Recently, and along with recent trends inspired by social media, I have taken a more dedicated approach to recognizing when my emotional climate is at risk, the waves of change it goes through and how an evolving emotional climate can affect my day-to-day. While I won’t get into any mental health aspect in this post, I really wanted to share how tracking physicality can act as an indicator for emotional climate.
I probably would never have recognized what being physically active does to me had I not taken up swimming. I started swimming in lap pools a few years ago after taking a swim cycle class. Side note: Have you ever taken one of these? It’s where you drag the spin bike into the therapeutic pool for a semi-submerged spin class. It’s quite something!
Getting into the water that day inspired me to go my local community pool, sign up for a very inexpensive swim membership, and swim laps when I can. I had swum for fitness once before and that was during a swim course in university. Before that course, swimming had always been a part of my life – just in a more casual way.
Going to that community center lap pool was challenging. The centers were difficult for me to get to, especially since I wasn’t used to winter months, and most days it just didn’t work out. However, I recently moved to a new home which is conveniently located five minutes away by foot to a YMCA. The pool there is quite nice; it is large, well-kept and there is usually at least 1 lane open throughout the day (and during optimal times, 3-6 lanes).
Before I even started swimming at the Y I bought new gear. Why? Because I was super uncomfortable in my old gear. To clarify, this wasn’t a familiar uncomfortableness. It wasn’t that I was worried about how I looked. No, for once, my gear was actually uncomfortable. My swim cap didn’t fit and it was extremely tight on my head. This combined with an ill-fitting suit and some hand-me-down goggles left me in a poor state. I’m honestly surprised I had put up with it for as long as I did.
Recognizing that my gear was actually uncomfortable was validating. When I judge myself about my body on a regular basis, knowing that I am happy with my body in the water makes me smile.
I also noticed that even with all its convenience, I still had trouble scheduling swims. I work from home, so I think it goes without saying that my daily schedule is usually unique. But, having to carve out time to go to a very convenient gym with a very convenient lap pool schedule made me realize that I was the one not prioritizing my health.
Recognizing that I wasn’t prioritizing my health was disappointing, but useful. Now, I schedule it in, and I use a habit tracker to stay on top of it.
Now, my swim sessions usually take around 30 minutes and that’s what I’ve found works for me. Since I know this about myself, I commit as much of those 30 minutes as I can to constant movement – easy or hard, it doesn’t matter. This mindset helps me to keep moving, it helps me to more accurately assess my mental and physical health, and it forces me to do one thing and one thing only (the water helps with that too).
Recognizing that 30 minutes of swimming is okay relieves me of the pressure to swim more or faster.
This dedicated 30 minutes of putting on my goggles, my cap, and being submerged in water is enough for me to ignore any other obligations I have and have a conversation with myself. These conversations are usually good. In fact, I’ll notice when they are maybe too much or distracting because I stop swimming. I usually stop swimming because my breathing is off and I have to catch my breath. If my breathing is off then I am distracted. Then I start again.
And of course, recognizing that I am distracted while I’m swimming helps me to stay present.
I also love what swimming does for me. I’m not able to be aware for every second of the swim, but it is rather supporting to know that something as simple as getting in the water can act as a type of recalibration. I don’t need any fancy doctors or medical knowledge. I just need movement.
Score! Free health care for life.
Most importantly, this form of movement has tuned me in to patterns of negative mental and physical health that seem to overtake my lifestyle. Getting back into the water helps to create a routine of swimming, where I realized that before I did not have a routine of swimming let alone self-care (and honestly, what was I doing?).
Not working out should be a major indicator that I am not taking care of myself, but that’s not how life works. This is why I now have a lifestyle coach. Okay, so it isn’t completely free health care, but it is very affordable and it will keep me dedicated to recognizing my physical, emotional and lifestyle patterns.
I think for those on this blog, using physical activity as a tool for feeling good and refreshed might be normal (right?). However, I think a large majority of people don’t see it that way, especially when it comes to being water active. In this overworked world, being active is a chore (#fitlife), while getting out to the water is called leisure or vacation. There’s a book by Wallace Nichols that relates to the transformative power of water (let alone being active in the water): Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. It’s on my must-read this.
As I woman I find that shutting off the world for 30 minutes – 30 minutes every single day – is necessary. There are so many balancing acts that I am trying my best to navigate and to un-navigate. And now, instead of having to claw my way through self-care, I can just go swimming. Swimming is easy and, for me, there’s something entirely ungendered about it.
Cami is a PhD candidate at Western University studying the ethics of women’s sports science. Her studies stem from her past as a professional volleyball player and personal trainer. Now she prefers to climb rocks, tend her vegetable garden, camp, hike, surf and play in the water.