Guest Blog written by Sara Barnes

‘Taking one swim at a time”, that’s what I proclaimed on Facebook in response to being asked when we were going to put on our wetsuits.  We’d been lake swimming – the water temperature on our trusty thermometer said 2°C. I think it was telling porkies, it didn’t feel THAT cold, or are we just getting ‘ard?!

But what has wild swimming got to do with yoga? Nothing is what I would have said several months ago. I do both, slowly.  However, since I’ve been practicing both regularly in recent months, I can now see how the two relate at many levels.

Being in touch with your body and your breath are the two most obvious similarities, I would say. Another, perhaps less tangible, is non competitiveness, not with yourself and definitely not with anyone else. But at an even more subtle level they both challenge you to “stand up to” that critical inner voice, providing an opportunity to silence it’s doubting tone.

When you’re standing at the Lake shore in just a cossie, neoprene booties, hat and gloves, that voice is whispering ‘It’s cold outside, you can’t go in that water’, then you walk forward into the lake and it shouts ‘What are you doing?’, then you splash freezing cold water onto the back of your neck, face and chest and it screams ‘Get out, get out, you can’t do this’, then you count one, two, three and sink slowly into the water and it swears at you ‘****! ****! Oh! Wow!’ And you say, ‘…and swim…’

Strong flow yoga, as taught by Sarah, and wild swimming, as enjoyed by me and my swimmy friends, have taught the ‘push-myself-to-the-limit’ me, to slow down, use my breath and be guided more deeply by my body. And I have my recent operation to thank for literally incapacitating me, stopping me in my tracks and opening my eyes to this wonderful experience.

One particular swim comes to mind.  One evening recently when most people would have just been getting home from work, I met up with a swimmy friend who said she wanted to ‘chuck herself in Crummock for a short swim after work’. In the divers’ car park under Rannerdale Knott we chatted as we got ready and made our way to the water using head torches to see the stone steps.

It is my least favourite place to swim; the drop off is dark and forbidding, the enclosing rocks unforgiving and sharp. Warmed by adrenalin I didn’t feel the cold air as I took off my swim cloak, but the shock of the water as I splashed it onto myself forced me to focus on my breath.  I counted one, two, three and then sank into the water, deliberately slowing the rhythm of my breathing to help me stay calm.  I stood up again and gathered my thoughts, then sank gently back into the cold darkness and started to swim.

The bubbles and ripples as my hands passed through the water were lit up like diamonds by the moon as it peeked out from behind Rannerdale, drawing the clouds to one side and lighting our way across the bay. Every part of me felt alive, my strokes languid through the viscous water and I concentrated, not on the dark depths and unknown beneath me, but on being precise and accurate, enjoying the flow of movement and feeling of weightlessness. I turned on my back, held onto my tow float and looked up – millions of stars in a dark sky, puffy moonlit clouds behind the mountains… me floating silently and in awe.

Now think of your yoga practice and the similarities… you breathe, you focus, you calm your inner voice, you allow your body to stretch, hold, balance and flow – and finally, you relax …

And now slowly bring your mind back into the room…