Of the things that make life worth living, swimming ranks high with me. It's one of my absolute essentials. It's a refuge, a source of inspiration, guardian and promoter of my health, a boon companion.
But a shoulder injury cut me off from this lifeline for six agonizing months. Frustrated and fearful of another injury, I returned to the only exercise that ever gave me the same sensory peace as swimming: Yoga.
After much searching, I discovered ashtanga yoga and found a first-rate teacher. Unlike the more static forms of yoga, ashtanga flows from one posture to the next. The whole sequence is more like learning swim strokes than calisthenics. At first, it was hard, a really humbling experience.
Ashtanga yoga takes total concentration: many of the postures involve gravity-defying balance that relies on complete harmony of body and mind. But the reward is a feeling close to the weightlessness of being in the water.
Certainly yoga has a piscine element: These days I actually slip through the water more easily, my alignment and flexibility are better than ever.
Swimming keeps me in fine trim, but yoga gives my body a far more sinewy aspect, my spine elongated, my limbs compact and muscular. Unexpectedly, the vigorous ujjayi breathing I learned in the yoga studio translates into greater endurance in the pool. After years of struggling with bilateral breathing it suddenly has become effortless.
The Mental Advantages of Yoga
Most surprising are the psychic consequences. Swimming has many pleasures, unfortunately other swimmers are not always among them. Especially in the New York City pools I use.
A few months of deep breathing and deliberate focusing happily changed my attitude toward the annoyances of public swimming. I became more philosophical of the guy who always wants to race and the woman who does her wall exercises in my lane. Yoga has not only increased my lung capacity, but my tolerance for others.
What began as a way to prevent further injury has become an integral part of my life. Yoga keeps me injury free (and free from worry about injury), and it elevates my workouts to a new level. I feel more comfortable with my body and more in control of my mind.
Combined with yoga, swimming has become even more gratifying, a greater pleasure, which puts it even higher on my list short list of life's indispensables.
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