When I was 5 years old my dad would take me swimming to see the reef along the coast of Xpu Há, Mexico.
I remember looking at the brightly coloured fish whilst holding his hand and feeling safe in the immensity of the sea, like nothing could happen to me.
Years passed and I stopped going swimming with my dad.
When we moved to Marseille, my dad continued to swim out into the sea, but I was a teenager then, and this sea seemed hostile to me. Compared to the warm and turquoise Caribbean I grew up with, the Mediterranean was cold and dark.
Aware of my unsaid fear of deep sea, last year I decided to swim to the nearest buoy, 300 metres away from the shore, like my dad. I felt a little nervous. I convinced my brother to come along.
We wore fins, unlike my dad. We swam fast, made it to the buoy, paused for a couple of minutes and made our way back. We arrived at the beach tired and agitated. We’d made it to the buoy and back, but it seemed so far!
It’s funny to me because I’m a pretty good swimmer. I’ve even surfed alone in spots where you get dropped off by boat and the shore is just as far, but having a surfboard made me feel safe. Like all the sea monsters couldn’t get me haha!
That’s the thing about fears, they’re rarely rational and they can easily become overwhelming.
Effort and Ease
A few weeks ago, I got in the sea with my snorkel (no fins) and I swam out without a goal. When I turned to see the shore, I realised I was quite far, further than I usually went. My dad happened to be reaching me on his way to the buoy. He paused and asked “tu viens?”, “are you coming?”, and without hesitation I said yes.
When we made it to the buoy he asked me if I wanted to wait for him while he swam to another buoy, so we could make our way back together.
I nodded and within a few seconds I saw him swim away, leaving me alone, with the buoy and the deep blue beneath me.
The depth of the sea was just as dark as it had been the previous year. My good old friend fear was lurking in the background of my mind, but instead of doing anything to escape from it, I floated with it. He was there and I was there and it was all ok.
Minutes turned into eternity but before I had time to panic my dad was back. I must admit I was glad to see him swimming towards him hehe!
We made our way back to the shore together and when we arrived at the beach I felt calm and relaxed.
My nervous system had not been triggered like it had the previous year.
I was even surprised by how easeful I found the whole experience. Something had changed. I had discovered that I could glide effortlessly with each stroke instead of battling with the sea.
I smiled at this insight, as this is one of the core teachings of yoga.
Sutra 2.46 from the Yoga Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy, speaks of this.
“Sthira Sukham Asanam” in Sanskrit
Sthira can be translated as effort, steady or stable and sukha or sukham can be translated as ease, easeful, comfortable.
This sutra can therefore be translated as: “posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha)”. I believe this teaching, like many other yogic principles, can be applied to life in general.
Practice makes progress
In the following days and weeks I continued to swim out to the 1st buoy with my dad, occasionally making my way back alone as he continued on to 2, 3, sometimes 4 more buoys.
A few weeks ago I decided to follow him to the 2nd buoy and then to the 3rd. Each buoy is 100m away from the other so by the time we made it back to the beach we had swam: 300m x 2 + 100 x4 = 1km!!!
To avid swimmers this may seem like a small feat, but to me it felt like a giant’s leap – thus the arms in the air when my mum asked me to pose 🙂
I have since been able to convince my brother to come with me and he loves it too.
He told me he remembered it being much harder and we laughed heartily at how stressed out we were last year when we did it.
Why do I share?
I like to think that our vulnerability connects us to each other.
The older ladies at the beach praise me when I come out of the water and celebrate my ‘accomplishments’. They seem to see me as a fearless sea woman. I haven’t told them how intimidated I’d felt by the sea last year swimming the exact same route. We only ever exchange a few words, so I’m not sure it’d be appropriate to sit on their towel and tell them the whole story as I did here.
Here I can though. In the hope that someone who’s reading and also has a fear may consider their limiting beliefs as just that, beliefs rather than truths.
Whether it’s swimming or anything else, it doesn’t matter if it’s impressive to anyone else, but the feeling of achieving something we didn’t think we could do, is like no other. And then discovering that same thing can become easeful and joyful is truly inspiring and liberating.
It reminds us that we are capable of so much more than we think.
On a different note, we were recently informed that swimming was forbidden for pollution reasons.
I remember hearing of this in California and thinking how sad it was they couldn’t swim because of pollution.
I didn’t imagine it happening in the mediterranean, as if the water running there was different to the water here…
This brings me to a topic that is really close to my heart.
Ocean conservation. I’ve written a shorter blog article with some tips on how we can care for our beloved sea. I would be so grateful if you an read it and share it widely.
Thank you for reading,
Love and blessings to All ❤
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