6 Benefits of a Morning Swim

I started swimming on a regular basis about three months ago.  When I relocated to Durham, North Carolina, I found a public indoor pool and decided to sign up for a 10-visit swim pass.  I have to say I was a bit nervous.  If you have ever been to a public pool or shower, it can be intimidating.  Are the showers mildew covered, is there a private place to change, will the pool be a decent temperature, and, most importantly, will there be a free lane for me to swim in? I reserved a lane online, paid my fee, and drove, with trepidation, to the Campus Hills location on an early Saturday morning.  There was plenty of free parking, a pleasant gentleman at the reception desk, and a clean, empty locker room for me to leave my belongings as well as baskets available to take personal items out to my lane.  I was reassured.  Now all I had to do was swim.

My local indoor pool

I was on my high school swim team my sophomore year.  I can remember the early morning practices and swimming upwards of 2,000 to 2,500 yards.  What I remember most was the trance like state I would get into, swimming back and forth.  I was longing for that.  The Zen state of just being, I think it’s what brought me back to the pool after some forty years.

Here are 6 benefits of a morning swim:

It’s a great start.   There are almost always other swimmers at the eight-lane pool.  I ran into one of the women that was swimming a few lanes over on the way out the door.  I told her to have a great day and she said “Nothing can go wrong after starting my day with a swim.” I heartily agreed with her. It’s like teeing up my day for success. I’ve exercised, I’ve showered, I’ve centered myself.  It’s a terrific way to start your day.

There is one path.  Throughout my day, I need to make countless decisions whether it be what to wear, what trail to walk my dog, what to eat, or what task to work on. When I’m in the pool, there is only one way and one direction and one thick black line on the bottom of the pool.  That is my only path.  I follow the black line until it ends at a T and then, I go back the other way. It’s such a great antidote for decision fatigue.  Jump in the pool and just follow the black line.

No technology. There are no calls, emails, social media, or screens…at all. It’s amazingly freeing to be without the distraction of any notifications. I do wear an iWatch which, miraculously, counts my strokes, my laps, and heart rate.  But outside of biofeedback, I am free to detach from the outside world and focus on the black line below.

It’s good for your heart. Of course, any exercise is good for your heart but as written by Dr. Daniel Bubnis for Greatist, “One study found that people with a regular swimming routine lost weight and had decreased carotid arterial stiffness, lower blood pressure, and increased blood flow to the brain. All these benefits reduce the risk of heart disease.” I have to say that my blood pressure was already lowered most likely by eating plant based but I’ll take anything that’s good for my heart.

It burns calories. I noticed this almost immediately when I started tracking my swimming on my watch.  I burn close to twice the calories that I burn on a hike of the same period of time (say 30 minutes) and my average heart rate is higher as well.  As Bubnis wrote, “Since your whole body is working, it’s no surprise that swimming is a real calorie burner. Swimming burns the same number of calories as jogging (without the joint stress). And that’s if you’re swimming at a relaxed pace!” It’s a workout even though there’s no sweat!

Less stress. For me, it’s the repetition of the stroke, the breath, the hum of the bubbles in the water, the trusty black line below, the peace and flow when I push off the wall to glide effortlessly forward. As Bubnis reported, “A 2012 survey commissioned by Speedo found that 74 percent of participants had reduced stress after swimming. And 70 percent said swimming left them mentally refreshed. Keep in mind that any form of exercise can help reduce stress. But water-based activities are known to have additional soothing effects. It’s just hard to be stressed out when you’re floating in water.” Swimming can reduce stress.

I initially started swimming during the winter because it was the one activity that wasn’t as dependent on the weather, and I could reserve a lane time that fit my schedule. There are some days when it’s not a morning swim, although I do prefer to swim in the morning. I have slowly been working my way up to longer distances, today was 1,200 yards! I think back to swim practice in 1977, and Mrs. Woods starting us off with 1,000 yards freestyle to get warmed up. Whelp.  I can’t swim the entire length of a pool with one breath either.  It’s just nice to find peace, solitude, and a little bit of Zen to start off my day.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

You are angry because your coworker hijacked the project near and dear to your heart. Who do they think they are? One of your favorite singers is a lot heavier since first appearing on American Idol. Geez, put down the Twinkie, will you? Your child needs financial help…again. How many times do I need to bail you out? You blew off that exercise class…again. I’m a lazy, flabby slob.

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This is judgment. When you are wrapped up in judgment you cannot love; even yourself. We are taught judgment from a very early age. For me, it was not having an expansive vocabulary (What do you mean you don’t know that word?), not achieving straight A’s or not having the physical prowess of my siblings. I judged myself for not measuring up. This judgment and comparison robbed me of my joy and will rob you of yours. Stop judging.

Here is how to let go of judgment:

Catch yourself.  First, you need to be aware that you are judging. It is so easy to fall prey to a constant stream of judgment of yourself and others. How to change it? It starts with awareness.  I make an effort to be cognizant of my judgments. When I notice that someone has gained or lost weight, or is wearing something I don’t find appropriate, I think to myself, “This is judgment.” I have found myself passing judgment all day long. Whoa. Whether it’s me getting on the scale in the morning to an additional five pounds, or rolling my eyes at the screaming kid throwing a tantrum in the grocery store. Hmmm. This is judgment. The first step is to be aware that you are judging and then label it.

Whose path is it?  “Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20.” – Anonymous. This is a profound quote for me. I don’t know where you are in your book and I don’t have any idea how many pages have preceded the current chapter. We are all on different journeys. I don’t know if your path has been rocky, a steep hill, or if you have been on the couch for the last ten years. Comparison of your path versus someone else will rob you of your joy. Focus on your path. On your happiness. Stay on your path.

Find admiration.  I have several friends who are expert yoga instructors. They are in fabulous shape. I could live in jealousy of their expertise and physical prowess and compare my somewhat klutzy self to their elegance. I am so much more at peace and happier when I just admire their expertise and power. Wow. What an amazing dedication of being outstanding at yoga. I admire them and am proud to call them friend. Find admiration for what you think you lack. And get beyond yourself.

Compassion for yourself and others.  Let go of the mistakes that you and others have made. Depending on the depth of the wound this may take more time and involve going through rather than around the feeling. I can get wrapped up in what my parents, teachers, spouses, and friends should have done differently. In the end, history cannot be rewritten and the regrets that are harbored in your heart help no one, especially yourself. Having compassion for that egotist at work, or your fickle client, or your ex’s addiction is, in the end, freeing. Compassion is finding love for friend or foe. It is holding that special space of love and forgiveness. This compassion starts with yourself and can help you change with others.

Thoughts become things.  You do get to choose your thoughts. It seems at times that your mind is blasting you with uncontrollable thoughts and judgments. You can choose instead to choose thoughts of love. I have recited affirmations for years to help develop a more positive outlook and results. It is a practice of centering and focusing on happiness and love. I have been following Mike Dooley for years and am subscribed to his Notes from the UniverseEvery weekday I receive a message from the Universe helping me push forward on my wondrous path. His tag line is: “Thoughts become things, choose the good ones.” This is a powerful message and keeps me mindful of trying to focus on possibility and love rather than blame and judgment.

If you are constantly judging yourself, you don’t have time to love yourself. Take a breath and be okay right now. You will love it.

Stick to Your Path

You’re jealous because your coworker just got a new red sports car and your car is a beat up 90’s Honda. You’re upset because you weren’t selected for the super duper high profile project but your arch nemesis from work did. Your ex is posting cozy pictures of her new boyfriend all over social media and you’re home alone on a House of Cards binge. You feel inadequate. You feel sorry for yourself. You are on the comparison Highway to Inadequacy. You need to get off that highway and focus on your own path.

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I’m a speaker. An executive coach. A mother. A dog owner. An author. I don’t get paid what Tony Robbins gets paid to speak. I don’t have the same client list as Marshall Goldsmith. My kids (are awesome) but they aren’t on the cover of Time magazine or on a Wheaties box (yet). My dog hasn’t won any Westminster Dog Shows. I haven’t written a single book and, therefore, never sold one (although there is a free copy here). The point is, how high is that bar for you? If I compared myself to everyone around me on all aspects of my life, I would be sorely disappointed. Stick to your path and quit looking at everyone else’s.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Acceptance.  Be Ok with the path that is in front of you. I was stuck in a should cycle for the last nine months on decisions regarding the rebuilding of my house post-Hurricane Matthew. I should have purchased all new cabinets. I should have bought new kitchen furniture. I should have gone with a different electrician. This is wearing you down. All that “should-ing“. Accept what decisions you have made and move forward. All that should-ing is making you dwell on the past and draining you.

 

  • Different.  I love this quote from Internal Acceptance Movement: “Everyone has their own unique journey. A path that’s right for someone else won’t necessarily be a path that’s right for you. Your path isn’t right or wrong, or good or bad. It’s just different.” What I try to do, say when I see that new red sports car in the company parking lot, is tell myself: “Wow. Suzy really likes cars. Good for her.” Everyone values different things, be it material possessions or experiences. I love to travel and maybe my son doesn’t. We are on different paths and that’s OK.

 

  • Pace.  This is my biggest problem. I am always in forward motion. I want to accomplish the next thing. I want it done yesterday. This makes me incredibly impatient with other folks who operate on a different pace (i.e.: slower). It doesn’t bring out my best side. As I tap my fingers, waiting for a response to ten rapid fire texts to my assistant. Take a breath and connect with your inner Buddha. Acknowledge your pace and quit trying to have people get on board with your pace. That’s how people start to stumble. Stay in lane and keep your own pace and don’t worry about anyone else’s.

 

  • Suspend.  I know you’ve done this. You see that your coworker has put on weight or is wearing something that, from your vantage point, is unattractive. You pass judgment in your head. “Wow. Janet needs to drop a few pounds” or “What made her think that looked good on her?” It’s difficult to suspend judgment but you can label it. Say instead, “So Cathy, this is what judgment looks like.” Step away from the comparing paths and label it.

 

  • Present.  Be in this moment right now. And now. And now. Don’t try and recreate history. No, your ex is not coming back and that’s OK right now. Trust that the path you are on is just fine and it’s taking you in the right direction. Don’t “catastrophicize” the future. Sometimes paths cross and it’s lovely, and there are wonderful memories made, and then they uncross. There will be new paths to cross in the future. As you walk your path, be present.

 

You may not end up where you intended to go but you will be off of the Highway of Inadequacy. Trust you are exactly where you need to be. Trust that you are enough. You are enough.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors Goods

It seems like every year around the holidays, I am invariably invited to a holiday party involving a game called “Dirty Santa”.  If you are not familiar with the game, participants bring a wrapped gift that is worth a certain amount like $15 and everyone draws numbers. Number 1 picks out a gift, and unwraps it. Number 2 gets to decide if they want to “steal” Number 1’s gift or pick out a new gift.  This goes on until all the gifts are selected and then Number 1 gets a second and last chance to look at all the gifts and decides whether to “steal” once more. images 1

I find it ironic that we play this game during the holidays.  During a time of giving and selflessness, we play a game that encourages coveting thy neighbors goods.  When we played this game a few weeks ago, I pulled “Number 1” which is an advantageous position. You get the last “pick” but I have to say that I was robbed at least four times during the game.  By the third time it happened, I quit getting attached to whatever I selected.  It’s strange to not know when  someone was going to come over and take it.  I ended up with a gift I really like, a scarf from Italy, but I could have just as easily ended up with cheap men’s cologne (a clunker gift from a game a few years back).

I think these experiences have something to show us.  Don’t covet.  Yours, mine or theirs.

So here are some ways:

1. Detach.  Detach from the objects in your life.  I was on a business trip in Charlotte.  I left my favorite blouse and skirt in the hotel closet.  I didn’t realize it for about a week.  They were gone.  I resented it for weeks.  Every time I was getting ready to travel, or wear the perfect matching earrings, or shoes, it brought it up again.  I was filled with regret and continued beating myself up.  Water under the bridge.  Let. It. Go.

2. Content.  Have you ever noticed that when you are looking for a new car, all you notice is the make and model you are interested in on the road?  Or if, as I did, you really wanted a convertible, you regret it for months and start looking at the make you bought as a convertible with jealousy? Be happy with the toys you have.  Be content.

3. Path.  We all make our own path.  We all got here from different places.  Some went to college, some didn’t, some stay in the same town their entire life and some don’t. Some people value Ferrari’s and, others value surf boards.  If I grew up in Italy, I’d probably value that Ferrari and if I grew up in Florida or Hawaii, the surf board.  Don’t judge others by what they covet.  You don’t know their path.

4. Seek experiences. In an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Melanie Greenberg, she writes “Research studies show that spending money on experiences, such as family vacations, educational courses, or psychotherapy provides more happiness ‘bang for the buck’ than spending money on possessions. That is because much of the pleasure of possessions seems to be in acquiring them.” The lift you get from the purchase is short lived.  Buyer’s remorse.  Take a class, go to the musical or sign up for coaching.  Go for the experience.

5. Boost your set point.  There have been many theories that you might get a brief bounce in your happiness set point after winning the lottery, tie the knot or buy that new house.  Eventually you will return to your original happiness level (after the honeymoon is over).  The good news is that according to an article in American Psychological Association by Zak Stambor called “Is our happiness set in stone?’ we can change our set point.  He writes, “research shows that people can increase their happiness by making a conscious effort to count their blessings, reframe situations in a positive light or perform kind acts.” Reframe and count your blessings.  It’s difficult to covet when you are grateful.

My parents have taught me to not covet material objects.  The Christmases of my childhood were not blow out Toy-fests.  They were times of family, food and Monopoly marathons.  Outside of an Easy Bake Oven, I can’t remember many of the gifts from my childhood but I do know that I always want my brother, Rick, on my Pictionary team (he is a great artist) and my dad on my Trivial Pursuits team (retired History teachers are awesome teammates).  Enjoy your holiday and count your blessings.