A Swimmers State of Mind
I have heard some interesting comments lately about a person’s mental state when swimming; the first was on Twitter, a lady mentioned that she found she solved a lot of her work and life problems when she swam and was wondering if anyone else had similar experiences. I could immediately relate to this. In another situation a client of mine described what she felt was a ‘Zen like state’ when she got into a groove during her open water swims. These are two interesting comments and there are likely to be many more people out there who have related experiences during their swims. Is there a scientific explanation behind this? It turns out there is…
There are four types of brainwave states that I am aware of, remembering I am a swimmer not a scientist. Those states are Beta, Alpha , Theta & Delta. An easier way to think of it is the ‘speed’ or RPM at which our brain is working. Beta refers to our brain activity at our maximum level of alertness or conscious thinking. Alpha refers to a relaxed state of mind, good for inspiration and learning. Theta is deep inward thought, dreaming. Delta is deep relaxation or deep dreamless sleep. Perhaps this article is boring you and you’re brain has already entered Theta activity…
For those that aren’t asleep yet; Beta is our normal mental state when we are fully awake and alert, Alpha brain activity applies a slightly meditative state. Theta and Delta normally refer to a sleeping state but can be achieved through deep meditation. It’s the change between Beta and Alpha brain states that we need to focus on in order to answer the question of how swimming helps us problem solve in our daily life.
As I understand it Beta activity results in stress hormone being released in our body. The higher our workload, the more stress in our day and the less rest we have had then the higher our Beta cycle becomes, the more stress hormone is released and the natural outcome that we can all relate to is increased tension, irritability, headaches, inability to problem solve and an inability to sleep. So how do we get out of Beta and into Alpha? It turns out that relaxing our body through automatic tasks and rhythmic breathing can naturally move our brain into the Alpha state. This can happen through meditation, running outdoors, driving the car on a long straight highway or… wait for it… during steady state swimming!
During Alpha waves our body naturally produces relaxation hormones. This Alpha state of mind is conducive to learning and to problem solving. Have you ever had a long swim or long steady set and at the end felt like it went by so quickly? Or gone for a lunch time swim and felt like you’ve ‘switched off’ only to suddenly have the answer to a problem you had been working on all morning? Chances are your brainwaves were in Alpha!
So there you have it, the ‘Zen like state’ from swimming is scientific fact. Having a tough day at the office? Then go for a swim!