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Elizabeth Reninger

Swimming To Nirvana

By December 13, 2012

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Funny ... that the first thing that should come to mind, when considering an essay on "healthy eating for the holidays," would be eating chocolate mousse pie with my fingers .....

'Twas the summer after my freshman year in college, and I was back in Wheaton, Illinois, living with my parents as I continued my recovery from a gnarly basketball injury: fractured tibia, fibula, talus (i.e. the deluxe version of a broken ankle). Newly out of my cast, I was yearning for exercise, and -- since I was still using crutches -- what made most sense was .... swimming!

Luckily, Wheaton has a college (aptly named: Wheaton College) which, at least at that time, sported an olympic-sized pool, which was open -- at certain times of the day -- for public use.  Also fortunate was the presence in Wheaton that summer of a high-school friend: a longtime competitive swimmer, and a new member of Wheaton College's swim team. His name was Dave, and when he heard of my predicament, gallantly offered to create a swim-based rehabilitation program for me.

Now, while I wouldn't call his workout regimen "Olympic" -- it was, for sure, seriously collegiate: as in, not even remotely akin to a "stroll in the park" sort of leisurely afternoon swim.  As I recall, the workouts toward the beginning of the summer took a half-hour to 45-minutes to complete; and by the end of the summer, closer to two or perhaps even three hours. Mostly these workouts consisted of what are called "ladders" -- a series of increasing and then decreasing distances. So for instance: 50 meters crawl (or breast-stroke, etc.), rest for thirty seconds, then 100 meters crawl, rest for thirty seconds, then 150 meters crawl, rest for thirty seconds .... up, say, to a 500 meter crawl.  And then the process reverses, decreasing in 50-meter increments, back to the starting-point.

Anyway, pretty much every day, I'd crutch from the locker-room to the edge of the pool, and slide my body into the warm-cool water to begin the workout. Since I still had a very tender ankle, mostly I would use a pull-buoy -- a small flotation device held between the legs -- which allowed my ankle to be at rest, rather than having to kick with it. As a training tool, pull-buoys are used to intensify the work of the upper body: an effect which it of course had on me also, though my primary purpose was a rehabilitative one.

What I remember most of those long hours in the pool was their auditory component: the splash of water, distant voices, and -- always in the foreground -- the rapid or slow, ever-present sound of my breath. The over-sized clock on the wall let me know when my 30 seconds of rest was coming to an end -- at which point I'd push off for another round, breathing-in, breathing-out.

Those of you who are swimmers know some of the effects of spending long hours in a chlorinated pool: skin saturated in that chlorine-scent; hair acquiring a kind of slimy texture .... those are the down-sides. The positive effects for me that summer included a huge increase in overall strength and flexibility (of my upper body in particular); as well as a level of cardiovascular conditioning well beyond anything prior, or since.  (The nurses and surgeons responsible for removing the stainless steel pins from my ankle, at the end of the summer, did a double-take when they saw my resting heart-rate hovering right around 40 bpm.)

Once a week or so, Dave and I would meet, to chat about my progress, and adjust the workout sequence accordingly. I honestly can't remember whose idea it was, initially -- but at one of these meetings, quite early in the summer, one of us said: "I'm in the mood for pie!"

And so off we went, in search of pie .... ending up buying an entire gorgeous-looking chocolate mousse pie, but then discovering, sitting there in his car, that we didn't have any utensils -- no knives, no forks, no spoons -- so ..... just used our fingers to scoop out bites of chocolate mousse pie: a scenario which, as you can imagine, quickly evolved into a tenderly riotous giggle-fest. And after that initial excursion into chocolate-mousse-pie-with-fingers-land, the weekly journey became a ritual:  eating-pie (of various flavors) with-fingers, while planning the next phase of my exercise program.

What was most awesome about this -- in addition, of course, to how it arose in a spirit of simple, playful spontaneity -- was how neither of us considered it to be in any way incongruous: eating a sugar-laced pie while planning my next marathon-like swimming workout. Or if we did, it just added to the delight of it: 50-meter crawl, slice of chocolate mousse pie, 100-meter crawl, slice of banana-creme pie, 150-meter crawl, slice of raspberry pie ..... New strength and stamina -- applied immediately to a celebratory meeting with my friend, each and every week of that sweetly-intense summer.

So why did this memory present itself, right at the moment of considering a "healthy eating for the holidays" essay? A reflection, perhaps, of that necessary dance -- in life as on a spiritual path -- between effort and release, discipline and spontaneity, practice and celebration? Was it a case of "one-step-forward, one-step-back" -- or a fore-taste of the joys of sahaja samadhiWho knows .....

In any case, what seems most appropriate now, is simply to offer an Index of Taoism & Diet essays -- with links to what I've already written -- encouraging you to consider some very basic recommendations, and be willing also to drop them, when a mood of celebratory exploration invites you in another direction.

In brief: say yes -- a big yes! -- to fresh, organic vegetables, fruits and whole grains; to healthy oils and healthy sweeteners; and to supplementing with (1) chlorella and (2) fish (sardine, salmon or krill) oil or (for strictly vegan or vegetarian folks) Ovega-3.

And -- unless you're a mahasiddha whose perfection of the yoga of "one taste"  allows you, say, to drink an 8-oz glass of hydrochloric acid with equal joy and benefit to that of an 8-oz glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice -- best to avoid completely (as in, completely) artificial sweeteners and partially-hydrogenated oils.

And, of course, as the opportunity presents itself .... eating a chocolate mousse pie with your fingers .... can be most .... enlightening :)


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