York Hall Swimming Pool, Bethnal Green, 1996
I would swim at York Hall three, sometimes four, times a week. 63 lengths of the 33 metre long pool, equaling a mile. Racing up and down, feeling the endorphins vibrating through my system, my breath easy and powerful, my leg kick germinating in my belly. Massaging my psoas but this deep full potency then I only knew in body, not my mind. Followed with a good 30 minutes of play in the 3 metre deep end. Somersaults, floating, yoga stretches, lying submerged on the bottom. Discovering the possibilities of my body in the water.
And there, afterwards, would be the regulars, especially those in the mornings. Post-swim, standing naked in the showers, washing hair, chatting in the female changing rooms. That image, of women, some young, many old, has never left me. So at ease they felt, time after time. Seeing their bodies, their different shapes, different ethnicities, different times in their lives, all communing in an open, relaxed space after each had enjoyed their swim in the water. Such a rich, powerful and buoyant memory to hold. Decades seeming irrelevant. Time seeming to merge.
Topsham Lido, Devon, 2017
It is the eve of my birthday. I turn 46 tomorrow. I have taken myself for a swim whilst the kids are occupied, one at school, the other off and under the weather. The weather of the day itself is mixed. Warm, some sunshine but mostly grey by the time I get in the pool. And I swim and swim and swim.
My swimming is different from those days back in Bethnal Green. In part from having trained and taught in the Shaw Method many moons ago; an approach to swimming mindfully using principles of Alexander Technique. It’s more intentful in slowing down, savouring the length and grace of each stoke, more meditative in quality. And too it has changed from a myriad of experiences over the last decade. Motherhood has effected my relationship to swimming, largely because the opportunities to spend endless hours in the pool, for myself and those I was teaching, have not been the same as they once were. Also, too, health has had an enormous impact. Asthma being the primary factor.
Possibly because I used to swim so much, the regularity and levels of fitness I had, I was asthma-free between early teenage years right through until my son was born. But asthma, bloody fucking asthma, thereafter took it’s toll big time. Like chicken and egg, I knew getting back into a regular routine would help my breathing but without such free time, getting to the pool as often as I needed, prohibited this natural opportunity to help my breathing get back on track.
And, although spending time connecting with and in the water always comes up trumps, swimming these last years hasn’t had quite the same impact as it used to. My flow has often felt far more effortful and consequently, sadly, slightly less enjoyable. I still dig deep from being in the water yet I have had a persistent background niggle niggling in the background. Like a sleepy shadow I have carried around on my shoulder.
And then, on Friday, whilst letting thoughts flow mid-front crawl in Topsham, something occurred to me. Shit, I thought, the lithe young woman who knocked out 60 odd lengths several times a week is turning 46 tomorrow. My body has changed SO much over these last two decades and it ain’t the same as it once was. I know this in yoga. I know this in dance. I know this in running. How the tone of my movement has altered. But, for some reason, I didn’t twig this in the water. At all.
I’ve long seen the water as a mirror. It reflects and feeds back to us effortlessly. Grey areas, those of resistance, it is easy, I find, to witness these points, especially our emotional body, in the water. Like a magnified, homeopathic dose. Why, I wonder, did my ageing, my evolving, I not recognise in this space?
Suspended in time, it would seem, maybe it’s easy to unhinge our beings from age. In the immediate it bears no relevance. Buoyancy eases mind, body and heart harmoniously within the fluidity of the water. So met. So held. It’s urges us not to run. Not to attend to the possibility of incessant worry that creeps beneath the skin of being ageless or not. Of being forever young. We can never be this. Ever. But in the water’s caress, in its timeless surrender that kisses the soul, it is easy to forget.
Just as the dance of age, in those moments, appeared immaterial to the bevy of seemingly contented souls post swim at York Hall all those years ago.
So what happened on Friday? Whilst experiencing my effortful and denser-seeming-ness and then acknowledging my changing body, in acceptance, in fact in excitement, something significant shifted. The lengths I swam thereon started to flow super dynamically once more. Embracing how I am now, as opposed to how I was then, lifted a weight. Less body, more of mind. A weight that had, I now realise, had an edge of the punitive. Why aren’t you swimming like you used to? Get a move on girl, get a move on!, it quietly and frustratingly roared.
No, I said on Friday. I am what I am. I love more and more my older and slightly wiser self. My body is fuller. Curvier. Sexier. It is powerful and strong. And, whilst the world would like to call me to renounce this, No, I do not want to waste my energy trying to do so. And then I pondered, is it possible for us to allow what was to be what was and not of now?
I think with time and softness, yes we can.
And so I continued my swim, each stroke growing clearer, more engaged, more purposeful, as of old, as I swam my changing self closer to the day celebrating my birth.
Yes. On the day of 8th July 1971, I came hurtling feet first into the world ten minutes before the moon swam at it’s fullest. It has been full this year on this day too. I feel it’s conversation in my bones. Those that are feeling the texture of age and connection to the ancients. Time here, as in the water, feels increasingly transcendent and fluid, reaching far back many moons and to those to come as well.
Much to ruminate on.
Hello Moon and Birth Day Salutations to all you fellow Cancerians out there and Waterbabies of all ages. I hope it’s been speaking to you too!
Image: Source unknown