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March 16, 2016

Swimming & Meditating—The Perfect Combo.

swimmer, under water

You might have heard about the Taoist “being water” metaphor.

This metaphor implies a passive process, but is a persistent, passionate, elastic inner trend we can develop.

After 10 years of Tai Chi and Taoist yoga—being told to imitate water and learn how to float—I felt stuck in my practice. I tried everything: I changed my teacher, my town, my mat and my friends. Nothing worked.

I was wondering what do we do with all the instructions that teachers give us in our yoga or meditation practice?

The process of transforming intuition into action can be fast and once the voice comes, the decision follows and changes are practically done. In some cases one’s hesitation and the time in between the real decision turns into a generator of doubts, tears, and internal fights.

I had to leave my yoga teacher, and stop chasing for certifications.

In order for the intuition to come back, everything needed to be erased.

As I worked back towards my idea of “natural flowing”, I started swimming and meditating. I had a swimming subscription as a gift from my mum and I got back to a meditation practice without making a real decision. It simply just happened.

How is water connected with meditation? The answer refers back to emotions.

Those two practices are very much connected and they can really lift up our true essence, more than any physical practice we can do by blindly following a master teacher or imitating movement while comparing ourselves to the other people in the room, and pretending we are holding a peaceful space inside.

Water is pretty much the symbol of the unconscious. Being well hydrated and honoring the water in our cells can have concrete effects on emotions.

Drinking our proper daily amount of water is an actual fear-killer ritual. Daily meditation practice works in the same way.

Hydration is connected to kidneys and kidneys are the bean shaped cradles for life.

Each glass of water helps you move forward as there are benefits in terms of mental health coming from drinking water. It is deep cleansing of thoughts and tissues as well.

It helps your joints and muscles, it promotes your temperature regulation, weight balance, health of the skin, digestion, metabolism.

Meditation benefits have been monitored for a long time now and they focus on how meditation produces changes in the brain, especially in relation to the grey density matter areas of the brain related with anxiety and stress.

The two beans in the back , the kidneys, and the two wrinkled walnut like parts on the top, brain hemispheres, both benefit from meditating and swimming.

Here are some benefits and joys I discovered since I started swimming and meditating:

Enjoy the silence.

Well, underwater you cannot speak. And it is a fact. It teaches you to save a lot of energy even when out of the pool. Exactly like managing your thoughts through meditation. It means that meditating and swimming increase your will to say exactly what you want to say and nothing more. Whenever we dedicate time to meditation and swimming we create a kind of pure light hitting our inner core and opening our pores, cleaning our mouth, entering in deep contact with our will and the possibility to express it with true words increases in such a way you cannot expect. In silence you also deeply connect with what breathing means. You cannot take breath properly if you do not slowly breath out underwater. As in meditation, you are really facing the reality of being alive and the value of each single breath.

It develops humility.

When you swim, you are swimming. Completely. It seems ridiculous and way too simple but it is more than true. When you swim you don’t give a sh*t about your timing and your speed. You are into your swimming. It is exactly what happens to you when you are in a long Vipassana retreat. When you meditate, you have other people meditating near to you, might they be advanced or beginner students. People are there fighting their mindful minds, their thoughtful brains, as you are doing as well. And sometimes you lift up the head, open up the eyes and find them in the same position. There is an Italian popular idiom that sounds like “Stare sulla stessa barca” and it sounds a bit like “We are in the same boat, we’re all in this together.” It means having the humility and objectivity to realize that we all will die, suffer, forgive, forget, eat, piss, sh*t, smile and cry. Developing humility also means suspending judgment.

Find your own style.

We have our own way to deal with demons. Exactly like some swimmers who go for the freestyle stroke or breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly stroke, side stroke. During meditation a lot of emotions merge and you learn to deal with them in your own way and in the meanwhile accepting all that is coming, might it be tears, laughing or the impossibility to clear the sky that is inside your heart. And you connect to the fact that approaches are infinite and they all seem to be some manifestations of the same divine energy.

The importance of being horizontal.

Okay, it could be considered a difference, as when swimming you are horizontal and when meditating you usually want to sit having your back straight. Even in active or walking meditation you have this attention to a straight and erect spine. There is a difference of course and the intersection point relies on one simple word: gravity. Both the activities allows you to deeply experience the relationship with gravity. The way in which you move your body on earth will change while practicing a discipline in which you deal with the resistance of water and feel the cost of being straight in the spine. As meditating, swimming can really improve your yoga or tai chi practice or similar, you will feel a total different approach to slow movement and transitions. The relationship with your own “human vehicle” will totally change.

Courtesy, silent kindness.

Sometimes you exchange some words with other swimmers and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes they smile while you are getting near to the pool lane you are about to enter in and they might smile at you and whisper a nice, ”I warmed up the water for you while swimming.” It is the same courtesy you experience when you are meditating and you meet others eyes and you smile with yours. Especially in Vipassana meditation silence has to be respected and even simple actions can help a lot and be appreciated by while meditating and struggling with ones inner demons.

Cleaning and adding light to the quality of our actions.

Sure, chlorine is no good but there is also a ritual in the shower part. Parts of your body might be red because of stimulation of the tissue and blood circulation, you might be in a hurry to arrive somewhere else but while taking a shower you can sing, pray, close the eyes. And it is a gift. Just like hearing the ringing bell when meditation is done. A lot of emotions passed through during swimming or meditating. A lot of thoughts. In-between our instinctive will and intellectual center there is a large space in which we deal with emotions and we learn to manage them more effectively.

Swimming and meditation can also be the bridge to get back to a pure yoga or Tai Chi practice or any other bodywork developing awareness that you’ve been leaving behind for any kind of emotional reasons.

And my last tip: you know about the voracity sometimes connected in swimming and the apathy some others connect to meditation? It is all untrue. Some people think they can gain weight quite easily through those two activities because seated meditation is not a dynamic practice and swimming can really build muscles and make you larger.

This is false. These two practices are related as they both remove toxins. Then of course we all are different but thinking about swimming or meditation in terms of gaining or losing weight activities it is a waste of time. If one finds that you are hungry after swimming, my advice is: be sure you are drinking more water.

One easily confuses hunger with thirst. Exactly like in meditation, you start recognizing the nature of some of your  cravings and desires.

In other words, by swimming or meditating, you gain lightness, in term of internal focus and distance from weighty mental processes, unaware sluggishness.

And if you want any happy ending: I’m now relaxed, new, open. In my practice and in my relationships. And if I want to dance after the exercises, I do. And when I want to go swimming, I prepare my bag with the purest heart I’ve ever felt in my chest that can even deal with some chlorine.

Author: Elisa Cappelli

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

Photo: Jacob Walti  / Unsplash

Featured photo: Express Lane Photography / Flickr 

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Elisa Cappelli