Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Guided visualization, mindfulness and meditation are practices used by many endurance athletes. A few swimmers describe their individual forms of meditation:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you practice meditation?

Capri Djatiasmoro: Yes.

Penny Nagel: Yes.

Eric Helmick: I memorize scripture from the Bible and meditate on those words.

Jennifer Figge: I have used a Shark Shield since 1998 and still have all four limbs. I believe in it!.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you believe meditation can be practiced while swimming?

Capri Djatiasmoro: Yes.

Penny Nagel: Definitely.

Eric Helmick: Yes. In fact we talk as a team before swimming about what our focus of prayer and thoughts will be for the day.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How is meditation on land different than meditation while swimming?

Capri Djatiasmoro: I find the water very soothing and relaxing.

Penny Nagel: Meditation on land is far more difficult for me due to sensory overload. I feel I am still accessible and easy distracted. I practice yoga, but it can still be difficult due to my physical limitations; reconstructed legs make it difficult in yoga I battle the world, then I battle my physical self, then I break through to a space of oneness. In the ocean, this is changed. I am fluid; I am focused on my breathing and undistracted. I feel at one with the world instead of at odds with it when I hit the water. Meditation while swimming makes me feel at one with the world.

Eric Helmick: Swimming brings with it a great number of distractions. However, the longer the swim, the easier to engage in meditation. In other words, a short swim in the pool is focused on performance, to-do lists, etc. An 8-hour swim in open water can lead to long spells of deeper thought process.

Ben Stubenberg: Must be different because in swimming you have to focus on stroke mechanics and body position. That said, maybe one can get into a meditative state even while concentrating on movement.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Are there specific advantages to meditation on land versus in the water?

Capri Djatiasmoro: Not that I know of. When I meditate on land, I think of swimming and how I good feel when I swim.

Eric Helmick: Again, easier to focus I would assume.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you ever ‘lose yourself’ or daydream while swimming?

Capri Djatiasmoro: Yes, but I always keep one toe grounded in reality. In my mind, I float off and travel around the universe, but then I come back and check on my body, my form, my stroke … take care of the body. I need it as long as I am here.

Penny Nagel: Often. After 3-4 miles the stress of the world leaves me and I feel at peace.

Eric Helmick: Yes. It is very easy for me on long swims to let my mind follow my heart. Though I generally establish where I want my mind to go and for how long. On a long swim, I can drift so far that I have fallen asleep while moving through the water.

Jennifer Figge: Yes, but I know I must get back to finishing my stroke or my body will get creative and then the stroke falls apart.

Ben Stubenberg: Yes, often. Have to keep thinking about
the stroke too. But the thoughts that run through your mind are ones worth exploring.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you believe the traditional sensory deprivation of swimming in the open water is beneficial or conducive to mindfulness while swimming?

Capri Djatiasmoro: I find I have to be more focused, otherwise I just float away literally and figuratively.

Penny Nagel: Completely agree.

Eric Helmick: Yes.

Jennifer Figge: My best friend says, “Jennifer, long distance swimming is just not social enough… you are face down in water all day.

Ben Stubenberg: Yes, but is open watre swimming really sensory deprivation? Or is it better characterized as a different sensory experience.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How can we learn or develop better ways of mindfulness or meditation while swimming?

Penny Nagel: Swim longer.

Eric Helmick: As open water swimming takes the world by storm and becomes more popular as it is quickly doing so, open water swimmers have a great opportunity to share their stories, but more importantly techniques with a new audience. Making prayer and meditation a part of training would greatly enhance the purpose behind the swim.

Jennifer Figge: No.

Ben Stubenberg: I think that mindfulness comes naturally in open water swimming because of the aerobic activity, the need to focus on stroke, and the different sensory awareness one has of the fluid open water environment. It would be interesting to see if it can be enhanced, but I am not sure that is necessary other than
swimming more. One more important thing: Swimming, particularly open water swimming clears the mind just by getting in the water and going. Somehow, whatever problems that existed are less urgent, less concerning. A certain clear-headedness emerges.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you practice yoga to benefit or augment your swimming workouts?

Capri Djatiasmoro: I like yoga. I wish I could do it more often; its centers the core and makes you so strong.

Penny Nagel: Yes.

Eric Helmick: No.

Jennifer Figge: No.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you pray during, before or after your swims?

Capri Djatiasmoro: I ask for guidance and pray to my mother to lead me in the right direction. She was a swimmer in Baltimore harbor and bays.

Penny Nagel: During, especially in big surf. It is a great start to a strong meditation. Example, the other day I was swimming and after four miles of praying for answers regarding whether my work project was the right path, two whales swam up to me and stayed with me for 10 minutes swimming next to me looking me in the eye and swimming under me. The light turned on for me that the technology we are developing may seem land-based, but without advanced soil nutrient practices, our oceans suffer and so do these magnificent creatures. I resolved to persevere and within hours most of my obstacles were resolved, it was magical in so many ways.

Eric Helmick: Yes. Our team prays every day before we enter the water. We pray specifically for strength, endurance and safety. We believe there is a spiritual battle raging between heaven and hell, and as we move throughout the world to inspire youth. The devil is pissed that we are bringing hope and inspiration to others. So the chance for something to go wrong is always at the forefront of our minds.

Jennifer Figge: I do cross myself with holy water before I dive in each morning. And I have said the rosary, while swimming.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you have anything else to add about mindfulness or meditation in the water?

Capri Djatiasmoro: I think athletes in general work so hard to discipline the physical and we do not give equal time to mental training. I once asked a race car driver, other than making sure the car was in tip top condition, what else did he do in preparation for a race? He said he visualizes the course and what he wants to do at certain points and that is how he wins races. He does not think of what he does not want to do, because then he does them and fails.

It is very important to keep positive thoughts and energies. If you start thinking negative thoughts, then you are already defeated. We all have doubts and negative thoughts. How I deal with them is – I let them in, acknowledge them and then tell them they can leave. I need to make room for positive thoughts and good energies. Life is good.

Penny Nagel: The mindfulness I get from ocean swimming centers me. It has taught me to go with the flow. Stay calm in adversary. In big surf it has taught me that even when I am being held down under the darkness of large surf, the light eventually shines through and all I have to do is is stay calm and mindful.

Eric Helmick: Preparing your mind beforehand for what you want to accomplish while swimming in your mind is key. It is very easy to be distracted and let your mind wander. We have swam in shark infested waters, with the world’s most poisonous snakes, whirlpools and underwater dangers. If you let your mind run through all of these things, your swimming style and performance suffer. Focusing on pre-determined thoughts such as praying for others, allows you to enter the water with a significant waterhead as we call it.

Jennifer Figge: I often think of my cousin who was critically burned in a plane crash, my uncle who was an amputee, and my father who died of throat cancer. Lucky Jennifer, I’m just swimming.
Land is where the problems are, the ocean takes them away.

Ben Stubenberg: There definitely is an inner peace and simultaneously a deeper connection with swim friends following an open water swimming workout, even a short one. Sports like running and cycling also produce that, but it seems swimming is different because the watery environment is so different. So, perhaps that puts us all in a certain special mindset when we do it together. OK, I’m biased, but people who take up swimming or re-discover swimming as adults tend to continue it as a workout AND a meditative experience for the rest of their lives. I’ve seen lives completely change when they are introduced to and take up open water swimming here in my little corner of the world in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Photo above shows Tom Hecker, Dan Simonelli, Mariel Hawley Dávila, Penny Nagel and Ivanka Gavanski heading into the Pacific Ocean.

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