I started beginners swimming lessons last week and was so excited! I’ve tried to take to swimming several times before but have never had good experiences. Time passes and I thought, yes, let’s do this! Our first class involved placing our faces in water and blowing bubbles. Sounds simple, right? Yes, well…. as soon as I did it, the exhale came out super fast, panic and anxiety set in and fearful thoughts set off like colourful exploding fireworks. The worse being “I can’t breathe.”
I came up, and thought… “This is about breathing, I understand breathing.” A big inhale and then face in water, exhale, blowing bubbles. Similar experience again.
This time I thought, let me try a yoga breath I practice which is a lovely relaxation technique – focus on slowing down the exhale by adding pauses. A longer exhalation has a physiological impact – it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to move one from a ‘fright and flight’ to a ‘resting and digesting’ response.
It entirely changed my experience and allowed me to be present in every moment in what I was doing. Blowing bubbles, pause, “I am floating in the water with my face down”, blowing bubbles, pause “This is OK, I am alright, the water feels cool on my face”, blowing bubbles, pause “This feels magical, I am blowing bubbles” and face up, inhale. I was floating face down in the water for 5 times as long as before.
The experience was profound and a valuable reminder. Breathing is my strongest ally. I realised that day, my biggest obstacle in learning how to swim was the minds fear and its’ impact upon my breathing when I am trying to swim. By adding pauses to the exhale, the whole experience slowed down and it allowed me to be present and to observe my thoughts – increasing awareness.
This wasn’t an easy experience, but one that yoga made more accessible. I went back again 2 days later to practice on my own what I had learnt. The fear is still there in the background. But yoga has given me the space to challenge it. Every journey begins with the first step.
Once again I realise, it’s all about the breath. Yoga truly is a life practice!
A big thank you to Newham Council and the newly refurbished Atherton Leisure Centre, bringing together a diverse local community and creating a lovely space, with great facilities for all to enjoy a more active and healthy lifestyle. The Swim school is great, with friendly Instructors and offers a wide range of classes.
Peace and love, Sky