I grabbed the pool's edge panting and thinking I did pretty well after swimming a few laps one morning – especially after not having exercised in the water during the winter months.
…Until a fellow swimmer in the next lane offered to share his observations and a piece of advice.
His observation: "You're working mighty hard. Too hard."
His advice: "Go slow to go fast. You'll cover more distance if you slow down your movement and allow yourself to reach and glide." I learned that I was working against water. Against the element. Pushing and efforting too much. If I worked any harder and I could have been drowning.
Oh. As soon as I heard him say that, I instantly knew that this feedback applies to allareas of my life.
Growing up I learned about the value of working hard. A wise move would be to balance that with working smart. In order to work smart, I need to step back and pay better attention to my body's signals. Working harder and faster does not mean go fast and muscle my way through.
During a recent dental appointment my dentist asked if I gritted my teeth. "No," I responded. But now I take that back. I do! I didn't notice it before, but now I check in throughout the day and find that I'm clenching my teeth. I just revealed an unconscious habit. One that also points to my habit of working too hard. And usually when I clench my teeth, I'm also holding my breath!
My aha moment: Clenching teeth and holding breath are two of many ways to work against the natural law of gravity. By tensing my muscles, I uproot myself from being grounded, solid and stable. This weakens my efforts. By constricting extra muscles, I'm using more energy and effort to move my body in an integrated and natural way. Ideally, I'd like for the proper muscle groups to move in unison and harmony when I'm engaged in an activity, and to relax into the movement. This allows for efficiency and effectiveness – resulting in less fatigue and stress. Clenching my teeth is not helping me swim faster or comfort my kids with greater compassion or write a compelling blog post. This I know for sure. I've tried it many a time!
And with that, I now exhale and drop my lower jaw.
What's a way to know if you are working harder than necessary?
This is what I do:
- Check in with my body at certain points of the day. I used to set a timer on my phone as a reminder until it becomes second nature to do occasional body scans. This also reminds me to s-l-o-w down!
- Notice tension in muscles and areas that are not required to the function I'm performing or are squeezed more than necessary – such as my jaw, eyes, shoulders, lungs, belly, quads. After a few times, I begin to notice a pattern of the muscles groups I tend to habitually strain.
- Deeply inhale then release – exhale – drop down. Let my body settle and feel my weight pull towards gravity. Note: This does NOT mean to slump over. Settle into gravity while rolling back your shoulders, lifting your spine and neck and opening your chest. Think of the posture of a ballerina or gymnast: long, lean and dynamically relaxed.
- Re-engage in what I was doing while focusing on ease and grace and fluidity.
Thanks to helpful feedback from my fellow swimmer, I'm having fun stretching my limbs and gliding in the water further, I'm more relaxed during the day and I'm saving my teeth from stress-induced dental work.
Who knew I'd gain more than just a smoother swim stroke that day? I now apply what I learned in the water to the rest of my life. A wise mentor, Jennifer Cohen, once told me:"How we move through space is how we move through life." Yes, indeed. The key is to pay attention!
My new mantra: Go slow to go fast.
Here's to life and continued growth,
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