Notes from the shallow end

I know you’ll be pleased to hear that I haven’t drowned yet!  I’ve had four swimming lessons so far, and I am surprised at each lesson how much yoga teacher training prepared me for this process.  Learning to teach has taught me how to learn.

Asphalt Green, the sports facility where I’m taking lessons, offers both one-on-one lessons and group classes.  While I ultimately decided to go with the group class, one of my fears going in was that I would quickly fall behind, grow frustrated (and let’s face it, embarrassed) and give up.  It wouldn’t be the first time that happened to me in an athletic setting.  (See also: high school gym class.)  I decided to go with the group setting because it would give me regularly scheduled opportunities to practice, and so far, I’m happy with my choice.

Here are a few of the things I’ve been thinking about, in between strokes:

The Demo

As a yoga student, I know how helpful a good demonstration can be as part of the learning process.  I’ll never forget my first headstand in a yoga class: I watched the teacher demo and could really envision myself in the pose.  Lo and behold, when it was my turn to try, I found that I was able to lift myself up without too much drama.  As a teacher, I know that if I’m taking time out of my class to show something, there are specific things I want my students to take away from the demo.  It’s not just for showing off, honest!

In swim class, I try my best to pay close attention when the teacher demos.  Being a beginner in a new field can be so eye-opening, because you see things with fresh eyes.  In yoga, I am trained to know the alignment of poses, look at bodies and see what’s going on.  When I watch our teacher demo the arm motions for an exercise, I hardly know what to focus on, much less how to get that particular motion into my body!  Luckily, I have Sutra 14 to help me: practice goes on for a long time, without break, with full devotion.  It’s ok if I can’t figure out the arm thing!  Practice goes on for a long time.

Breathing

Learning to take a full, complete cycle of breath is an exercise in meditation in itself.  In yoga, a full cycle of breath includes the inhale, retention at the top of the breath, exhale, and retention when you are completely emptied of breath.  Simply observing the breath can be as valuable as trying to change or manipulate it.  And it takes practice to do any of that.

I have always been puzzled by trying to breath while swimming, and most previous attempts have ended in an unfortunate case of water up the nose.  No, I haven’t really gotten the hang of it yet.  But being intimately familiar with my own cycles of breath makes the learning process just a bit simpler.

Props

We always resist the props, don’t we?  I don’t need that block, I can reach the floor, I swear!  My elbows never splay out in wheel pose, I don’t need to strap my arms.  Riiight.  The props are really our best friends: they tell us what we don’t want to hear but really legitimately need to know.

What props do you need for swimming?  Well, you swimmers out there probably already know, but if you had asked me this a few weeks ago I would have stared blankly at you.  A kickboard is one thing, though I secretly wish I never had to give mine up.  (So easy to float!)  It’s the swim cap and goggles that are really key.  In previous swimming attempts, I have definitely resisted wearing either.  The swim cap looks ridiculous and pulls at my hair, the goggles get all fogged up and give me those silly raccoon eyes…

Yea, you know what though?  The swim cap and goggles serve a real and practical purpose, which you swimmers must already know all about.  They remove distraction (hair strangling you, chlorine burning your contact lenses into your eyeballs…) and help you focus on the task at hand.  I’m embracing them.