If you're looking for ways to take your meditation practice to new levels while also ticking off your daily exercise - the answer may lay in laps.
Swimming doesn't just build your endurance, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness1 - it can also be an exercise in mindfulness.
Meditation can have both physical and mental health benefits; it can help with things like reducing anxiety - and even lead to better sleep, making it the perfect addition to your water workout2. Ready to dive in?
In this article
The health benefits of swimming
In Australia, swimming is one of our favourite sports. According to research from the Australian Sports Commission, 3.23 million Australians 15 years and over participate in the sport.
As humans, we need water to survive, in fact about 50% - 80% of the human body is made up of water7 and some believe we're drawn to water on a primal level. There's even some anecdotal evidence and scientific research provided in the 2014 book, Blue Mind, that suggests proximity to water can reduce anxiety and improve overall wellbeing.
The health benefits of swimming include:
- A head-to-toe workout. Swimming tones muscle and builds endurance, increasing your heart rate without putting stress on your body.
- A treat for your insides, too. Swimming gives your cardiovascular system a workout too - improving your cardiovascular fitness.
- Improved flexibility. This includes a possible improvement in both balance and posture .
- That clear head feeling. Here's where meditation comes in. Water can be a peaceful environment and swimming has brilliant ‘clear head' benefits, especially if you take advantage of the chance to meditate.
Merging mindfulness with swimming
Like other forms of exercise, life in the fast (or slow) lane can also be beneficial to mental health - and not just because it's a form of exercise heavily focused on breathing.
You can unlock meditative practice by being present in the water, lengthening strokes, or experimenting with breath rhythms. Mental health benefits of swimming include:
- Endorphin and Serotonin release. Serotonin and endorphins are released through exercise and bring about a sense of happiness, positivity, and wellbeing2.
- An escape from tiresome thoughts. Exercise can help to block out negative thoughts or can be a distraction from daily stresses5
- A screenless environment that recharges. Swimming is an activity that engages all of our senses - sight, sound, touch, and smell and a rare distraction from technology. Unlike a gym environment with TVs everywhere and easy access to your phone it's a form of exercise that really helps you to unplug while in the water.
- Energy booster. Exercise can help to increase energy levels and also help you sleep better - which in time leads to higher energy levels.
A guided water meditation
So how do you become a mindful swimmer and turn swimming into a moving meditation? According to Megan Sanderson, it's all about letting the time be just for you.
Before you begin, take a moment to pause, to feel your breath and orientate yourself with what you're about to do. Give yourself permission to be fully present whilst you swim - allowing yourself to notice all aspects of the activity without letting clouded thoughts distract you from your experience. Let this time be for you.
As you enter the water, notice, what does it feel like? The temperature of it, the texture of it, and the touch of it against your skin.
As you begin to take each stroke, notice how you're able to glide through the water, moving gently without any resistance. It's as if the water makes way for you and lets you through. Your arms pulling you forward and the movement of your legs giving power.
Become aware of the placement of your body in the water as you move through it.
You're buoyant, swimming at the top with the depths of the water below.
Come back to the movement of your arms, feeling each arm enter and leave the water as you take your strokes. Be mindful of the cool touch of the air as your arms leave the water and the warmth of the water's edge as they enter back in. Tune in to the sound and rhythm of your breath. The gasp for air as your head emerges out of the water. Inhaling oxygen, giving life to your movements. With this awareness, allow the breath to slow down and be gentle. Allowing each gasp to soften and letting that softening release tension from your face and body.
Listen to the sounds around you. The sound of the water moving, the sounds of splashes made with your movements, and the sounds of any outside noise as your head lifts up and out.
If you notice your mind has become distracted at points of the practice, bring it back to the feel of your body in the water, to the slowing of your breath and to each movement you're taking to allow you to move forward.
Let this help you find a sense of ease.
Explore HBF mental health cover
Find health cover that includes mental health services, for extra support when you need it most.
Find out more
1Better Health - Swimming Health Benefits
2Healthline - Benefits of Swimming
3Blue Mind, Wallace Nichols, 2014 - Book
4Sports Australia - Popularity of Swimming
5Beyond Blue - Benefits of Exercise
6Health Direct - Drinking water and your health
This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.