A couple of years ago, I started swimming laps to train for a mini-triathlon. I had always enjoyed swimming, but my swimming was just for fun — jumping in, cooling off, diving to the bottom of the deep end.
Once I started swimming laps, I found out that the hard part is breathing. I would get to the end of a lap with muscles that were not too tired and a heart that was not beating too fast, but I was completely out fo breath. I had to stop after each lap to catch my breath before taking the next lap. The idea of continually swimming laps seemed impossible. How do people do it?
The pool pictured above, Big Stacy Pool, is my favorite pool because it is open year round, is spring-fed, and is always 82 degrees. Perhaps because it was built in 1937, Big Stacy is 33 ⅓ yards long rather than 25 yards, making each lap all the more daunting. For a while, Big Stacy was nearly impossible for me. But now I can relax and enjoy the extra length.
Eventually I found some tweaks that helped. I would take a breath on every third stroke instead of every second, learning to breath alternately left and then right. Weirdly, fewer breaths worked better. And I would breath out through my mouth fully and then out through my nose as well. This helped me extend my out breath, which was came to appreciate was much more important than my quick in breath.
But the one thing that made the biggest difference of all was simply to relax. I found this out by accident when I wasn’t thinking about breathing. Trying to breath “more” or “bigger” did not help at all. But letting my mouth and my lungs and my whole body relax was a game changer. I stopping trying so hard to get my air and started just letting the air flow smoothly. I’m pretty sure I’m technically breathing less now, but it is more effective because my whole body is not working as hard.
And that is a lesson I have found applies to life as well. Just relax. Let it flow. A calm focus out-performs maximized effort. Move forward, breath, and don’t fight yourself. I’m learning to do this in my work and relationships as well, and it seems to be making me happier and more effective.