Lesson No. 1: It’s not about how fast you can go
July 28, 2019 12:35 PM   Subscribe

What swimming taught me about happiness (SLNYT). “When I swim, I feel that I have all the time in the world, in part because much of what marks time — my everyday life — vanishes the moment I step in the water.”

SLNYT = Single-Link New York Times post
posted by adrianhon (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I found my freedom as a deep water swimmer, at the age of six. My mother couldn't swim.
posted by Oyéah at 1:07 PM on July 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

An awkward child on both land and water, I was mocked by my mother and sister, both graceful swimmers. I learned to swim properly two years ago at 60—after having a lifelong unacknowledged deformity surgically corrected.

Now I’m in water whenever possible; it’s like flying, it’s thrilling. I cannot get used to being able to do it after so many years of believing I could not.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:51 PM on July 28, 2019 [25 favorites]

Wow - this article very much sums up all my recent thoughts on swimming.

I'm very grateful to have been trained as a child (even though I remember hating it, and the whole activity being forced on me by my parents and swim instructors). Recently I got back into the pool after many years of not swimming ever at all. As it turns out, my technique came back immediately. It allows me to surpass most of the other people in the pool. In that hour of swimming, my mind wanders without being distracted and time kind of warps and lengthens. And the author is right - it's not about speed or brute force but technique.
posted by mit5urugi at 1:55 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love it. It makes me feel so free.
posted by sallybrown at 1:59 PM on July 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

I had a debate once with a friend over the difference between contentment and happiness, when I remarked once that I strive to be content rather than to be happy. He remarked that he found that attitude "sad".

My feelings of happiness are fleeting, the come suddenly, stay only a moment and leave behind imprints of great memories. Happiness is witnessing the delight on my kid's face as he watches Casablanca for the first time.

But contentment - it is the process of accepting my life for what it is right now. To stop the voice in my head that says "if only" - "if only my kitchen were prettier, the tile in my bathroom was newer, the make/model of my car is fancier, my house cleaner - then I will be happy.

I did quite a bit of lap swimming before Boy theBRKP came along. My form was mediocre, but I never slept so well nor felt so calm as when I was doing a mile in the pool 2-3 times a week. I look forward to the day when Boy theBRKP is old enough to be left to his own devices for a couple of hours in the evening, so I can start swimming again.

Until then, I will be content with walking at lunch, cuddling my cats, teasing my spouse and hugging my kid.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 3:02 PM on July 28, 2019 [16 favorites]

Heh. I just stepped out of the local city pool, dried off, wrote a bit in my journal, and am now sitting in the shade waiting for my kids to get tired so we can go get some tacos. If that’s not contentment I don’t know what is.
posted by math at 3:26 PM on July 28, 2019 [12 favorites]

I am not a believer in most woo stuff, but the energizing effect of swimming in salt water that some people talk about is something I 100% believe. Fortunately I just moved back to Prince Edward Island so I'm covered.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:54 PM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

”When I swim, I feel that I have all the time in the world, in part because much of what marks time — my everyday life — vanishes the moment I step in the water.”

At its best moments, swimming becomes a great meditative exercise, as everything of the world indeed vanishes. At its worst moments, though, with the world having vanished, one is left entirely alone with one’s own thoughts, which may not be a great place to be. If you can keep it to the former, it’s fantastic. Keeping it there is the trick — swimming is as much mental exercise as it is a physical one.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:17 PM on July 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

Having almost drowned twice as a child, I tend to hyperventilate when I try to swim.
posted by mecran01 at 8:01 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the best things about being a fat woman is the buoyancy...I can float without moving a muscle and time and thoughts stand still. I'm as relaxed as a scruffed kitten. I swim at an oh so leisurely pace, no rush, no struggle to stay afloat. Merrily merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:56 PM on July 28, 2019 [12 favorites]

I don't swim. I can swim. But I don't really enjoy it. So, I don't. I prefer running, and after running for about 10 years I finally realized, the runners high thing, that I never believed in, is actually a thing. I get done a run (and I'm slow as hell btw) and I feel awesome! Especially if I felt like crap, depressed angry, etc, beforehand. Apparently much like some of you swim folks feel after a swim, so maybe it's not about doing some particular exercise, or activity but maybe about doing something you enjoy doing? Bike riders, weight lifters, jazzercisers, what say you? And if you like swimming, you go!
posted by evilDoug at 10:07 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Recently I bought one of these watches - choosing to spend some of the extra cash that people lavish on jewels or movements on tech. Its talents (some clever stuff with accelerometers) extend to an ability to track me when swimming. Principally useful for answering "how many lengths have I actually done?" which is otherwise an irritating attention hog. But it has also been a gateway to making me try to improve my style. Garmin score each session with an index called "SWOLF" - an index computed by counting the number of strokes per length and adding it to how long the length takes to complete. It it takes me an average of 30 seconds and 20 seconds to swim a length in a session then my score is "50" - lower is better. There is also a graph which compares my time with other simmers of my age and gender.

These data alerted me to a couple of points: firstly that my times were really bad - at least compared to the other early 50s dudes who were shelling out on this kind of watch (that seemed reasonable: I'm certainly not a serious triathlete type like I suspect many of them are). Secondly: I was able to dramatically boost my performance by trying to pay attention to style. Elements like tumble turns, foot pointing, bi-lateral breathing and so on all made a big difference.

But, I would agree that there is definitely an element both to both swimming performance and enjoyment, that seems more meditative and capricious - something to do with the necessity to knit all the technical stuff together while trying to remain relaxed and at home in the water. Like attempts to grasp happiness indeed - paying too much conscious attention to doing this can be ineffective: you can pay heed to the drills that deal with individual parts - but not to everything at once. The fastest swimmers are often not the ones with the ideal physique, the ones making the biggest splashes or those burning the most calories. And those enjoying their swim the most are often not the fastest.
posted by rongorongo at 1:57 AM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

My niece is ten and is both a competitive swimmer and someone who just loves being in the pool/lake/any body of water. She told my sister that one of the things she likes about swimming is that (paraphrasing) when she's in the pool she kind of loses herself in the moment...basically, what Capt. Renault describes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:30 AM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Perhaps it's the ADHD, but i have to work to keep the rest of the world at bay and concentrate on only my stroke. But practicing that - drowning out the other bullshit - in the pool helps me survive the rest of the day.

Coming up on a year of solid swimming for me. (previous spates of swimming have been six months here, three months there, with years in between.) The difference in how I feel and deal with stuff is pretty stark.
posted by notsnot at 7:58 AM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I swim and run regularly. Both provide experiences where I can daydream, brainstorm, or just space out. Weightlifting’s a more efficient workout, and kickboxing class pushed me harder, and any form of exercise makes me feel physically and mentally better, but activities that let my mind wander are my favorite.

Swimming has disadvantages, though: the pool’s a ways away and only open for lap swimming at certain times, and sharing a lane when the pool’s crowded takes me out of the moment a bit (and if we have to circle swim, forget it). In the past, I’ve quit swimming because the annoyances of getting to and from the pool outweighed the benefit I got once I was in there. Running outside, when I can, is a much easier route to space-out time. On the other hand, swimming’s never given me blisters and I don’t smell afterwards.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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