Playing “hot potato” and treading water with a 10lb medicine ball; swimming freestyle with wet towels in hand; hitting the deck for burpees and 8 count body builders between laps – this is not your average water aerobics class! But what does SGT H2O’s Boot Camp have to do with yoga? Although very different workouts, I discovered a common denominator that was immensely impactful!
My friend and triathlon training buddy Shannon and I thought this aquatic boot camp, led by a former Navy Seal, sounded like a fabulous idea to jumpstart our tri training this season. Neither of us had extensive swimming backgrounds, but we’d taken lessons before when we were youngsters 20+ years ago! I’m not going to lie – there were a few times when I tried convincing myself I was going to die, like the first time treading water with superman arms at the very end of class. I gained a whole new appreciation for Navy boys that train to tread water in full uniform with all their gear, and for synchronized swimmers…they make it look like water dancing! I was definitely not dancing.
I struggled during the first few classes and stayed in the “slow” lanes. One drill that challenged me most was a breathing build up: swimming laps freestyle and breathing every 2, 4, 6 then 8 strokes. At first, I could barely complete 4 strokes on one breath. I had no control, would gasp for air and cling to the wall at the end of 25 meters! I asked one of the other boot campers in my lane, who was a slower swimmer but had so much control and finess, how she got to 8 strokes. Her secret was her breath! Sound familiar yogis?
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word meaning extension of life force, or breath. Yoga breathing teaches us how to breathe slowly and deeply, improving self control, concentration and focus. In a vinyasa class, pranayama teaches us to synchronize breath to movement and enables us to “flow” or find our own rhythm.
Much like yoga, breathing is the single most important aspect of freestyle swimming. A controlled and constant exhalation combined with perfect timing for the inhale is key in finding your rhythm, and ultimately swimming faster and farther.
My fellow boot camper shared that she controlled her breath for the first few strokes and then slowly and steadily exhaled during the remaining strokes. The light bulb lit up: “Of course, my breath is my guide,” I said to myself. Once I swam a few laps focusing on a slow and steady exhalation, I found an inner calmness, which enabled me to swim farther on each breath. I shared this secret with Shannon and it worked for her too, almost instantly! By the end of the boot camp, I was able to swim 8 strokes on one breath – a huge improvement for me in 10 classes.
Evan, our instructor, also shared a tip to help the class get into a rhythm while swimming. He suggested a little jingle to synchronize breath and stroke: “I swim fast, I swim fast” or his favorite, “boom shaka laka, boom shaka laka.” We swam a few laps to end one of our sessions while repeating a jingle to ourselves. I tried out Evan’s favorite and eventually everything in my stroke came together harmoniously.
Come race day, when there are dozens of arms and legs fiercely swimming around me, creating choppy water, I will sing my SGT H2O jingle and let my breath guide me. Boom shaka laka!
Peace. Love. Namaste.
Image courtesy of aquaticbootcamp.com