By Steven Hamilton
Water is one of the oldest and most profound healers the Earth has to offer. Immersion in water is a time honored way to relax, and using swimming as a tool for relaxation can be a tremendous help for anyone looking to better manage stress or anxiety. Half of all people who enter a vigorous exercise routine drop out within a year, so setting an easy paced schedule that works realistically within your lifestyle is important for using swimming as a stress management tool.
Using deep, diaphragmatic breathing is crucial to getting the deepest relaxation from a swim. Diaphragmatic breathing is simply deep, intentional breaths taken in to fill the lungs at the bottom of the rib cage, and then exhalation to completely release air. In swimming the main work should be done during the exhalation phase of the breathing process, when you are using your arms to thrust your body forward.
Swimming has traditional benefits for the mind and body, such as helping strengthen the respiratory system, build endurance and balancing hormones and blood sugars- both crucial to mood- as well as the extra benefits of the body’s buoyancy in water. After an invigorating swim, letting your body float in the water, with arms and legs relaxed, while doing purposeful and deep breathing, has a profoundly relaxing effect on the nervous system. Water moving around your muscles and joints has a massage like quality that further relaxes the body and so, the mind.
The best way to most effectively maximize the relaxing qualities of swimming is to set up a routine of steps that your body and mind will begin to anticipate, already relaxing before you have even hit the water.
- Before entering the water, use your towel as a loofah over your entire body. Breathe mindfully while doing so, relaxing your body and focusing on the sensations while letting any intrusive or stressful thoughts move in and out without focus.
- Enter the water and begin to swim slowly. After a few laps, use diaphragmatic breathing and a swim stroke that you find most relaxing. Remember that both swimming and diaphragmatic breathing are quickly tiring, so don’t be surprised if your endurance isn’t what you expect at first.
- Swim until very tired, but not completely exhausted. Swim a few laps increasingly slower.
- Find a comfortable spot and float in the water, relaxing your entire body. Breathe in and out in a relaxed manner.
The deep relaxation experienced after a swim is beneficial to the mind, body and spirit. This is a good time to eat a light, healthy snack, and you might find that napping after a swim leaves you more refreshed and positive than you remember feeling in a long while.
After a short period of time doing this routine, you will probably be surprised to find that you are not only looking forward to your swim time, but that you actually feel more relaxed before even reaching poolside. Over time, the relaxing benefits of a regular swim routine will overlap outside the water and you will find that you are calmer and more centered overall.