What Getting Back into the Swimming Pool is Teaching Me About Slow Living & Self Compassion

slow living and self compassion

Inside: I have found that living a life in progress means an ebb and flow of stepping out into the unknown – of progress and adventure, of becoming and stretching – and then finding my way home again. What getting back into the swimming pool is teaching me about slow-living and self-compassion.

I have recently started swimming again after years of longing. Getting back into the pool feels a little like coming home.

Yesterday as I drove, alone, to the city with ample time and space to think, I reflected on what this simple choice to move through resistance and come back to the pool is teaching me about slow living and self-compassion.

I have found that living a life in progress means an ebb and flow of stepping out into the unknown – of progress and adventure, of becoming and stretching – and then finding my way home again. 

What getting back into the pool is teaching me about slow living & self-compassion.

I am worthy of love and compassion

When I first started swimming as a young adult in university, I was over 200 lbs, a binge eater, and didn’t have a good relationship with my body. Putting on a swimsuit and ignoring stares and unkind remarks was a baby step toward learning to love myself well and making peace with the body I was in. It had nothing to do with trying to change my body and everything to do with learning, for the first time, that I was worthy of love and compassion exactly as I was.

Over two decades later my body looks quite different but getting back into the pool is again, a call to embrace the body I am in. I see my scars and the slow changes that come as I inch closer to 50 and I wear them proudly; reminders of my strength and resilience. I am inordinately proud of myself.

I need to keep my eyes on my own path

Getting back into the pool challenges my ego: I am called to let go of who I used to be, of comparison and how clumsy I might look to other people, and I am invited to become a beginner once again.

I need space to listen in and just be

Swimming was always a form of moving meditation for me. In the pool, I let go of all my responsibilities and inner chatter and focus on my breath and the way my body tilts gently with each stroke. One, two, three and breathe. One, two, three and breathe. I have missed this and recently have felt the pull to quiet all the external noise and make more space to listen in. To simply be.

The exhale matters just as much as the breathing in

If you can’t breathe out, you can’t breathe in. The exhale is just as important as the breathing or gathering in. When my mom was dying I started having panic attacks. And though I did loads of work to acknowledge and heal my anxiety, pain, and fear, what used to be a refuge for me – the swimming pool – became a scary place. As I crossed from shallow into deep, over an imaginary line, my chest would seize and I could no longer exhale.

Facing this anxiety and getting back into the pool reminds me of the importance of the exhale – the releasing what no longer serves. The truth that when we gather and collect and accumulate (knowledge, gurus, activity, opportunity, stuff) without letting go, we grow stagnant and stuck. I am called to examine what in my life needs to be released in this season.

When I limit my scope of attention I slip into ease and joy

I have decided to focus on one part of my body at once: if I work on my kick I use a flutter board; when I focus on my stroke and breath, I use a flotation device tucked between my thighs. When I limit my scope or the number of details I must consider at any given time, everything becomes easier and I slip from worry into ease and joy. I have missed this.

I am less panicked and notice when I’m tightening up and remind myself to relax. I am able to slow down and lengthen my reach, finish each stroke, tilt my body instead of lifting up and out of the water, anxious to catch my breath. I notice the exhale. I am wired, I think, for slow and steady.

I just show up

My desire to swim again has nothing to do with quality or quantity of laps or time spent in the pool. It is one more invitation, on this life journey, to step into small, imperfect action. I am reminded that I am the type of person who moves through fear and anxiety and does hard things, who seeks freedom and does not quit. I acknowledge the truth of my fear, the pain of the muscle that tore in my hip replacement, I notice comparison and ego, and I show up anyway.

Krista xo

NOW WHAT? I offer this personal reflection as an invitation to pause and consider if you, too, are being called home again.

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11 comments on “What Getting Back into the Swimming Pool is Teaching Me About Slow Living & Self Compassion

  1. I’m learning to just show up too so that something is better than nothing. I think too much and it paralyses me, delaying until everything is just so which is hardly ever! Swimming is the one thing I do that I don’t need to think about physically and always have an “I love it” feeling about so find it easier to push through tiredness and mental funk to keep my pool time commitment (probably helped by the fact that I only have child care one morning a week so can’t afford to miss the opportunity).

  2. I made a pie this morrning. It felt like home. These “home” things are active rest and the lovely kind of routine that serves in the small and big stress of life. Thank you for your story.

  3. I miss swimming! I used it as meditative time also. Have not been in almost ten years now. I do go to the gym, and I guess I could use the pool there, but it’s so crowded, and it’s hard to relax when sharing a lane. Moving soon and maybe I can find a better pool situation and begin again. Glad you have found your way back!

  4. Thank you for this Krista, I have been thinking about buying a kayak to get out on the water – which I love to watch and enjoy from my home. However, I am reminded that I am not a strong swimmer and I will need to learn to flip the kayak and be able to escape. This causes me great anxiety – so I have started to consider taking swimming lessons for adults at our town pool. I have passed the 50 year mark so I can relate to your feelings about getting back into the swimsuit and the pool.

    I never learned to swim as a young child. We would go to a public beach but I was not swimming, just playing in the water. One day when I was 12 a friendly young girl offered to teach me to swim – out we went to the deeper water – she held me high in the water – and when she let go I sank like a brick (ha ha funny now).
    As an adult with a March break trip south for a week each year I managed to learn to float and do minor strokes in the pool – however if anyone came near me in the deep end I would head for the walls. We installed an above ground pool at our home – being only 54″ deep I was comfortable and would swim to cool off.
    I insisted my kids take swimming lessons and become strong swimmers both for the safety but also to experience the joy of the water.
    Now it’s my turn!!
    Namaste, Brenda

    • All the ways we are called to become a beginner all over again… it’s actually quite amazing and delightful. If we are never challenged or compelled to growth or stretching, we grow stagnant. Enjoy, Brenda (let me know if you do take lessons!).

  5. Dear Krista,

    I too have returned to the swimming pool after a two year hiatus in which I grew a baby, gave birth to him, and have been ‘keeping him alive’, and myself hehhehehehe. I’ve been at it for three weeks, and was unable to continue last week Friday, as I needed a new pair of UV resistant goggles. If I don’t use it, I am blinded in the pool, and have moments of nausea and wooziness about an hour after. So getting back into the pool has encouraged me to take that one step further to look after me, to put my needs on my list, and to really settle again into finding the unbridled, inner joy that bubbles up when I’ve just ‘switched off’.

    I still struggle with my struggle with the water. I still find swimming back to the shallow end easier, and quicker. And I still mess up the rhythm of one, two, three, breathe as I only breathe on one side. BUT, I love it. I am always home. There. Present.

    Keep swimming on 🙂

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