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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Unwinding Sigh.

I have always loved the word "sigh" because it's beautifully, romantically onomatopoeic. Sigh. You think of lovers sighing between kisses against each other's mouths, the luxurious sigh of want as you say goodnight to your date, leaning against the door as you lock it. There's the sigh before falling asleep, stretched out and comfortable, ready to chase dreams or let them come and surprise you, or the sigh after finishing a wonderful and satisfying novel (though for me that is frequently followed up with far more melancholic sighs as I try to find a book that is on par with the previous; we call that a book hangover). Sure, there are also sad sighs, exasperated sighs, lonely sighs.

When Todd and I visited Venice on our honeymoon, we visited the Palace of the Doge. It was all very impressive and intimidating (there were these boxes shaped like, if memory serves, demonic faces, and you could rat people out as spies or um, I don't know, anti-Doge people, by writing their names on paper and slipping it into the open maw of said demon), but the thing that struck me most was The Bridge of Sighs. It was a bridge crossing to the jail cells over a canal and the windows on the enclosed bridge offered the soon-to-be-prisoner a final look at glorious Venice. It would prompt a sigh. A sad, wistful sigh. Still a beautiful word isn't it?

I could talk about lovers or sorrow all day, but the sigh of which I just reminded myself was actually a very meditative one that I employ while swimming laps. It's been months since I've swum but there is this certain slow, steady, satisfied sigh sometimes I will make. Not like Henry VIII after a large meal or perhaps a beheading, but just a mellow exhalation through my throat and out my nose. I do this sigh after every turn while swimming laps, to steady my breathing as I propel forward underwater as long as possible to really gain as much speed and distance as possible before breaking the surface with my first stroke.

I love that sigh! I love getting reminders of it, getting reminders of the meditation that comes with swimming, even on a rainy fall day like today. Swimming is lovely for that, because if you want, you can completely lose yourself in it. Want to forget a crummy day? No problem. Focus on keeping your arm extended as you pop your face out for a breath, focus on twisting your torso, not kicking your feet, or counting your strokes to see if you can shave one or two off during your next length. And suddenly, despite thinking "These 40 laps are going to take forever," when you first slip into the cool water, you're on lap 25 and are so in the zone you're almost (I said almost) sad there's only 15 to go.

But you can also choose to let the technique switch to auto pilot if you'd like. You can reach the edge of the pool, tuck and twist and push off, give that long, soothing sigh, breathing under control, everything steady as she goes, and let your mind wander. You don't need an iPod to drift off if you want. You don't need any distractions to let your thoughts tumble around you in the swirl of bubbles and the blue water, just you, following the stripe of black tile on the bottom of the pool, and the motions and the water and your deep, unwinding sigh.

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