Tuesday, September 17, 2013

WHAT I LEARNED FROM FLOATING






Every time I see Angelica, one of the lifeguards at the YMCA, I want to run up and give her a hug.  Why? Because Angelica is the one who introduced me to floating.

I swim regularly at the Y, and count on my swims for the relaxation and rejuvenation that I feel afterwards, not to mention the cardiovascular benefits.  So imagine my dismay when a podiatrist, after x-raying my newly-fractured toe, told me not to go swimming.  I obeyed her orders for a little while,  and complained to my husband.  The surgical shoe I was wearing to protect my toe was throwing my whole body off kilter, causing other problems on top of the injured toe.  I was in dire need of the comfort that only a swimming pool could offer.

Finally,  my wise husband said "Why don't you just go to the pool?  I'm sure you can figure something out."  I listened to his advice, and showed up in swimsuit and bandaged toe next to the lifeguard on duty. 

"I'm not supposed to be here, I said to her.  I fractured my toe and my podiatrist said not to swim.  But I love the water."  Very calmly, she said "Put on a flotation device - it will keep your feet from touching the bottom of the pool."

Intrigued, I walked over to the big plastic bin of blue butterfly bandage-shaped flotation pieces and fastened one around my waist.  Once in the water, I was in heaven.  I was floating!    I laid back a bit, did not kick my legs, and used my arms to propel myself backwards.  What made it even more fun was that I was in the recreational lane with other people wearing flotation devices, everyone from older adults to babies to teens.  Everyone looked as happy and relaxed as I felt.  Why had I not done this before?

I had not floated before because I was too busy getting my half a mile of laps done.  Like other lap swimmers, I come with my goal and am focused on accomplishing that goal; there is no fooling around, no margin for fun.

There are so many great things about this floating business; here's a few of them:

* My head is above water, so I'm able to see all the great things going on around me - dads swimming with their babies; grandparents swimming with their grandchildren; people on the other side of the glass wall using the elliptical machines; families eating Chinese takeout in the pool observation room; lifeguards doing their jobs; swimmers kicking noisily in the lap lanes. I could also make contact with people if I wanted to:  I admired one lady floater on her robin's egg blue nail polish and she laughed with embarrassment.  Some of us floaters smile at each other, as if with a shared understanding of how happy it is to be floating.

I get to switch up my routine and experience the water in a different way.  When I'm doing straight laps (the crawl), I feel like my job is to push the water away.  When I'm floating, I am more focused on the sensation of being supported by the water.   It feels like a relationship that is based more on a certain elegant trust, rather than friction, tension, or trying to get through something.

*  I am focused more on enjoyment of being in the pool rather than rushing to get a specific task done.   I feel more in play mode, rather than in work mode. One day, I decided to try out an idea, which was to wear two flotation devices instead of one. I wrapped one around my hips and one around my waist.  By doing so, I was able to sit up straight, as if in a car, and still propel myself forward or backward with my arms.  This was the most fun I had had so far as a floater!

So these are my takeaways from this whole experiment in floating.  Let me know if any of them resonate with you:

* Even when we get orders to not do something,  it's handy to use one's own judgement about what's best to do, especially if instructions are rigid or based in fear. 

* There are helpers everywhere,  if we believe that there are and allow them to show up in our lives.

* Sometimes, it's useful, and even transformative, to take the activities we engage in all the time and approach them differently.

* Finally, it's interesting to reflect on this question: Where else in my life can I allow myself to float?
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