The six stages of a mindful swim

Iona Barr

Mindfulness is the practise of being fully engaged in the present moment, pushing all other distractions to the side as you focus on what you are doing right here and right now; making the most of life and really living in the moment.

When we go for a dip in the wild world we have the perfect opportunity to engage with ourselves in the present moment. The water and the wildlife combine with the physical activity of swimming to provide the perfect combination of factors to help disengage with the frustrations of the past and the worries of the future. By engaging with the following steps you can make the most of your swim and be well on the path to zen.

©Jenny Rice

STAGE 1 – On your way

As you travel to your swim savour the anticipation and make your preparations and approach into a meaningful ritual. Think about why you have chosen to swim and what steps you have taken to make space in your day for this adventure. Think about your journey to the water and dwell a moment on the water’s journey here – clouds, rock layers, rain, snow, ocean currents, river channels…

STAGE 2 – Stripping off

As you get to your wild swim take your time and enjoy every sensation as it develops. Take a moment to transition from your everyday self into a mindful swimming god or goddess. As you shed your clothes, shed the stresses and constraints those clothes may signify, peel off the layers and get ready to leave it all behind. Focus on the sensations of air on the skin and the earth between your toes. Think about how you are feeling… you may feel excited or maybe you are anxious and trepidatious, whatever the sensation they are beginning to displace the distractions of everyday life and you haven’t even hit the water yet.

Stage 3 – Teetering on the edge 

Before you set off on your swim stop on the edge of the water, close your eyes and take a moment to breath. Breathing is one of the most automatic of actions, life sustaining but often unnoticed; in-out, in-out. Breathing control is fundamental to meditation and for swimming. The first action of entering cold water is often to lose our breathing rhythm, we tense up and our breathing becomes shallow and irregular, sometimes we even forget to breath for a bit. Stand on the bank and focus on keeping your breathing regular and even, in through the nose and out through the mouth. As you breath try counting your breaths one-in, two-out, three-in, four-out…. Be aware of the air flooding into your body and expanding your chest.

Stage 4 – Get Immersed 

As you relax into a steady breathing rhythm open your eyes and start to get in the water. Try to maintain your breathing pattern as you lower yourself in. Notice any tension around your diaphragm and chest  and try to keep all the breathing muscles relaxed, lengthen your neck, push out your chest and allow the air to flow smoothly in to your lungs. Feel the sensation of the water on your skin and wriggle your toes into the ground to give yourself a good solid base.  Wild swimming challenges the body and the mind in ways we otherwise rarely experience, so start slowly and enjoy every challenge as it presents itself. Feel every sensation and log it away as a bright memory to be taken home and cherished, to bring out and dwell on at the end of the day.

Stage 5 – Get swimming

Once you have relaxed and found a calm rhythm in your breathing, think about lifting your feet from the bottom, finding your buoyancy and starting to swim. Continue to focus on your breathing. Feel the air expanding your lungs as you breath in and bubbling though the water as your breath out. Whatever your stroke, you need to find your rhythm to get the most from your swim. Swimming strokes that flow smoothly and rhythmically are the fastest and most energy efficient; they are also essential to your mindfulness practice and to getting in the flow. If it helps swim to the rhythm of a song. Let the beat dictate your breathing and fit your arm stroke to your breathing and the leg cadence will take care of itself. Enjoy the marriage of your breathing and the stroke with the beat of the music. Stretch out and have fun, just go with the flow.

Stage 6 – The afterglow

After your swim is when you will really start to reap the rewards. Positive feelings flood your system as the endorphins surge around your body converting your pre-swim angst into post swim elation. Feelings of well-being and positivity wash over you as you stretch out on the bank. Focus on these emotions, try to keep them with you as long as possible, but know that whenever you swim you will always leave the water feeling better than you did when you arrived. Just knowing that those positive feelings are only a dip away can be immensely reassuring.

The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming by Tessa Wardley is published by Leaping Hare Press. For more about her book visit our noticeboard story Practice Mindful Swimming with Tessa Wardley.

Words: Tessa Wardley
Images: Iona Barr, Jenny Rice