My family has a summer cottage in Southwest Michigan, right on the lake, where I’ve been spending summers since I was a child. It’s an idyllic site, private and serene, and I think I started meditating on the beach when I was very young. Swimming was my saving grace back then, being a sport that I could excel in, even though I had what my father euphemistically called “baby fat”. (Boy did I hope he was right!) I wasn’t a fast runner, and was nearsighted to boot, so ball sports were not my forte. But I could swim!
I had never taken swimming lessons as a kid, and never really considered it it to be “exercise”. I had no absolutely technique. Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, is really tremendous. It has waves and currents and undertow similar to that of an ocean. I usually swam with my head above water, to avoid getting a mouthful when the waves came crashing at me, because really, I was just playing.
When I first moved to New York, my boyfriend had a membership in a classy upper East side sports club, and he invited me for a swim. I had never done a lap in my life, and knew nothing about kick boards, goggles, fins, or any of the swimming gear. I just jumped in and started playing as if I were in the lake, swimming under water, diving and doing my thing, back and forth. When we got out of the water, my friend looked at me curiously and said ”What were you doing?”
It didn’t take me long to get the hang of doing laps, once I put my mind to it, because I was motivated by the fact that I could swim all winter long. My boyfriend bought me some terrific fins, which I still use, and believe me, it’s not “cheating”. You can really get a great workout using pool parafinalia, and it makes doing the laps more fun.
Often when I go swimming alone in Lake Michigan, I’ll take a kick board, rubber raft or inner tube with me out into the water. It becomes almost like a playmate, sort of like when Tim Hanks bonds with the basketball in the movie, CAST AWAY, and I find I will stay in the water much longer, and therefore get more exercise.
Swimming has many of the same benefits as yoga, including the stretching, and the deep breathing. At the end of my laps I would always take time out to just float, and relax totally in the water before getting out, which gives a similar benefit to a deep relaxation.
I love to swim! The reason I bring this up is because we all need to find a sport that gives some good cardiovascular workout, but it has to be something that doesn’t feel like work, or a punishment! You have to love your sport. You want to get into a place in your head where you’re playing like a child, with enthusiasm and abandon. Every day, we should all go out and play. Our bodies are designed to move, our hearts are muscles that need to be strengthened by exercise. Our lungs need to breathe deeply so we can throw out the stale carbon dioxide that drops to the bottom of our lungs. Out with the old, in with the new! Next time you need to say “no” to a chore that your boss wants to talk you into doing, just say, “I’m sorry I have to go out and play now”.
If you find you really aren’t ready for exercise, start with the easy asanas, especially the ones that tone and strengthen the inner organs. The viscera! I love that word! Because we are made up of all this slimy goo that stagnates and gets funky when we sit around too much. I remember after I had my second child, I could feel how the insides of my body were soft and sloshing around inside me! Before I started to do any vigorous exercise, I toned up by using the yoga asanas. It didn’t take long before I felt things shaping up, and I felt so much better. I maybe didn’t look that much better, because I had really plumped up during my pregnancy, and as a nursing mother, my boobs had become like big water balloons! But the asanas helped get my innards back into place after nine months of pregnancy had squished and shoved my organs into new and unexpected places and shapes. As my neighbor said “You’ve expanded the room”, as if talking about the renovation of a condo.
The body is extremely forgiving. Swami Satchidananda said “health is your birthright”, and I’ve seen time and again, making some small changes, a little bit every day, can bring about great healing.