And, I am made acutely aware of how each and every move I make through the water impacts the movement of the waves, the other swimmers in the pool, and my progress towards my end goal….wherever that may be. I am also painfully aware of how the movements and actions of others impact my body – each little twitch of my lane partners elbow in coordination with his half-breaststroke kick facilitated by scuba flippers catapults me into the very wall I am trying to avoid. Life, it seems, is like a big old pool and we are always just trying to make our way through both.

Swimming in a body of water may or may not be something that humans were “meant” to do. We aren’t nearly as streamlined as other animals made to thrive in the water, but when we practice the way that we move our limbs and propel our energy we can be quite efficient. The same would be true moving through life – mindlessness gets us no where.

Swimmers staring down at the bottom of the pool will surely crash into the wall, or sink. Whichever comes first.

If a swimmer merely spins their arms without thinking how best to shed water off of them, they are likely not to move at all. The same way that someone aimlessly spinning their way through days without any forethought might not sense that they were making progress.

A swimmer that insists upon plowing shoulders and hips flat through the water to the wall, will find that there is much resistance from the water ahead. The same way that someone plowing through life without much thought to it would.

Swimming without bending elbows, and rather swinging arms out to ones’ sides really means that you are going to disturb a lot of water, and do a lot more smacking of other swimmers (and a lot less pushing of water out of the way.) The same is true for kicking. Big sloppy actions are a waste of your energy, and dreadful for those around you.

By failing to feel the water rush by ones’ hands, under belly, over legs and off of feet we aren’t really moving with the flow at all. And if we aren’t moving with the flow of the water, we are surely fighting it. And such is the flow of life as well.

And, a swimmer can try to make themselves move through the water (or the pool of life,) by using certain devices – flippers, snorkels, hand-paddles – but if the foundation for moving quickly, and the sensibility to watch the water isn’t there, then these devices will only make it harder to move efficiently – WELL – through the water, through the world.

A smart swimmer, in the pool of life and paddling in the community pool knows….

That the way one positions themselves in the water makes all the difference. Your breastbone (and thus, your heart) should lead, your eyes should look just a bit before where your heart points, and your body will follow. And your eyes should never look to a place where your heart cannot reach.

Keep your eyes open, and looking ahead – not straining to see what is in your future, but considering what approaches on the close horizon.

Be mindful of where your hands enter the water, how they will touch, and where they will move. On each stroke, each action, the hand should enter with strength, scoop up the energy available to it, and channel that energy (ie:water) past the body. Keep your hands close to your heart as you push the water past. Use your strokes, your actions to propel you forward gracefully. There should be little water disturbed around your body – in fact, the more still you keep the water around you, the faster and more efficiently you will move.

Feel the water. Rock with it like a boat might. Hips and shoulders together, as if you were dodging bullets on both sides over and over again. It is impossible to learn to swim without getting into the water and DOING it as you can never know exactly what wave will be next headed your way. Once we feel the water, we can learn to navigate it – and how we choose to navigate will be different for each swimmer.

Regardless, each swimmer can learn to be a graceful, efficient one if they put their minds to it. It seems to me that deep breaths help but mindfulness will overwhelm. You can overthink swimming, and life, its true. But I’m trying to keep this mindfulness, intention and calm consideration at the forefront this week as I prepare for Vineman (and beyond,) reminding myself that were all meant to float!

Keep on swimming, my friends!

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1 Comment

  • Reply Derek July 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    It’s too bad there is a severe lack of awareness in this world. We can only hope that more people practice this type of mindfulness you write about.
    Cheers.

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