This year I started swimming in the sea. I swim two or three times a week, about a kilometre each time. It’s coming into winter in Sydney and I’m still swimming.
The greatest surprise is how much I love it. Getting stronger and fitter was a goal I set to work on with two coaches this year as part of my coaching training and development. I’m supporting my mum who is not well as my primary life focus at present. Ensuring I balance this priority with my own self-care, well-being and fitness at this time is an important goal.
The other big surprise is how much I’ve learned from it. Like walking, swimming is a meditative practice and swimming in the sea adds other dimensions of weather conditions, sea creatures and a natural underwater world to explore as you exercise. There’s time to reflect on life as you stroke and watch the sand patterns, the fish moving and the seaweed swaying.
So here’s some learning I’ve gathered from my experiences of swimming in the sea.
10 amazing life lessons from swimming in the sea
1 You don’t have to see clearly to keep moving
Some days the water is cloudy and you can’t see well. Sure, it’s a bit off-putting but you can still exercise, keep moving and achieve the same goals. Not being able to see clearly can be challenging but it’s also something to work through and learn from. You could give up on account of not being able to see clearly but knowing where you’re eventually heading is enough to keep you moving forward. And you can develop resilience in managing the not-so-perfect conditions as well. Let’s face it – everything’s not always going to be crystal clear.
2 You can adjust your stroke to the conditions
Each day is different but you can adjust, mixing up the strokes so that you can manage the environment. When it gets choppy, breaststroke is a gentler way to ride the waves. If you need to get through some challenging currents, you might need to switch to freestyle and stroke more strongly, digging deeper. That ability to mix up your responses, dialling up and down, emphasising and de-emphasising helps you stay the distance.You can modulate your stroke, powering up and powering down, depending on the conditions. That way you can still make headway without losing too much energy in the process.
3 Breathing deeply and rhythmically is the best solution to feeling challenged
Sometimes the water’s choppy, other times your equipment proves challenging and you take in water; other times, something’s just worrying you and you feel rattled and you don’t move as smoothly through the water. But you can stop and sort the issues out, then restart, breathing deeply and rhythmically. It’s so calming and soon you’re stroking and moving with grace again. It seems that deep, rhythmic breathing is potentially the best and simplest way to tackle most situations that are troubling.
4 Getting all your equipment right helps immensely
You set out all positive but sometimes your equipment lets you down. A leaky swim mask can be so frustrating and you have to keep stopping. Without the right wetsuit, you’ll find swimming in cold water very difficult. You learn from others and from experience and the days you get all the equipment right, you swim so much better and so much more comfortably. It’s partly preparation and partly experience, but it makes all the difference when you get all the aspects working together. It’s a good reminder about the value of setting out in an organised fashion, putting in the research and listening to and learning from others.
5 Learning the names of things (like sea creatures) enriches our experience
Sage Cohen in her book, ‘Fierce on the Page‘, talks about poet Galway Kinnell’s advice to younger poets: “Learn the names of things.” Sage goes on to explain:
When we learn the vocabulary of any topic – insects, dinosaurs, solar systems, or bath towels, for example – we transcend time, space, and form, and we get to experience particular realms through the specificity of language. The names of things are the keys that unlock such raptures. (page 98)
So I’m identifying and learning the names of what I’m seeing as I swim like: magpie morwong, shovel nose ray, catfish, whiting, nudibranch, flathead, bream and sting ray. I research afterwards so I know what I’ve seen. It helps me really look at the fish and the other creatures carefully. Staying curious and learning the details provides so many resources you can use in other contexts, like writing, plus it’s so much fun.
6 Facing our fears is often as simple as just moving and doing it
Once I would never go beyond my depths in water because of a fear of things, like, well, deep water. But I was missing out on so much and the fear was out of proportion to the risk. Now I swim in deep water and I swim with tiny baby Port Jackson sharks sitting on the bottom of the sand. They’ve come into the bay to grow and I swim over them looking in wonder at their beautiful colours. So now I swim comfortably in deeper waters between boats anchored and I look down at baby sharks and it’s so empowering. It’s true, just doing what we fear can be the best way to face our fears, assessing and managing any risks but watching our tendency to overstate them.
7 Solitary activities can be more fun with the support of a friendly team
There’s no way I would do this by myself. Even though swimming is mostly a solitary activity, I swim with a group. Different locals turn up each time; there’s a core of people and we swim together. We share experiences and tips and laugh together about how crazy we are to swim in winter. We support each other and have coffee together after when it’s freezing. It makes it so much easier and more enjoyable and I learn from them. It’s a reminder that even doing solitary activities, like coaching and writing, can be so more fun when we’re supported by a friendly community. Finding ways to form groups around independent working, creativity or exercising is so valuable and will help keep us going for the long haul.
8 You can zig-zag and still get to your destination so don’t be too hard on yourself
Swimming in the sea is different to other swimming I’ve done. There’s no chlorine (yay!) and you need to learn to work with different currents and waves each day. And sometimes it gets all so interesting looking at everything under the water, you lose your direction. But it’s okay to zig-zag a bit. Over time, you get better at navigating via the tracks in the sand and keeping your line. So don’t be too hard on yourself for not swimming perfectly straight occasionally. It’s all fine – you’ll still get there and maybe learn or see something new in the process.
9 Exercise can be the best kind of meditation (Swimming with fish is the best!)
We start and end our swim near a reef with beautiful fish. Most days you can see hundreds of fish of so many different varieties. You can swim through them and above them – tiny silver fleeting fish, black and white and yellow magpie morwongs, little bright blue fish, zebra striped ones. And there’s seaweed and rocks for them to move amongst. It’s a backdrop of waving beauty and there’s light making stunning rainbow patterns on the deep sandy bottom.
To start and end the swim this way is a kind of meditative asana, like the beginning and close of a yoga class. The body begins to exercise, the mind begins to still, and then comes to rest at the end as you climb out of the water feeling like a different being. It’s important to remember that exercise can be a form of meditation – walking, yoga, swimming – and this kind of break in your week is so very needed.
10 You can be meditative, mindful and let thoughts go as you crystallise new perspectives
These ten lessons I’ve learned from swimming in the sea I gathered together whilst swimming in the sea. And like any meditative exercise, it’s a combination of being mindful and letting thoughts go as well as crystallising significant reflections. Just as you coalesce thoughts as you step out on a walk, you can gather random intuitive pieces and frame them into new shapes. For example, a blog post to share with others. Meditative exercise can help us rest the mind and also help thoughts come together into new realisations. These perspectives can be so valuable in gathering our thoughts, managing uncertainty and being resilient. And with this strength, we can be of assistance to others.
This post is dedicated to two amazing, fit women who are life coaches trained by the Beautiful You Coaching Academy: Samantha Jayne Wheatley and Jeanette Buchanan. I have had the pleasure of being coached gently by both these inspirational women. They have taught me by example and through their coaching, about the power of being healthy, of getting out and moving. And of the value of self-love and self-care in this activity and how it can be of benefit to others.
I am so grateful. Love you both xx
When you start creating for and in honor of those that have made a difference to you, your work changes.
Seth Godin, Dedicating the merit
Feature and fish image from pexels.com and used with permission and thanks.
Bottom image from a beautiful local swimming day recently.
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