Why Your Brain Needs More Water Therapy
Getting into the swim of things may be as good for you mentally as physically. Rebecca Field Jager takes a dip.
The light dances below the surface of the pool. Once I fall into my rhythm, the world slips away, and I am lost in the delicious nothingness that comes with swimming lengths. I have no weight. Sounds are muted. And the water, but for its resistance, is barely perceptible against my skin. My mind slows to an easy pace. I am, in the vernacular of fitness buffs, in the zone.
“The water holds you in a different way than the earth can,” says Canadian swimming icon Mark Tewksbury, who, among his many accolades, cinched gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. “It’s incredibly meditative.”
Unfortunately, the day I interviewed Tewksbury I had messed up and was late. Daylight savings had kicked in the night before and, while my computer and cellphone adjusted automatically, my household clocks did not. There I was, trying to figure out what to make for lunch, when my email dinged.
Just making sure we are on for today around now …
Damn, I thought, realizing my mix-up. I was 17 minutes late! What’s wrong with me? How can I be such an idiot? Why am I so …?
And then it happened. A sense of calm washed over me. I made the call, apologized and got on with the interview. I credit the save to my daily swim routine.
Here’s the thing. While no one enjoys making a stupid mistake, for some, it’s like water off of a duck’s back, whereas for people like me, it’s akin to an oil spill. Even a low consequence blunder can leave me coated in icky feelings that cling for hours, sometimes days. To help combat this, I’ve always tried to do some sort of fitness routine, but it wasn’t until almost a decade ago, after moving across from a local community centre that had a pool that I began swimming laps. Once I was fully into my routine, I noticed that I experienced a sense of well-being that transcended the endorphin rush I had with other cardio workouts—a state of being more in line with what my yoga friends raved about. It made sense. Low impact. Controlled breathing. Subdued stimulus. All that and, for me, a lifelong affinity for being in, on or under the water.
Canada has one-fifth of the earth’s fresh water and the longest coastline in the world so, like many kids across our nation, I grew up with access to places to swim. My hometown, North Bay, Ont., is situated on two lakes—the large, warm and shallow Lake Nipissing and the smaller, cold and deep Trout Lake. Swimming lessons were practical, affordable and offered at the public beaches of both lakes, so summers for my siblings and me always included advancing our swimming skills. Rain or shine and with only the threat of lightning as a catalyst to cancel an end-of-session test, we took the plunge, and I have fond memories of grinning like a carp with chattering teeth as my mother congratulated me and wrapped me in a towel.
Oliver, who belongs to the Thornhill Masters Aquatic Club, competed for years on all levels of competition, accruing many medals and a wealth of self-esteem. Fitness-wise, her efforts have been rewarded with a consistent ideal weight over the past three decades, low blood pressure and a vitality that those who meet her remark upon and fuels her to take care of her home and garden.
Although she’s proud of her physical accomplishments, it’s the social aspects of the program that she holds most dear.
“I’ve met so many people and made so many friends, not just here at the club but from all over the place,” she enthuses. Her coach and the owner of Thornhill Multisport, Ian Feldman, attests that the camaraderie felt among members surprises those who may have joined simply to get or stay in shape.
“You put a group of people together regularly who share a common interest and goal, and friendships naturally develop whether it’s striking up conversations in the locker room, hanging out around the pool or going out for a drink afterwards.”