In the wake of Covid-19, we’re living in uncertain times. We’re isolated. We’re worried about our health and the health of those we love. We’re anxious about the future.
For many of us, it’s hard to deal with such profound uncertainty. For open water swimmers, uncertainty is present every time they step into a massive, untamed body of water. Open water swimmers can never be certain about the outcome of a swim. They’re always at the mercy of many elements outside of their control, from waves, to weather, to wildlife, to simply finding the will to keep swimming.
Life isn’t a swimming pool, with lanes to follow and water that’s always heated to a comfortable temperature.
At Swim Guide, we’ve been asking open water swimmers how they deal with uncertainty and sharing their advice about how they’re making it through these turbulent times.
Eney Jones is a long-distance open water swimming champion, triathlete, coach, and yoga instructor. She’s a Masters National Champion, Open Water 5k Champion, European Record Holder and Masters Swimming Champion, over twenty time finalist in the U.S. Swimming Nationals, (including Olympic Trials 1980), and a National Collegiate Athletic Association gold medalist.
Dealing with uncertainty, you have to expect the unexpected. You really can’t control your circumstances. The only things you really can control are yourself and your reactions.
In open water swimming, something unexpected is always going to happen. It’s not if something is going to happen, it’s when. It’s about rebooting. You might get your goggles kicked off, you might get kicked in the face, the current might be tough. That’s why you should always go back to breathing and re-centering and working on yourself. You do have options and you can figure it out.
When things are uncertain, people get anxious. There are a few pretty easy breathing techniques that can help. One is the Navy Seal circle technique: inhale for 4 counts, let the circle grow, hold it for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, then be okay with nothing for 4 counts. Relax into that nothingness.
I also work with people on an ‘aloha breath.’ People have a tendency to panic in open water, but you can calm yourself through breath. In the word aloha, ‘alo’ means ‘presence’ and ‘ha’ means ‘breath.’
We’re in a heightened state of anxiety because there’s so much we just don’t know. We don’t know when pools will open, we don’t know when the ocean is going to open, we don’t know when we can travel and make plans again. So it all really takes you back to ‘aloha,’ which is the presence of breath and the ‘right now.’
When your plans change, it’s hard. What’s really hard is the uncertainty of not knowing when this will be over. I have races in November that have been cancelled, but November seems so far away.
Sometimes, though, not being able to do something really builds internal hunger and strength. You can’t wait until you can do it again.
It’s like people coming back from injury: They sit there for months, just thinking about getting back into it. Sometimes you can’t swim for a while, but then when you do it again you’re more focused, you’re more committed, you’re more determined.
Usually, I love running with friends and having conversations. But recently, I’ve been running by myself and focussing on clearing my head and focussing on my breath. Running alone is a great way to experience the beauty of the world.
I used to get up every morning at 4:30. Now I sleep in. I wake up being serenaded by the birds and I think, “This is so amazing.” I think gratitude and helping one another and finding things to love helps.
There are so many gifts. The gift of unity in our community is huge. As an open water community, we’re all so connected and we’re all so lucky that we have something we’re passionate about. We’re so lucky because in open water, you can always find some space. We’re so lucky we have the passion, knowledge, community.
Even as we’re speaking, the planet is getting more beautiful. We swim in beauty. And with less travel and less traffic, the air is cleaner. The water is cleaner. There are going to be gifts for us. The creeks are melting here, and I know in a little while, I’m just going to get in and swim. I know the creek is cold, but I’m missing swimming so much.
Even right now, there are so many things that we can do. There are people worse off than we are. This is a great time to help people;it gets your focus off of yourself.
Studies have shown that when people are in traumatic situations and they help other people, they live longer. This is hard to do right now, because with social distancing, we physically can’t always help others. But I do think we can write letters, call people, and collect advice for other people.
Pull back and look at what you love and want to do and how you can help others get through this. Staying at home makes you be with yourself and honour yourself, rather than just doing, doing, doing.
We’re not into doing right now, we’re into being right now.
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