Friday, June 01, 2018

Blue Mind

Swimming's twin blessings: shared experience and solitude.

"Swimming is between me and the water, nothing else," said the late American writer John Jerome in his 1997 book Blue Rooms: Ripples, Rivers, Pools, and Other Waters. "The moment the water encloses me, I am, gratefully, alone."

Swimming also lets us escape the sound-addled world, if only for as long as we can hold our breath. It's like putting on nature's noise-cancelling headphones and slipping away from the everyday into another space, if only temporarily.


It's hard to believe that in Australia, a nation of swimmers, daylight bathing became legal only in 1902, when a newspaper editor swam into the headlines by defying a public ban at Sydney's Manly Beach.

We wouldn't go to so much trouble, surely, if swimming didn't make us happy. Californian marine biologist, cognitive researcher and author Wallace J Nichols says that we each have a "blue mind" (the title of his new book), programmed to enjoy and benefit from proximity and contact with water. "We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water," writes Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of Jacques, in the book's foreword, "and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what's broken."


The direction people swim laps usually matches the direction of traffic in that country; keep left in Commonwealth countries to avoid mid-lane collisions, swim anticlockwise in Europe. And almost everyone does it: whether we're in the Solomon Islands or Siberia, we want to swim, perhaps need to.

I know I do. Having fed this obsession for some years now, it shows no sign of abating. My swimsuits wear out, my goggles fog up; I replace them and swim on. Bath-warm or brass-monkeys, stormy or still, crowded or calm, there's nothing like communing with water, anywhere and in any way you can, to bring you back to your senses and remind you that the world really is your swimming pool.