With My Hands In Prayer

By Stephanie Estice

I took my first swimming class at the age of 20. I was spending a summer at UC Berkeley, taking an intro to genetics class. I had never learned to swim, and I thought it would be an interesting challenge and maybe fun to finally learn. I grew up in a suburb where everyone took swimming lessons. My parents both worked, which at that time was still a relatively new thing, and they weren’t plugged into some of the social expectations of where we lived. So I had no swimming lessons as a child, even though we spent every summer by a lake in northern Michigan. Which is how I found myself as a young adult, in a rooftop pool in Berkeley, California, attempting to learn all these strokes.

No matter what I did, I always felt like I was drowning when I attempted freestyle. My backstroke always veered to one side. My butterfly…well, I love to do the dolphin kick when under water, but those arms… The only stroke for which I felt any sense of accomplishment was the breaststroke. It felt pretty good. But, whenever I would go to a pool to do laps, I was convinced that you are supposed to do freestyle for laps. For some reason, that was all I saw…people swimming laps in freestyle. So for years and years I would either attempt laps in freestyle and feel like I was drowning (and feel like I should learn freestyle) or do laps in breaststroke and somehow feel like it wasn’t good enough.
I was in a pool for the first time this year just nine days ago. My 11-year-old daughter and I had a hotel pool to ourselves, and I had the urge to swim laps. With no one but us around, and with the sense of freedom I am carrying from two recent meditation retreats, I gave into the urge to swim some laps. I swam the breaststroke, and it felt perfect. For the first time those voices weren’t there telling me I should do something else. It felt so good, that when I woke up at 5 the following morning, I went down to do asana, then I went poolside to meditate, and when I finished my meditation, I swam more laps. And, as I did, I had a beautiful realization about the breaststroke. I noticed that with every stroke, my hands come down and around and return to prayer pose, and then they go back up and reach, with arms and legs reaching in opposite directions. I had finished my sun salutations on the mat just thirty minutes before entering the pool, and I realized that the breaststroke can be another form of sun salutation, another way to bring meditation off the cushion and into movement.
I have returned to a pool to swim laps twice this week.  It brings me joy to marry my love of water, asana, meditation, movement and devotion.
(Note: This post was originally published on www.vitalityforwellbeing.com)
One Response to With My Hands In Prayer
  1. Mariah

    Thank you for your inspiration Stephanie