(re) learning to swim – another work in progress

Today is day two of writing every day for 30 days, and I’m sitting here at my computer screen at 5:00am with my bathing suit on under my sweatpants, my cozy boots on my feet and my pink knit hat snuggled and warm on my head … hot cup of coffee beside me.  Everyone in my house is silently sleeping upstairs except for the pup, she is looking around for me up there and I think will be curled up at my feet in a few minutes.  It was a huge accomplishment for me to crawl out of bed this morning.

Let’s just say the last thing I feel like doing is driving to the gym and jumping into the cold swimming pool for one hour of drills and laps.

By now though, I know better.  I have been swimming once a week since November, missing only one week when my son had a stomach virus.  There hasn’t been one morning yet that I have actually FELT like doing it.  Once I’m in the water (which, by the way, takes me a while … because I am a total wimp and take my time gingerly dipping my toes in before eventually just sucking it up and jumping in), I relinquish my resistant attitude and embrace the work.  Lap after lap I find myself relaxing into the water, letting go, and enjoying the swim.  Observing how I am moving my body and paying attention to the rotation of my hips, the reach of my arms, the strength of my legs, the stability of my core, the rhythm of my breathing.  It becomes therapeutic at a certain point.  I’m not moving quickly, but I’m moving with ease.  I’m not fighting myself or the water anymore.

When I was a kid I swam on my local swim team.  I remember loving it and swimming HARD in that water.  My big sister is 7 years older than I am and she was a very strong and competitive swimmer.  I wanted to be just like her, so I poured my heart into it.  Eventually though I found my love for soccer and stopped swimming.  It had been decades since I got in the pool to really swim laps.  Then one day this summer my mom was at the pool with me and my kids and offered to watch them so I could swim.  I put on my 8 year old daughter’s goggles and swam laps – butter, back, breast and free – in my J.Crew bikini.  And I loved it.  It was exhausting and exhilarating.  I told myself that after Richmond Marathon I would get a proper swimsuit and my OWN goggles and dedicate myself to a weekly swim.

When I first started swimming weekly (a few days after Richmond), I had the fitness to last a pretty long while in the pool.  But I had no idea what I was doing – retreating to habits learned when I was a kid, relying on muscle memory but having no clue (or really, care) whether or not it was the “right” way to do it.  I realized quickly though that there was something really WRONG with my swim.  Every time I needed to breathe, I would breathe from my right side.  This was a red flag to me – a sign of an imbalance or a bad habit.  So one day I decided to try to breathe from my left side, just to see what that was all about.

I thought I was going to die.

It astounded me how scary it felt to breathe on my left side.  I felt like I was in someone else’s body – someone who was severely physically impaired.  I swallowed water, my neck felt like it was being crunched and I thought I would sink to the bottom.  My initial reaction to this realization was to just stick with what was working and breathe on the right side.  Don’t go back to that horrifying place of left-side breathing!  Yikes!  It was awful!  In my heart though I knew that wouldn’t be okay with me.  I didn’t want to feed an imbalance or ignore it, so I would need to figure this out.

A few weeks later I joined the Masters swim class at my gym.  I spoke with the coach about my challenges and concerns and explained my goals.  She watched me swim and said there was a lot that was GOOD about what I was doing, but that we needed to bring me back to the basics.  I was fighting the water and completely out of control in my form – pushing hard and making it hard on myself.  She told me to break it all down just like I would my running form and take it piece by piece.   To not worry about the big picture just yet.  She had me doing drills every week.  Usually the workout has a mix of drills and intervals and it’s supposed to take us 1 hour to complete.  I would take my time with just the drills and that alone would take me basically a full hour at first.  It was humbling and HARD as all-get-out, but it is working.  I am breathing now on my left side just as easily as I am on my right side!!  I am finding balance and I can hardly believe it every week I get in the pool – the progress is so rewarding.  I’m slower now in the water, but a ton more efficient.  My hope and belief is that if I keep working on this, eventually the speed will come to me.

I remember with running I had to retrain myself with my form a few years ago.  Pilates helped me a lot with this – bringing awareness to how I was holding my pelvis and engaging my core, where I was planting my feet, how I was holding my arms and even my hands.  I took a course in Chi Running, read books on form and worked with the coaches at =PR= to better understand how to make myself more efficient – how to work less hard to move faster and more fluidly.  The same goes for swimming, and Pilates and really how we move in our every day lives.  This fact completely excites me in this totally geeky way but I can’t help it.  Proper movement, proper use of our bodies, is so healing and liberating.  I believe we are all works in progress in every aspect of our lives, including in the athletic passions that we pursue, and that it is ever changing and evolving as life unfolds.  We have the choice to ignore our imbalances and let them fester, or to step up to them and bring our awareness to them and work WITH not against ourselves and our bodies.  I truly believe the possibilities are endless if we approach our challenges this way.  Hooray for learning to swim again!

Can you relate to this?  Have you had to re-learn a way to move – whether with swimming or running or otherwise?

3 thoughts on “(re) learning to swim – another work in progress

  1. You know I was pondering this myself. As a kid I wanted to be in the water non-stop, so why do I have to talk myself in to it now?? Years of fearing swimsuits as a teen?! I don't know, but this summer I'll be embracing it!

  2. Okay this is probably a dumb question- can you “see” muscles in your abs and all, but still be “weak” in your core/abdominals?? I'm a runner experiencing some lower back stiffness/tightness and trying to figure out if it's because my abs are weak – even though it looks like they are strong. I also don't know how to “engage” my core. Is it when you suck in your belly? I must sound so DUMB!!!

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