I grew up on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where you’d have to try hard to be more than 25 minutes’ drive from a body of water. In this environment, everyone learned to swim as a child. It was as essential a life skill in childhood as driving would become in our teen years. When I was a kid, summer meant my brother and I would check the newspaper to find out when the tide was high that day, then plan a trip accordingly, piling barefoot into my mother’s car, sitting on old towels, for a five-minute drive to the local river. These days, I’m too far from the coast to worry about tides, but I cherish every opportunity to get into a pool.
If you have been sitting on the sidelines, why not make this the summer you jump into the water? Aside from being fun, and cooling on a hot day, swimming is a great full-body workout. Among cardio activities, it’s unique in that your speed is not purely tied to your effort. Instead, you learn to practice smooth and efficient gliding through the water. As such, it can be a meditative practice, helping you to be fully present in your body and with the water in every moment.
There are lots of adult swim classes out there to meet you at any level of ability. You don’t need much to get started. A well-fitting swimsuit that allows you free arm and leg movement without slipping or falling off is number one! If you’re planning to hit the swimming pool, I’d also strongly recommend a swim cap and goggles. They’re less of a necessity for relaxed open-water swimming, but they do help keep your hair protected and give you confidence in putting your face into the water. Outdoor swimmers may benefit from goggles with tinted lenses to shade some of the glare. Anything beyond this – noseclips, earplugs, flutterboard, shower sandals – may be handy, but you can get along fine without them.
There are certain issues I often hear about from beginning adult swimmers. Here are their solutions:
Fatigue. If you can barely get from one end of the pool to the other without stopping to gasp for breath, and you are otherwise in good cardiovascular shape, slow down your movement. You’re putting in too much effort in a way that’s inefficient – for example, you may be letting your legs hang down and creating drag for yourself. Relax your body, be mindful of your movements, and regulate your breathing. Unless you’re actually trying to sprint, you should be comfortable taking a breath on every third stroke of front crawl, for example.
Stomach cramps. Swimming on a full stomach works about as well as running on a full stomach, which is to say that it doesn’t. Wait an hour after a meal before trying a swim workout. Beyond this, it comes back again to regulating your breathing, in the same way that relaxed breathing helps with sidestitches in running.
Foot cramps. Almost every swimmer has had the experience of their toes suddenly seizing up painfully. The solution: Electrolytes. Eat a banana before you swim, or drink some non-sugary electrolytes. I recommend Vega, or Ultima Replenisher.
Self-consciousness in your swimsuit. I know. A few pieces of fabric stand between you and total nudity, and it seems like nothing is left to the imagination. Here’s the secret you will quickly figure out at any swim workout: no one is looking, and no one cares. All you really see when you swim is the water under and ahead of you. When I share a pool with other swimmers, I barely even notice the color of their swim cap, let alone the shape of their body. We’re all just there to do our own thing. You don’t need to lose that extra five pounds or get a “bikini body”. Just jump in!
On a final note, Parvati Magazine had a great interview last year with Terry Laughlin of Total Immersion Swimming. Total Immersion is an excellent place to start to develop more mindful smoothness and ease in the water. Check it out!
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and the Communications Manager for Kupid’s Play Records. In addition, she is the editor for Parvati’s forthcoming books “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie” and “Aonani and the Emissary of the Blue Star”.