The Yoga of Swimming

Picture of me after swimming

Learning though the Process

Well, I made it into the water today. Migraine still wrestling itself inside my brain. I like the cold and use ice packs to numb the pain in my head.                          So why not immerse myself!

When I arrived at familiar ‘stone wall’ the main beach at Walden, two fellow swimmers were donning wetsuits, neoprene caps, goggles… They were equipped with neoprene booties and mittens. Something I have tried in my swimming history here and given the ‘thumbs down.’ I want to feel the water with some part of my body. That is the bottom line. Feel the water and the sensation of being in it, on it.

The water was noticeably colder on first contact. Not so much my face. I did not think about it. But my hands which were inadequately clothed in too-loose silk gloves. Not as successful as I had hoped. My feet, in the same thin shielding of silk sock seem to be more used to the cold.

Have you ever put a finger, or more to the point, a hand, onto a block of dry ice, and left it there for about 35-40 minutes?

That is what it feels like on the palms of my hands while swimming. I stop thinking about it after a while and check in with my feet. I don’t remember ever noticing feeling the pads on the bottoms of my big toes before. Or on the balls of my feet. Interesting. Yoga teaches us to be aware of our bodies. And to be in the moment with them and not think about the million other things that crowd our day. Walden is my teacher.

My head. The pain is gone for a while, and then just sits there as a dull reminder. It is like a knot of congestion. Too much daily strain and struggle. A reminder to let go of all those shoulds and oughts and wants and dissolve them in he cleansing cold water.

Noticing what the body is feeling becomes an almost full time occupation when the water gets this cold. (Definitely near fifty, probably not much below it though.)

But I am only guessing.

When I settle into the swim, I see myself from above. I am a tiny water insect skimming the surface of a pond, just like I have watched those tiny thin limbed fly things do when I was on a ‘ponding’ field trip with my then grade schoolers.

Imagine, so tiny and insignificant from the heavens above. I wonder who is watching sometimes. (Durga tends to be in front of me, or lurking on the shoreline I am swimming toward, or in the ribbon of sunlight streaming along the water surface.) But above, where the planes fly. Who watches?

The reflection of the late fall trees, those that haven’t completely given up on their crisp dry leaves, makes the pond magical today. They lie still, in the mirror, doubly basking in the sun. And today, not a whisker of a breeze.

How is it I can be part of this picture? Is it like that scene from Mary Poppins and the paintings on the pavement. I jumped into one and into another world. Thumbs up to that!

Thumbs are very important after swimming for any length of time at this temperature. My fingers become useless with cold. They have no strength to open even the plastic packaging of a chemical hand warmer sack. (But thankfully the Saturday sunshine today bought many pond seekers, and they always seem happy to watch and chat with late season swimmers.) Where I would normally use my fingers, the distal joints in my fingers and thumb performing a number of tasks, gripping the cord attached to the zipper of my wet suit, holding a glove or sock, or pulling at the tight neoprene around the ankle, I know find they are pretty useless. I am left fumbling at things with the thumb only, trying to grip things between it and the index finger side of my palm. A short insight into how it would be to have to operate without the use of grip strength and feeling. I remember watching my daughter’s hands work (or not work) in exactly the same manner when chemotherapy caused very serious neuropathy I her hands and feet two years ago.

With this, I know the season is drawing to a close for me. I am thankful for the heater in the women’s bathroom block in the car park. And warmth returns my fingers to function.Tomorrow I want to find the rhythm I lacked in my stroke today, after a four day break. But with the next bout of cold nights, and a further drop in the water temperature, I know I will have to find a way to release the spiritual from the physical practice of swimming for me, and wait out another winter.

But First…



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