What Swimming Taught Me About Self-Compassion and Letting Go

Finding “easy speed” in the pool helped writer and meditation teacher Kelly Barron heal the wound of overachieving and stay loose in the face of resistance.

Stocksy/Song Heming

I’m no Diana Nyad. But I’m a capable swimmer. During the summer months, I regularly swim a half-mile in the Pacific Ocean, churning through waves and unpredictable tides with the self-assurance of a Los Angeles lifeguard.

So when a gym pal encouraged me to improve my strokes by taking a lesson with Dan Halladay, a retired UCLA women’s swim team coach, I was game. I liked the idea of refining my freestyle, polishing my flip turns, and getting in some intense swim workouts.

As I headed to the pool for my first lesson, I was surprised to feel a pang of nervous tightness in my chest. I met Dan, a fit 68-year-old with a genuine smile, at the far end of a lane reserved for lessons. Dan got down to business quickly, explaining that he’d film my first 50 yards on his iPhone and then get in the water to instruct.

I pulled on my orange swim cap, squared my goggles over my nose, and slipped into the chlorine-scented water. Taking off with purpose, I whirled my arms and kicked my feet at a fast clip. I hit the wall, reversing course with a solid flip turn, and kept pace to finish strongly. 

Dan was waiting at the water’s edge. My friend had told me that no matter how good a swimmer I thought I was, Dan would offer corrections. Of course; that’s why I was taking a lesson. But what Dan said surprised me.