June 7, 2013

Swim or Sink? Can Swimming Improve the Yoga Practice & Vice Versa? ~ Agnieszka Czarnecka

When on beach holidays, it is easy to find distractions and excuses to procrastinate our yoga practice.

From tiny hotel rooms, catching up with sleep, to one-too-many margaritas—wild excuses are always at hand. Fortunately, the heat of the sun and the turquoise waters are also at hand, tempting us with a healthy daily dip ‘n swim in the ocean.

It was once during those leisurely long swims that I started to feel the commonalities that exist between swimming and yoga. Later, back in the usual cold and darkness of Europe’s winter, I would realize the impact those daily swims had on my practice.

Most of us can swim in one way or another.

I am grateful to be one of those to whom the love for swimming came naturally during childhood. I am able to swim effortlessly for miles. I often get asked, how can you swim for so long without being tired? I even got offered a part-time job teaching swimming back in Singapore, but how would I teach about something that I cannot explain?

Eager to find the answer, I submerged myself into researching the swimming mechanics during my daily swims.

Striving to swim mindfully, I managed to break the technique into smaller pieces. The realization was exhilarating. Exactly as it is for yoga—proper breathing and correct body alignment are the key factors that define a good swimmer.

Have you ever seen someone swimming with their chin high up, as if they were scared of getting their mouth wet? Those are the people who can’t swim for a long time, as they get exhausted very quickly. Why?

Firstly, the fear of swallowing water disturbs their healthy breathing pattern. Their breath becomes short and shallow, not only making them feel tired and dizzy but also removing the air in the lungs that makes us float better.

Same as in yoga: a slow, regular breath during movement and while holding an asana (yoga posture) will slow down the heart beat and increase your stamina. More stamina will allow a longer, more efficient (and eventually) effortless practice.

If you want to swim for long distances and not sink—you’d better watch your breath, keep the chin at water level and focus on your out-breath (blow your bubbles!).

Secondly, the fear of swallowing water makes us bring our chin too far out of the water: this in turn disrupts our body alignment. We over-arch our spine, inadvertently creating more water resistance and facilitating sinking.  The same in yoga: proper alignment optimizes one’s practice in many ways.

So next time you take a dip, here are some alignment tips:

Make sure to tuck your chin in so that the back of the neck is in line with the rest of the spine. This will prevent the legs from sinking down, taking the pressure off the upper body. By lengthening your tailbone towards the heels and with regular symmetric leg and arm strokes you will swim faster and feel lighter.

Ultimately yoga practice is in the attention and awareness of what we do and how we do it. Whether in the water, on the yoga mat or elsewhere you happen to be at this precious moment—right now.



Agnieszka is a certified yoga teacher (YA 500 hours) and currently teaches at her studio on Koh Phangan island in Thailand. Although her degree is in classical music her heart stays with the ancient healing technique known as yoga. She is passionate about spreading the benefits of the practice to anyone who enters through her door. For more info on her Ashtanga and Hatha Flow classes please visit her website or like her on Facebook.



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  • Assistant Ed: Dusty Ranft
  • Ed: Brianna Bemel
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