Zen and the Art of the Lap Swim

How I found mindfulness in the water (instead of on a mat).

A year ago, my husband and I moved from Brooklyn to Colorado. I had quit my dependable corporate office job, and we moved here with the promise that my husband would continue to work for the start-up he’d worked at for nearly a decade, now remotely. I would finally focus on my freelance career. Then, two weeks after our arrival, the promise made to my husband was rescinded. We were nearly 2,000 miles from everyone and everything we knew, and out of work. Already a high-strung, anxious person, I went into a depressive spiral. That’s when I got back into lap swimming, after many years away from the pool.

When it comes to finding relief from anxiety and depression, I have always looked towards exercise. While pushing myself out the door on a bad day isn’t always easy, I know a good sweat will ease the pressure. It’s also why I’ve tried different types of yoga over the years. Don’t get me wrong—I have found yoga to be beneficial, but rarely am I able to be truly mindful in a class. I had chalked up my inability to get “in the zone” to my personality, but when I first slid into a lane at our community center’s indoor pool, I realized mindfulness wasn’t some unattainable goal. I just needed to be in the water instead of on a mat.

For an hour a day, my brain wouldn’t have to focus on the worries of finding work or making sure our savings lasts, but on keeping me afloat and breathing properly. At the time, I didn’t consider how much yoga and lap swimming had in common. To stay afloat and move efficiently forward, you must focus on your form. To keep from drowning, you must focus on your breath. While doing yoga, I would often find myself holding my breath when moving into a position. You can’t do that when you’re swimming!

Rhythmic breathing while swimming reduces anxiety naturally, but so does the very act of being in the water. Similar to sensory deprivation floats or a simple soak in the bathtub, lap swimming limits the amount of sensory impact on your body, making you feel calmer. In this hectic world, it’s rather nice to hear nothing but your body moving through the water and the sound of bubbles as you exhale a breath.

Lap swimming is not just a boon to your mental health, but also your physical health. It’s incredibly low-impact and is both a cardiovascular and total-body strength workout. It also reduces the effects of aging by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as increases blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function and the overall health of your central nervous system. Pretty much all you’d ever want in a workout, right?

Also, anyone can do it, making it an excellent choice for people of any age or level of physical fitness. Assuming you already know how to swim, all you need is a suit, a pair of goggles, and a body of water. If you’re unfamiliar with proper form, many pools offer stroke clinics. You can also watch Speedo’s easy-to-follow instructional videos on YouTube.

A year later, our plans are back on track, and I’m thankfully not lying awake and worrying about what the future holds. However, I haven’t given up my lap swimming practice. It’s still the best way for me to de-stress, get out of my head, and truly commune with my body. Strangely enough, a little buoyancy has been the best way to keep me grounded.



Photo Credit: Microgen/Shutterstock


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