The last few days I’ve been taking vinyasa classes at YogaSwami in a yurt on Hwy 101 in Encinitas CA. At home in New Paltz I practice yoga regularly, but since coming to San Diego two months ago to train for upcoming swim marathons, I’d let my yoga practice lapse, partly because I’m swimming 20 to 25 miles a week, rather than my usual 10. But a brief back spasm after jumping off the boat to begin my Maui Channel swim on March 21, persuaded me to make time for yoga before the Tampa Bay Marathon on Apr 17.
My first time at the yurt, I noticed teacher Michelle smiling broadly for pretty much the whole 75 minutes. She also reminded us to smile when a pose felt difficult. If my arms complained about holding Down Dog longer than usual, a smile made it easier. This morning, as we faced the center of the yurt in “Warrior 1″ teacher Roxanne told us to “Smile at whoever’s opposite you.” I already was, having started with an intention to keep smiling.
This gift of a smile is a lesson I’ve noticed several times in recent months. A few times while swimming at LaJolla Cove, cold temperatures, rough water — or swimming in the dark on a couple of pre-dawn swim starts — have given me a tiny shiver of self-doubt or misgiving. But each time, as soon as I began I’d feel so good to be in open water, I would involuntarily smile and instantly know I was where I feel happiest.
When Dave Barra, Willie Miller and I swam Maui Channel 12 days ago, there were small craft warnings and signs in our hotel lobby warning guests not to enter rhe water because of “extreme surf.” I lay awake much of the night listening to waves crash thunderously on the beach, thinking about swimming 10 miles in that the next day.
From the start, every stroke was a struggle. It felt as if we were being tossed around nearly as much as we moved forward. But before long, it dawned on me: “I’m swimming with Dave and Willie!” We’ve swum hundreds of hours together at Lakes Minnewaska and Awosting in New Paltz – as well as in the Bahamas and Hawaii – three abreast synchronizing strokes and simply enjoying one another’s company. As soon as I recalled the pleasure of swimming together I couldn’t help but smile. After we finished, my wife Alice told me she’d seen me smiling, from 20 or more yards away on the boat, each time I breathed to my left. When I began to smile – though conditions remained turbulent – I stopped struggling and enjoyed the next 9+ miles.
Yoga teachers are on to something powerful when they remind us to smile, but I’ve never had a swim coach tell me to smile. If you coach yourself, start a new habit next time you swim. In fact, even the thought of swimming should make you smile.