To re-cap, meditation while exercising is all about combining relaxation and focussed thinking with sub-maximal rhythmical cardio-respiratory exercise. Of course it can be done by walking, running and perhaps cycling but it is most effectively achieved through swimming as it enlists the twin physical sensations of buoyancy (and being supported and embraced by water) and the tactile feeling of the water flowing along the body as the swimmer pulls through the water. We already know that this type of swimming can reduce stress; but how does it do this? It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that controls organ function) and it affects brain waves and hormones quietening the mind. It is an ideal drug-free way of decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
To achieve a heightened feeling of relaxation while swimming, ideally the swimmer should not be interrupted by, say, having to turn every lap in a pool although, if there is no alternative, it can also be used in a pool. So head out into the open water. The swimmer should also avoid the temptation to count strokes or even to be aware precisely where they are at any moment. So, it’s a good idea to do this type of meditation while swimming in company. It still requires concentration as, without concentration, the mind wanders. Accept the fact that it is normal for the mind to wander but, when it does, you should gently bring it back to a relaxed, calm state.
Remember to exhale completely and slowly, ideally through the mouth and nose; we know that exhalation aids relaxation. If you already do meditation, for example through yoga, you might like to chant mantras, but this isn’t for everyone. One that might work for you is to chant (to yourself of course) during a three stroke bilateral breathing cycle. Begin with an elongated ‘So’ on the inhalation stroke, followed by ‘Ham’ (pronounced as an elongated ‘Harm’) for the following two strokes of the exhalation. But there are many other relaxing chants you can use. Don’t do mental calculations or sing songs as this directs the concentration towards those activities and takes away from the relaxation effect that you are trying to achieve.
For the ultimate in this type of ‘zoning out’ meditation while swimming, you might like to try closing your eyes for, say, 20 strokes. And, if this works for you, try extending it to 50 strokes or even 100 strokes with your eyes closed. This is also a good exercise in OWS ‘sighting’ (yep, even with your eyes closed). This will only work if the sea and wind conditions are calm and it assumes that you have a good symmetrical stroke. How to do it? On the reach/glide part of your stroke, use the middle finger of one hand to ‘point’ to your chosen sighting point (headland, building, tree, etc). Of course, you can’t see the sighting point because your eyes are closed but you visualise it and you concentrate deeply and constantly on visualising it. If, after the 20, 50 or 100 strokes, you open your eyes and you are still heading towards your sighting point, then you have maintained your concentration and you will still be on track. If you lose concentration, you will swing off course. And your swimming companions will know that you have lost your concentration as you will veer away from them and they might have to go after you.
After such a ‘zoning out’ swim, you will feel wonderfully relaxed and calm and ready to face whatever calamities have been going on in your absence – family and work issues, foreign conflicts, ’wrong’ election results, etc. You will also feel much more peaceful and patient. If only we could get our political leaders to do it.