When on beach holidays it is easy to find distractions and excuses to procrastinate our yoga practice. From tiny hotel rooms, catching up with sleep to one too many margaritas, wild excuses are always at hand. Fortunately the heat of the sun and the turquoise waters are also at hand and tempt us with a healthy daily dip & swim in the ocean!
It was once during those leisurely long swims that I started to feel the commonalities that exist between swimming and yoga. Later, back in the usual cold and darkness of Europe’s winter I would realize the impact those daily swims had on my practice.
Most of us can swim in one-way or the other. I am fortunate to be one of those to whom the love for swimming came naturally during childhood, and is able to swim effortlessly for a long time. I often get asked how can I swim for so long without being tired, and even I got offered a swimming teacher job back when I lived in Singapore! But how could I teach about something that I cannot explain? Eager to find the answer I submerged my self into researching the swimming mechanics during my daily swims.
Striving to swim mindfully I managed to break the technique into smaller pieces. The realization was exhilarating! Exactly as it is for yoga, proper breathing and correct body alignment are the key factors that define a good swimmer. Have you ever seen someone swimming with their chin high up as if they were scared of getting their mouth wet? Those are the people who can’t swim for a long time as they get exhausted very quickly. Why?
Firstly, the fear of swallowing water disturbs their healthy breathing pattern. Their breath becomes short and shallow, not only making them feel tired and dizzy but also removing the air in the lungs that makes us float better! Same as in yoga a slow, regular breath during movement and while holding an asana will slow down the heart bit and increase your stamina. More stamina will allow a longer, more efficient and eventually effortless practice. If you want to swim for long distances and not to sink you’d better watch your breath, keep the chin at water level and focus on your outbreath (blow your bubbles!).
Secondly, the fear of swallowing water makes us bring our chin too far out of the water. This in turn disrupts our body alignment. We overarch our spine, inadvertently creating more water resistance and facilitating sinking. The same in yoga, proper alignment optimizes one’s practice in many ways. So next time you take a dip, here are some alignment tips. Firstly, make sure to tack your chin in so that the back of the neck is in line with the rest of the spine. This will prevent the legs from sinking down taking the pressure off the upper body. Secondly, make sure your tailbone lengthens towards the heels and with regular and symmetric leg and arm strokes you will swim faster and feel lighter.
Ultimately the practice of yoga is in the increased awareness and can be practiced anywhere we are, whether on the mat, on the beach or in the water!