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This weekend has been themed a bit around discomfort, but in positive sense (for the most part, aside from my aching back). As in, unease in taking risks, breaking out of “safe” zone, stepping out of your comfortable boundaries. Like in yoga, when we’re chilling in Warrior I and realize we can perhaps bend the front leg a little more and sink further into the stretch. Little baby steps outside of our “I feel jusssst fine” mentality.

For example, on Friday night I went to the gym for my usual 30 minutes of swimming. However, that night I decided on a whim that instead of swimming to the wall, stopping, putting my feet down, turning around, and pushing off again, I was going to try something different and do an open turn every time I hit the wall. An open turn is an easier alternative to the wall flip as a means to keep swimming rather than stop–even for a few seconds–to switch directions. You approach the wall underwater, push off with your hands to give you the force to turn your body around, and then push off the wall with your feet.

After just a few minutes of doing this, I was really feeling it. I was never one to linger at the wall before, but it’s amazing how having your feet on the ground for just a few seconds is a generous mini-break. Take those few moments out of the equation, and my heart was PUMPING. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go back to my “normal” way of doing it, but there’s was also a part of me that was determined to flow past the initial fear. Sure enough, maybe about 10 minutes into the session, I was still feeling it but I had reached a new level of OK-ness. My brain switched from OMGWTF#(*#*&!!Imgonnadrown! to “Uff, this is a tough workout, but I feel strong!” Even crazier, when I glanced at the clock and saw I had been swimming for 31 minutes, I honestly wanted to keep on going, even though I usually wrap things up at the half-hour mark. So I continued for another 10 minutes. I was utterly exhausted when I finished, but it was such an accomplishment to try something new, kinda scary, and be cool with it in the end.

My other big foray into the New & Scary was the “Introduction to the Spirit World” workshop I attended with a friend on Saturday. To be honest, neither of us had a genuine, heartfelt interest in the subject matter; it was more of a skeptic, eyebrow-raising curiosity that led us to the event. The flier promised techniques to help us raise our vibration, connect with our spirit guides, and communicate with said guides through visualization. The program was also BYOC. That’s bring-your-own-crystal, BTW. Although I am used to meditating and have certainly felt shifts of energy and vibrations, especially after very powerful dancing practices, the rest of this program material was wayyyy out of my comfort zone. My intentions were probably 20% based on curiosity and 80% more of a dubious investigative journalist approach. An embedded blogger, maybe?

I didn’t have any crystals on hand, but my friend’s fiance had an entire dusty box stashed under their bed, and I borrowed an amethyst from the treasure chest. We didn’t spend too much time focusing on crystals, and the most we did with them was hold them in our hands while we tried to connect with our spirits. I can’t say I necessarily felt anything different, but I still gotta give crystals some credit–they do emit higher frequencies of energy. I mean, for my 5th grade science fair project, my dad helped me get a transistor radio to play, powered by nothing but crystals and some metal wires and stuff. The instructor also explained that crystals–in the form of salt–is what makes us feel so cleansed after a day at the beach in the ocean. The salt purifies our bodies, removes negative energy, and makes our bodies more open and receptive to positive energy, to connect with our source. Now, I’m not ready to go out buy a quartz tower and make my husband turn our office into an official “crystal room,” but I don’t see the harm in wearing crystal pendants or earrings. It certainly can’t hurt.

However, the majority of the workshop–the talk about the spirit guides–really made me antsy. Although I kind of understood the statement, “You are a spirit first, having a human experience,” I wasn‘t so sure about the other spirits who are supposedly surrounding me. “You are not permitted to walk alone on this planet,” the instructor said, who paused every now and then while talking, looking a bit distracted, explaining to us that she was listening to her spirit guides and that she didn’t mean to be rude. At one point, as she was gesturing with her hands, she give a little giggle, apologized, and explained that she had just accidentally poked her spirit in the eye. She told happy stories of being guided through difficult situations by her spirit guides and not-so-happy stories, like the time her spirit guide of five years decided to move on and essentially “broke up” with her. We took time to sit in stillness, increase our vibration, and try to connect with our spirit guides. Some people in the room had done this before and described feeling, say, a man on one side and a woman on the other. I experienced what I usually experience during meditation–a feeling of warmth and expansion. My palms and arms were pleasantly warm, and my body felt a bit like it was a balloon being gently filled with air. I felt it in my hands the most; they were resting palm-up on my lap, and during the deepest part of meditation, it felt as though my fingers were growing like wild plants, each digit growing and growing like Freddy Kruger claws but with the appearance of tree roots.

The instructor went around the room, her hands waving in front us like she was washing an invisible window. She praised the “regulars” for their amazing energy and clear chakras. My friend’s energy was deemed questionable. And when the instructor approached me to tune my chakras, she grew very concerned that I could not relax. It was true–we had been sitting in metal folding chairs for more than an hour, and my hip and lower back were killing me. (I hope she knew it was hip bothering me and not my first chakra!) She poked and prodded me, asked how old I was, and urged me to have a session with her. Yikes! I felt like the yoga newcomer who couldn’t even master child’s pose while everyone else in the class is up in handstand. Even the other first-timer at the program, who at first complained about not being able to feel or see or understand anything spiritual or energetic, by the end of class was describing being surrounded by four spirit guides–and was able to name them, nonetheless! My friend didn’t see any spirit guides but she did have a pretty intense emotional release that simply fascinated the other attendees and instructor. I, however, was the “special” student, who had to move to the floor because her legs hurt and who didn’t have any releases or presentations from spiritual sidekicks. But I’m OK with that, because I did have a nice meditative experience, enjoyed that brief feeling of expansion and lightness, and was happy for my friend for being able to get rid of emotional gunk that had been buried in her heart.

Lastly, I did something today that I never thought would happen: I willingly decided NOT to attend a 5Rhythms class. The decision was not an easy one, because I have attended every class at this particular location since its inception in November; I am a regular! But it’s an hour drive away, gas prices are getting ghastly, and, um, I actually listened to my body. This whole week my body has felt totally out of whack since I took a 2-mile walk in new (and now returned) sneakers. I’m not just talking about an achy lower back; it has felt like someone tried to twist my entire top half off like a bottle cap. I’ve felt crooked in downdogs, my shoulder felt weird when I swam on Friday, and my hip has been acting up again. So instead of dancing like a wild woman for two hours at 5Rhythms today, I RSVP’d “No” on the group website and texted my massage therapist in a panic: “R U available for an hour today? Please?!?!?!” Luckily she had an open slot, and thank gosh I took it: She took one look at my naked back and said I was totally off kilter. Everything on my left side was completely torqued, from my neck down to my hips.

So, as it turns out, sometimes the comfort zone is a good place to be, and finding the willpower to refrain from plowing ahead is the challenge. I was at my edge this morning and really didn’t want to creep any further off the precipice by delving into a high-intensity dance practice. Saying “no” to 5Rhythms and attending to my body first, asking for comfort, was my “discomfort” zone. And I’m glad I went there.

I cringed as I unpacked my swimming gear last evening at the gym–swim cap, goggles, ear plus, towel–but I had forgotten my stopwatch.

Ugh, this is going to be the lonnnnnngest-feeling workout, ever! I groaned to myself. I usually wear the watch to keep track of my time; I’ll do freestyle for 10 to 12 minutes, then bust out some kickboard/freestyle intervals, and then at the 30-minute mark finish off with a few laps of just arm work. The watch keeps me on target, especially because the wall clocks are too small to see from the pool.

When I’m wearing the watch, my first glance is usually at the 6-minute mark (4 minutes until I can do the kickboard!). Then again at 8.5 (almost there!). I’ll glance down again around 10 minutes, but then I’ll tell myself, Eh, just go till 12 before starting the kickboard. So, in essence, a good deal of my workout is spent peering down at the watch, being disappointed about how little I’ve swam, and continuing until I hit the appropriate number.

But last night, with my wrist naked, I jumped into the water and began my freestyle warm-up. The water felt great on my skin, having come from a roasting 82-degree office building. The late-day sun was streaming into the windows, making the water look like fire when I came up for air. The only other person in the pool was a woman in the lane next to me, whose steady laps created a rhythmic whoosh-whoosh-whoosh that matched mine.

What I dream of every time I go to the gym: An empty pool.

When I finally stopped long enough to squint over at the wall clock, I couldn’t believe my goggled eyes. 12 minutes! I had gotten in the water at 6:10, and it was now 6:22. How did that happen? Why did I not get antsy at the 6-minute mark? Or 8 minutes? How did I swim that long and steady without feeling the urge to check my time?

I started my kickboard intervals at that point, rotating between one out-and-back with the board and three laps of freestyle in between. Out and back. Out and back. I kept going until I felt slightly fatigued, at which point the clock told me I had been swimming for 30 minutes. This blew my mind, because I still had energy to continue. And I did; I did a few more laps of freestyle and then my standard concluding laps of just arms. I had been swimming for a total of 35 minutes and probably looked at the clock only 4 times, as opposed to the 25 times I normally check my watch.

Here I was concerned that not having my watch was going to drag out my workout, but in fact the opposite held true. Unbound by numbers, I relied on my body’s intuition and natural energy reserve to carry me through. I’m not going to lie–sometimes swimming can be dreadfully boring, and having come from a hot office after a long day at work with no emergency afternoon caffeine in my system, I was certain I was going to want to bail out after 15 minutes. But I did my complete workout–and then some–and felt strong the entire time.

Can numbers be a nuisance? Of course! It’s fitting that just the other day I listened to this Radiolab podcast about ultra-runnner Diane Van Deren, who, due to severe epilepsy, had part of her brain removed. It was the temporal lobe that was taken out, the part that makes sense of time and space. Not only can Diane not read a map (it looks like nothing but random lines and shapes to her), but the concept of time–minutes, hours, days–in the grand scheme of things makes no sense to her. So part of the reason she is able to do (and complete) these insane endurance events (we’re talking days of running) is because the sentence “I have been running for 200 hours in the Yukon” means the same as “I have been running for 2 hours in the Yukon.” Numbers are just numbers to Diane, and they aren’t associated with “good,” “bad,” “hellish,” or “WHY AM I STILL RUNNING?” (Talk about the Zen Buddhism concept of non-judgment!)

I keep track of my total swim time because I like to make sure I’ve gotten in enough of a workout to benefit my heart, lungs, and muscles, but having that watch can clearly slow me down, so to speak. One thing I have stopped doing is keeping track of my laps. I used to hit the “new lap” button every time I hit the wall; go till I hit 40, 45, 50, whatever I thought was “right” that day; and go home and calculate my yards and mileage. I did that until the numbers became distressing, when I was more concerned about the total laps I was going to pound out rather than the quality of my strokes and kicks. Now that I don’t worry about laps or yards, I focus more on making sure I have the proper form, that my core is stable, and that my breath is steady and even.

It’s probably a good thing I realized this when I did, because I came home and noticed that my stopwatch’s battery is dying. Could it be the universe’s way of telling me to ditch the digits? 🙂

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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