Nov 25, 2012

Learning a different language of the body

I am going to write today about how I learnt a different language of the body recently. Please note I am not using the phrase ‘body language’. It should aptly be the ‘language of the body’. Is there a difference? There should be in the context I am going to speak. Language is a form of expression and general perception typically confines it to the limits of linguistics. When we explore beyond the conventional, we shall be amazed to know how many languages are out there around us – that which we never consciously take notice of ever in our lives. There are languages of the tongue, which we all are familiar with. There are languages of the eyes, which people in love know to speak. There are languages of computers, which coders and programmers manipulate for a living. There are languages of the soul, which philosophers tend to. And then there are languages of the body, which the human body learns to express. 

Dancers, Gymnasts, Actors and even martial arts experts will tell you what this language of the body thing is. It is an expression of the body, with a meaning, structure and grammar on its own. It has to be learned like any other language. It can be used to communicate to and fro with people who know the same language. The language of the body that I am going to talk about today is that of swimming and my terrain is a swimming pool in the summer vacations where I signed up for a swimming course at the age of 21.

Yes, not a usual age to join a summer swimming class. But that is what I did. Immediately after my graduation, I was so determined to learn this language and befriend the waters and hence I overlooked the hesitations and joined this class. Amidst a class of six and seven year olds, there I stood like a 21 year old giant and soon my “classmates” realised that I am no better than them despite my age. I soon realized that this whole ‘Learning has no age limits’ adage is a practically challenging one and there is an ideal time to learn everything. This is the age when your mistakes and fears will be tolerated with a smile and with no sense of embarrassment. Well, if you decide to learn something like I did, you gotta face it. Being in such a class at 21 with a dark moustache and a 5’8” height can be embarrassing – especially when you don’t catch the tricks of the trade as fast as the young kids do. You have to go through times when you take the support of the wall and practice leg moves at 4 ft. depth and a chap, just half your height, just jumps into the water in front of you, gives you a funny look – well, that might also be my imagination – and carries on with his supernatural deeds in water. Size does not matter here. But it will be a notable experience nevertheless and that is exactly what I am going to share with you all today. Let us all safely assume that I learned to be a half-decent swimmer there. Today, I am going to talk about the other life lessons that I learned in that class.

The first lesson is about the survival of the fittest and the survival instinct which shapes evolution of all kinds. You don’t learn the nuances unless you explore the depths here. One does not stretch his capabilities in a shallow pond because after all, the ground is well within reach under the water. Once I hit the depth, I am forced to swim for long and long else I won’t survive. Simple. The ones who survive, swim. Heard do or die situations?!

A funny thing about such classes is about their attendance percentages. We would never have given a damn about attendance percentages at college or work or basically, at land. In water, the story is different. Listen to this. There is this 8 year old boy and this 21 year old boy who both start their swimming classes the same day. Every day they compare themselves with the other as a reference and evolve at the same pace. Then one fine morning, this 21 year old gets sleepy and skips the swimming pool. The next day – literally overnight – to his shock and surprise, he finds that the 8-year old has grown into a wizard under water and performs somersaults under water while the 21-year old is still the same lame duck that he was. O sorry! Ducks know to swim. Let’s call him a dull donkey instead. So in here, regularity in attendance is also good to protect your ego. Lesson no #2!

Getting to some psychological perspectives, we find it difficult to just stay light mentally at times. All yogasanas and meditations teach you to be weightless in the mind. The swimming rigour demands you to loosen up and shed the weight of your physical existence from your mind. It is just difficult for starters to imagine that they are not carrying the weight of themselves. Mental relaxation and developing an illusion that you are weightless can be so taxing. It eventually happens that you get stressed out to your wit’s end just trying to do nothing but .. RELAX. What an irony isn’t it? But you learn it eventually, and BOOM you suddenly experience losing your own weight. Staying light is the key – at the pool and also in life. That is the third lesson!

The next lesson is to stretch yourself for positive results. Initially, 10 metres is simply a birth away to reach under water. Believe me.. you will only understand the ‘so near yet so far’ phrase perfectly once you dance to the tune of water. You desperately try to reach that wall just 10 metres in front of you and move your feet and arms so frantically as though your girlfriend will accept your proposal only if you reach that wall swimming. By ill fate, you simply won’t move an inch at times and the distance between you and the wall – that is the distance between you and your girlfriend will simply remain a universal constant. But finally, after so much of struggle, you reach the wall at 10 metre distance, pump your fists, pat yourself on the back and turn around, just to see another person doing his fourth 25 m lap as smooth as silk right besides you. You get tempted. You now place your girlfriend at 15 m distance and try to win her love. Then 20 m, then 25 m, and then it goes on. A small advice for married men if you are trying this – instead of keeping your girlfriend as the target to reach, try keeping your wife as the starting point and try to swim as far away from her as possible. Anthropologists confirm that this technique works to learn swimming better and fasterJ

Finally there is some relief for you – you get to meet another 25 year old at the pool. Your junior! Just when you have mastered freestyle, he will be practising to float and hold breath under water. You give him much valued advice – not with the arrogance of an expert but with an understanding of a dear friend who went through the same embarrassment just days before. You learn compassion! The ultimate life lesson!  After all, to get tips from another whiz kid would be truly embarrassing deep inside him and who can know this better than you do. A friendship will blossom like an aquatic flower right there!

In a matter of time, with some dedication and practice, you and your body learn to speak the language of water and you will befriend another element of nature. Some wise man once said, learning is a never ending process. How true?

-         - GS (Image Courtesy: ~ezs's photostream)

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