How Yoga Helped Me Ace My First Swimming Lesson
On my last birthday, my fiancé took my to a poolside party. It was a celebratory afternoon, powered by chilled beer, good music, and great company. Sprawled on the poolside lounger, I had no complaints… except, I could only sit and watch, with envy, exuberant people, some my age, some younger, splash away joyously in the water.
That wasn’t the only time I felt that I was living life on the periphery. Recently, I went for a vacation. From our hotel room, we could see the pool. As the sun rose, and found temporary home right outside our room window, I looked longingly at the pool, and enviously at the people inside, cooling themselves off in the unbearable heat. I, of course, did not have that option. So, I booked a massage at the spa instead.
I dream of a day when I will stay in a hotel room with an attached infinity pool. Then, I scoff. I’ll have to enjoy the view sitting on a couch by the side of the glorious pool! If you haven’t already figured, I don’t know how to swim.
To my credit, I did learn when I was younger - maybe 11 or 12. But, as Delhi life would have it, I never had an opportunity to follow up on my swimming lessons after that one season. (Side note: How ridiculous is it that we have a “swimming season,” which ends in September, while it’s still not that cold yet. Pools have got to keep up with global warming!)
Today, I decided to change that. I signed up for swimming lessons - at 32. Now, it’s been 20 years since I splashed around in the water. Justifiably, I was nervous about setting foot in, and went to my first ever swimming lesson as an adult assuming that I won’t be able to do anything except stand in the pool and pretend to paddle under the surface. Maybe splash my arms around, with my feet firmly planted on the ground below. To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong.
My first activity was to take a deep breath in through my mouth, dunk in the water, and let it all out through the nose. At the first couple of attempts, I was nervous, but not because I didn’t have the physical ability to do as I was being instructed, but because of the psychological block I had against putting my head under water. Holding on to the bar, and the sense of control that came with it, along with the self-awareness that it was just in my head, made it easy. My coach quickly taught me the next step. Inhale, dunk head, hold, loosen the body, and float.
In terms that were familiar to me - breathe, hold, relax.
That seems to be the key word in swimming, at least in the first session. To bring myself completely horizontal, afloat on the water that was wavy from other swimmers in the pool, I had to nail the relaxation.
Being able to relax one’s muscles sounds like something so simple and instinctive. Yet, it doesn’t come easy to most people. This was a crucial learning I had during my training in Yoga. All of us hold tension in our muscles, and learning to release that tension is a skill we must hone. With a lot of practice and diligence. It is also a skill that yoga teaches you rather well.
The essence of yoga asanas is to find that place of relaxation and calm, while you put your body in challenging positions. It is to find the place of comfort and control in distress.
As my swimming coach told me to let my body go, I recalled all that I had learnt about it on the mat. In the pool, once you relax, you float. It also becomes easier to hold your breath if you aren’t using your energy tightening your chest muscles.
Alongside me, there was another woman likely about my age. Today was her third lesson. She was working on floating along the breadth of the pool. 30 minutes into the session, I was learning the same. I’m not special, or any less fearful of drowning than any other non-swimmer. Something tells me that what made it easier for me to pick up on the basics of swimming is my yoga practice - breathe, hold, relax.
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