Doctors recommend swimming as one of the best exercises around, and for good reason. When we swim, the main muscle groups all go to work in a way that doesn’t put undue stress on the body. This makes it a wholesome aerobic exercise for young and old alike. The health benefits of this kind of workout include:
- Improving blood circulation around the body
- Helping get rid of excess cholesterol within the bloodstream
- Curbing obesity and its accompanying health issues
- Maintaining general fitness
Most people enjoy swimming because it’s so refreshing and good for you. But you could go the extra lap and practice mindful swimming - and get the best of both worlds. With mindful swimming, instead of just focusing on reaching a certain goal, you pay full attention to the exercise and the sensations experienced as you swim. Extending your mindfulness practice into swimming is a great way to break up the routine of sitting meditation.
Is there a link between swimming and meditation?
The answer depends on the swimmer! Meditation is about awareness, and it might be argued that awareness is possible in every situation, including swimming. With mindful swimming, you can enjoy the current moment without worrying about any stressful issues at work, home or elsewhere.
Instead of mindlessly plunging into the water and doing your laps, take a few moments to formulate the intention of being entirely present in the water. Once you’ve begun swimming, see if you can maintain awareness of the here and now. Enjoy the feeling of buoyancy as you glide across the pool and take note of other physical sensations – wetness, scent, sound, etc. Remain present as your arms enter and leave the water, your legs propel your body forward and your head follows the rhythm of the movement. How does it feel? Acknowledging sensations that you don’t usually notice is part of what makes swimming as meditation so enjoyable. Alternatively, when swimming laps or floating, you may also choose to focus on your breath.
The joy of mindful swimming
When you meditate, the mind is no longer bound by the anxieties and stresses that usually take up so much mental space. Instead, the mind is spacious and refreshed, and you feel rejuvenated. This naturally inspires you to work on bettering yourself and improving the lives of others. By incorporating the exercise of swimming as meditation into your mindfulness regime, you train in extending your “on-the-cushion” practice into your everyday life.
Professional swimmers tend to repeat the same movements every time they train. It’s easy for them to give their minds free rein to wander as they swim instead of being mindfully aware of their breath and physical sensations. In her article “Mindful Swimming” in Swimming World Magazine, former competitive swimmer Tonya Nascimento believes that mindfulness can help athletes while training as well as while competing. “At all levels, swim meets can have a multitude of distractions that capture your mind and direct your attention away from your races. [ …] The goal of mindfulness is to develop a sense of calm in the midst of the storm; it is to gain control over one's own thoughts. By becoming aware of your thoughts, you can decide to let go of those thoughts that hinder your performance, and decide to concentrate on only those thoughts that help you improve,” she writes.
A number of national swimming teams (including the U.S. Olympic team) have incorporated mindfulness in their training sessions. The feedback has been positive: athletes have reported improved performances when they focus on being fully present rather than focusing on the goal (winning!) alone. Mindful presence helps swimmers maintain balance, and balance fosters peak performance.
Before trying mindful swimming, make sure your swimming level is good enough. Once you get the groove of it, you’ll realize that swimming and meditation are an awesome match. And here’s a great resource to help you practice meditation: the Mindworks: Guided Meditation App. It offers a variety of Guided Meditations, Daily Cup Contemplations and insightful Mind Talks that will keep you motivated. It’s easy to download it on your smartphone, so try it out. Most importantly, remember that swimming – and meditating - should be enjoyable!