The sun is hot over my temporary home on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and even though it’s barely Spring, I ask my mother if we can go to the pool. (While we go through escrow, my husband and I are her guests in an “active 55+” community, and we are not allowed to go to the pool without a resident escort, even though we’re nearly old enough to live here in our own rights.)
It’s after four in the afternoon, so the pool is quiet, almost empty. My mother enters the water carrying her foam barbells. She goes to a corner of the shallower part of the pool, right near a powerful inflow jet. She’s doing water yoga, sporting a big floppy hat even in the pool.
I move toward the deeper side, where there are lanes marked for lap-swimming. I’m not the world’s greatest athlete, but I learned to swim before I could walk, and while I’ll happily frolic when there are beach balls around, or body surf in the ocean, swimming laps is something that is as much exercise as meditation for me.
Yes, you read that correctly: swimming can be a form of meditation.
Technically, anything can be a form of meditation. For many people, me included, journaling is a meditative practice. For others, it could be yoga or gardening (weeding is an incredibly mindful activity) or taking a walk outside.
But for me, the best form of meditation is swimming laps.
I lift first one arm, and then the other, putting all my consciousness into each motion. As I’m using my hands to literally displace water and move forward, I’m also metaphorically displacing stressful thoughts. We’ve spent the last few days negotiating roof repairs with the sellers of the house we’re purchasing, but now it’s all resolved, so I send that stress across the pool and into the filter-trap.
After a few laps, I’m paying attention only to my body moving in the water. I’m not trying to be the perfect swimmer – I’m too short and round for that – but I can be present in every stroke of my arms and kick of my feet. (Learning to kick without splashing was what started me on this journey.)
In my head, I hear the instructions I received at my very first swimming lesson; it’s become a sort of mantra: breath arm, bubble arm, breath arm, bubble arm. It reminds me to breathe. Swimming laps is not free diving, after all. Oxygen is plentiful if I just turn my head.
I don’t count the number of laps I swim. I keep going until the light changes and I’m pleasantly tired. A wave takes me out of my ‘zone’ and I realize another swimmer has joined me. Across the pool, my mother beckons. “Are you ready for the hot tub?” she asks.
I exit the pool and enjoy the faint nip of cool air underneath the waning heat of the day. The hot tub is the perfect button to the afternoon, sending me into evening relaxed and in better touch with myself.
Swimming laps is exercise, but it’s also my meditation practice; what’s yours?