I’ve been trying to work my way up to swimming a continuous mile – that’s 30 laps without stopping, by using flip-turns at the end of each length. How hard this may seem is relative. Regular swimmers do that much just to warm up. Beginners like I was a few years ago, however, find it difficult to make their way through a single lap without panicking, hyperventilating or just plain stopping.
I’ve also learned that it’s relative to other factors: how well I’ve slept, what I ate for breakfast, where I am in my hormonal cycle, things that are going on in my life, and so on. All this adds up to an adage you’ve probably heard in whatever physical activities you do: Some days are better than others. Sometimes you’re strong, fast and confident; others, you’re weak, slow and cranky.
Last Monday was one of the latter type of days for me. I felt like I was swimming through corn syrup. The harder I tried, the more tired I got, the harder it was to breathe.
Around lap 15, as my frustration mounted, I considered calling it a day, but didn’t really want to. If I was to keep going, I’d have to summon my yoga skills. I slowed down and shortened the number of strokes between breaths, so I could be more aware of what was happening in my mind and body.
I quickly realized that I was tense in the neck and shoulders. Remembering what a former colleague and Olympic swimmer had told me was the No. 1 rule of good swimming, I relaxed. I stopped trying to go so fast. I focused more on my breath than my movements for a few lengths. Soon, the corn syrup turned back to water and I was in the soothing, meditative rhythm that, for me, swimming is at its very best.
The interesting part is that I’d kept swimming throughout the transition; I was balancing effort where it was needed with surrender where it was needed. I was flowing with the current, instead of against it.
It was a good illustration of flowing with grace, as I understand this Anusara concept. You see, flowing is not floating. I recall John Friend explaining it at the 2008 Anusara Grand Gathering in Estes Park, Colo. If you step into a moving current and don’t move, he said, the water will sweep you away. If, on the other hand, you paddle too hard, you wear yourself out and get swept away anyway.
Or, as he writes in his teacher training manual, “Effort (tapas) without surrender or opening to grace (ishvara-pranidhana) creates an inner hardening and a loss of sensitivity… Conversely, openness to grace without self-effort reflects itself in a lack of action and discipline. In this case, one waits for god to do all the work.”
Yoga happens where effort and surrender strike a balance. In that space, there is unlimited potential for self-knowledge, creative movement and contentment. In that space, before you know it, you’ve gone a mile and still feel great. Isn’t that how we want to not only swim our laps, but also live our lives?