Happiness as we know it, more than just being a self-reported state of being, is a brain-wide phenomenon with a range of emotional gradations and neurochemical connections. Marine biologist and renowned author Dr. Wallace J. Nichols wrote an entire book on the benefit of a Blue Mind, and we highly encourage you to read it.
What I want to highlight here is how much inner peace can be found starting with the pool. Swimming lays the groundwork for a happier life. Aside from the physical benefits of swimming, our whole body is supported by the embrace of the water.
“I feel most at home in the water. I disappear. That’s where I belong.” – Michael Phelps
Inner Peace in the Pool
The aerobic nature of swimming, like other forms of aerobic exercise, increases the endorphins and other chemicals in our brain that decreases stress and anxiety levels. However, it’s not just the physiological response in our brain that adds to our sense of inner peace in the pool.
Dr. Nichols talks about the viscosity, and pressure unique to our experience of the water, and our ability to experience the water in multiple dimensions. We enter the quiet space of the water relatively weightless and primed to let the outside world drop away. Then we swim, engaging in whole body exercise that works the large, smooth muscle groups in the body in an alternating, rhythmic pattern. When accompanied by the deep, rhythmic breathing required in a regular stroking mechanism, we are often able to swim in a semi-meditative state.
“Being on, in, around, or near water can calm our overactive minds while it imbues our senses. It does this by tapping into ancient neural maps and their associated neurochemical reactions. It can help us access the state not coincidentally called by another watery word, “flow,” allowing us to access the default network/daydreaming parts of our brains while restoring our ability to focus and perform cognitive and creative tasks with greater ease.” – Dr. Nichols
Inner peace is an elusive idea, difficult to define, and fluid from person to person. However, the evidence is clear that there is a path to such peace through the pool.