By Nobleman Nash Hollowhill – November 23, 2009
An area of study I would like to explore in receiving instruction and eventually teaching the arts of Yoga and Tai Chi, is the physical and theoretical overlapping between the processes of doing these and swimming. To learn to swim, not only does it require a different mode of bodily movement, but a different state of mind. The same is true of Yoga and Tai Chi. To use these practices, it is necessary to tune the body into a fluid state, and readjust the theoretical assumptions of the nature of physical reality. Both can be used to rehabilitate people who have disabilities, physical and mental.
When swimming, it is possible to experience a sense of freedom because less effort is often required to maintain a state of equilibrium than on land, and this leads to modes of physical operation which include non-restrictive movement. Restrictive or repetitive movement is commonly categorized as work. When regularly treading water or swimming, the limbs fall into patterns of movement which, although they require physical work, do not always involve an attachment to gravity. When doing Yoga the sense of movement that is free from responsibility is also present, and so is the sensation of liberation. In Tai Chi, mobility is possible through walking, but in keeping the balance at all times, this achieves a sense of timelessness and usually does not display characteristics of work. It is said that Yogis employ stretching to dispel their attachment to the physical world, and this can be seen with the liberation from repetitive modes of behavior which removes one’s sense of specialized identity when performing a task. The physical sensation of doing and learning these practices is as fluid, and as different from ordinary reality as the sensation of swimming and learning to swim.
Last month, while camping on a pond, I decided to combine these two practices. I attempted walking tai chi while standing waist deep in the water, and the process was similar and equally challenging, but no less possible. In addition, I explored different ways of swimming which employ a higher level of physical operation than ordinary swimming. I first swam out to where I could no longer reach the bottom of the pond, and tread water as I assumed the full lotus position. The circulation in my lower body contributed to my buoyancy by oxygenating the blood in my legs, and allowed for me to continue treading water with just my arms. I was able to store energy in my lower body as well as reducing drag that accompanies any expenditure of bodily movement. The sensation was wonderful, and I was able to maintain this position without sinking. After a while of doing a breast stroke in this position, I tried this moving backwards, and had almost the same level of success.
I then realized that I could control my buoyancy with my breath alone and that treading water with my arms was no longer necessary. I interlocked my fingers under my head and slowly inhaled as my legs rose up to the surface, and slowly exhaled, bringing them back down. My head started to sink underwater and I started breathing in just before my mouth went under. This was a difficult task and helped keep me focused on my breath because I was impelled by the fear of drowning. It was nevertheless one of the most relaxing activities I have ever engaged in, and paralleled sensory deprivation because my eyes were closed, my ears were underwater, and all tactile sensation was the rise and fall of water over my body. Upon releasing my legs from the lotus position, I began to swim like never before. The tension I had created for myself by constricting my legs in this way allowed for a tremendous release of energy, and like a spring expanding I allowed my legs to fall in sync with one another without thinking, or restricting their movement in any way.