The Yoga of Swimming

This entry was posted on Sep 17, 2014 by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.

Swimming as a Form of Yoga

I step into the cold pond, each step a bit more of a shiver, my feet happy and a little nervous on the rounded rocks and moss. My friend surges ahead of me and drives up, splashing me with cold and life. I know I need to take another step and let go, sink in to my shoulders, but I also know that yelping will likely be involved as well as the urge to run back out. But retreat is not an option; surrender is.

I jump in, shiver, yell, thrash around, and give myself over to motion, rapid motion to get warm, and swim, knowing that the further out the go, the deeper the water and the colder the temperature. That’s where I head.

Yoga means yoking, and swimming, for me, is a form of yoga. I am yoking myself to the life force, surrendering to movement and mystery, using this gift of a body to migrate back and forth across this gift of water. In this pond in Vermont, I swim toward the trees on the other side. Back home in Kansas, I swim across the public pool, the trees on the other side of the park in view. For me, it’s always about swimming toward and away from trees, feeling my oneness not just with water, but with the warmer or cooler air I breath before submerging again, and the land and all that grows and flourishes surrounding bodies of water.

I also find myself working the same muscles and alignments as some yoga poses. Breast stroke can look a little like an upside-down Reclining Cobbler at moments, side stroke like a reclining Mountain poses with variations, back stroke a bit like all manner of things, depending on the motion and arch of the back.

Moreover, swimming brings me back to the life of the body/mind/heart altogether. Just as in yoga, I start out with a mind swirling and smashing thoughts, conversations (real or potential), agitations, worries and fears. After exertion and immersion, my mind settles. The thoughts dropped in ripple out like pebbles in the water. I focus on breath and prayer, sometimes saying a word in my mind for each stroke, such as, “Beauty, Balance, Forgiveness, Peace,” and then repeating the mantra. Swimming shows me how much I’m not just yoked to the universe but a small, vibrant part of an unfolding world.

About Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 14 books, including a forthcoming novel, The Divorce Girl; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); and four collections of poetry. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master's program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word at Goddard College (Goddard College); where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats (; and she blogs regularly at her website (

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