Moving In Water
by Bruce Blander
For better or worse, cold weather has finally arrived in the Northeast. I actually prefer the cool, crisp air of Winter over the hot and muggy days of Summer.
Still, I am not a huge fan of outdoor walks this time of year. So I was faced with the perennial question, “What can I do to keep moving this winter?” My favorite answer: Swimming! Indoors, that is. Probably not surprisingly, I shiver at the thought of joining one of these ‘polar bear’ clubs where some folks run into icy cold lakes in their skivvies!
Swimming is enticing as it offers the ability to engage in an activity that is both enjoyable and has numerous health benefits for your entire mind and body. I find that being in water is a wonderful way to de-stress, open your mind and let life’s daily worries float away. Water’s buoyancy supports your body and can help make movement easier. Water also provides some resistance to those movements that will help strengthen muscles. Pool exercising can also improve balance, agility and more. Please don’t just take my word for it. Do some more reading and perhaps check with your health care people to make sure it is right for you.
I have always been drawn to water, particularly in nature. I was fortunate enough to grow up on an island – even if it was only LONG Island, NY! Growing up I spent most summer days at a beach or bay, playing and swimming for the fun of it. Along the way I learned to love fishing, sailing and snorkeling and there were plenty of nearby opportunities to engage in these and other excellent water activities. There were also many indoor and outdoor pools nearby and it was at these pools that I learned a few swimming strokes, learned to feel safe in the deep end, jump and dive off of a diving board and much more.
Once I moved to Upstate New York and salt water was a minimum three hour drive away, my focus changed. I came to appreciate bodies of freshwater that have their own advantages and appeal. Whether I was camping, fishing or day hiking, lakes, streams and the like became my most rewarding destinations.
Out of The Blue
When I suddenly developed arthritis at the ripe young age of 22 (see earlier post) I was told by my doctors that swimming was one of the best things I could do for my body. Thus began my quest for places to swim, indoors and out.
As the weather cooled and snow moved in, so did I, as there are plenty of indoor pools in the area to choose from. From YMCAs and other fitness clubs, to community centers and universities, I was grateful for the numerous options I had.
Following a Swimming Hiatus
Whenever I return to the pool after a few year lapse (pun intended), I rarely start off by swimming laps in the lanes set up for that porpoise. Er, I mean purpose. Rather, I spend some time re-familiarizing myself with being back in the water. I might just do some walking around and practice my breathing, but in general I simply move my body around taking breaks as needed.
I still like to keep in mind the somewhat lost art of “playing” in water by rolling and spinning, kicking and splashing in a free-form manner. And yes, it is STILL fun!
My “ahhh…” Moment
I love the feeling of being completely under water. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to simply hold my breath and float. I barely move a muscle as I let the water envelop me; the silence is truly mesmerizing. As I shut the outside world out, I feel at peace and it helps me prepare for the movement that will follow.
To what end: Shallow or Deep?
When I’m ready to begin moving, I prefer to begin where the water is only waist high and then gradually move a bit deeper where it’s up to my chin. With many pools offering all sorts of flotation and exercise gadgets, I will don a flotation belt and head to the deep end. I will “walk,” tread water, hold on to the pool’s edge and kick, or practice my breathing.
In Over My Head
Before too long I finally and happily start to do some real swimming. I have built up my stamina while engaging many body parts. I feel ready and able to swim continuously. As I gradually increase the amount of time I can go non-stop, swimming once again becomes second nature.
Reaping the Rewards & Giving Thanks
Lap swimming is my ultimate goal. To remain in perpetual motion and get into a flow of what I believe is similar to a “Runner’s High.” Bring on the endorphins! Once I can focus less on what I am doing (i.e. swimming laps) and more on the silence and beauty of moving in water, I am a happy camper indeed.
Moving has become such a vital part of my life and The Feldenkrais Method has shown me so much of what I had been missing out on.
Movement is how I got out of bed and the house and returned to a fulfilling life of activity and awareness. Feldenkrais has enabled me not only to do more, but also to be more. Staying active year round is a prime example of this. As I had not been swimming for several years, it was Buffy who suggested it and encouraged me that returning to an activity I have long loved is just what the doctors ordered all those years ago.
Whether you are already a fan of swimming or a newbie who is looking for a unique, healthy and satisfying indoor movement activity, I hope you find as I have, that moving in water is an extremely rewarding experience.