At the beginning of last summer my body sent me a very strong message– get the gears moving or they’ll cease up. I had been in pain for several months – my hips and knees paying me back for years of tough love as I put them through some pretty hard knocks in my younger days. Now, in my late 30’s, the years I moonlighted as a competitive figure skater have turned into nights filled with joint pain and seemingly never-ending cracks, pops, and the occasional, slightly concerning, snap. Oh to be young again.
For several months my body kept putting images of swimming in my head. A new aquatic centre recently opened in my city and for some time I had wanted to check it out. I finally chose to listen to what my body was telling me and made a synchronized move to the pool. With the sing song line of “swimming, swimming, in the swimming pool” ringing in rhythmic repeat through my brain, I donned a new bathing suit and made the (literal) plunge into the still fairly new Olympic sized pool. Over the next hour I swam and swam and swam and swam – I just kept swimming. Twice a week for several months I followed this routine. It didn’t take long for me to build my endurance and tone my muscles. The added bonus, and one that I honestly didn’t anticipate, was how incredibly relaxed I became. While doing length after length of the backstroke I would stare up at the ceiling and ponder everything from the meaning of life to what I would do for the rest of the day. At times I was so lost in thought that I’d literally run into the edge of the pool. It didn’t take long for these workouts to become joyous periods of freedom and abandonment; welcomed separations from the “outside” world. No people, no phone, no interruptions – just me and sweet wet elixir.
As it turns out, the one thing I particularly love about swimming is the sensory deprivation. Unlike a great deal of people I know, I LIKE putting my face in the water. I have always been part fish. I remember staking claim to neighbours’ pools as a child and spending as much time as I could diving for rings at the bottom of the deep end. I would also spend way too much time playing in the bathtub – only to replace bath time with ridiculously long showers as a teenager. I have always done my best thinking with water pouring over my head and face. I guess there’s just something about H2O that I find immensely calming – it clears my mind and refreshes my senses. I guess it should be no surprise then that when I started swimming as a form of exercise I was immediately taken to a place where I felt instant peace and relaxation.
After a four month hiatus where I purposely avoided the pool because of the sub-arctic winter most of North America had the joy of experiencing (I’m a big baby when it comes to being wet and cold), I finally made the trek back to the pool. (My body was once again seizing up and not allowing me to rest in a peaceful, down-filled slumber).The moment I got into the somewhat chilly water and felt instant weightlessness I let out an overly loud sigh of relief. I swam slowly and methodically that day, retraining my body to once again pull my weight through the water. It was definitely one of my easier swims but one that lifted my spirits after a long, dark, and very cold winter.
Through my experience in aquatic wonderfulness, what I have come to appreciate most is how much we need to listen to our bodies and not what our culture/society tries to convince us what we need/should be doing to feel better. We are bombarded nearly every second of the day with advertising telling us to try this or do that in order to improve our bodies. We are solicited with visions of hope for ultimate wellness – all eventually becoming rent free tenants deep in our psyche. Personally, I have tried almost every form of exercise there is and the one that I have stuck with (and will continue to go back to) is one that I have enjoyed since I was a child. Yes, until the day I can reenact the movie Encino Man and dig my own backyard swim pit, it will take more effort on my part to drive to the pool. However, it is a journey that I have come to enjoy for it is time spent with me for me. If I hadn’t listen to my body’s constant nagging about getting back in the water I seriously doubt that I would be in as good of shape – both physically and mentally – as I am today. I encourage you to find that sport or physical activity that challenged you as a child and re-explore it in your adult life – assuming you haven’t done so already. You never know, you may rekindle a loving relationship between your mind, body, and spirit. Rather than taking what society tells you as gospel, listen to what your body is telling you it wants – whether it is to jump in the neighbour’s pool or play a good ole game of kick the can – your body knows YOU best.
So as Nike says: “Just do it”. I guarantee your body (and soul) will thank you.
Have fun with it.