Patti Bauernfeind On Meditation In The Open Water

Patti Bauernfeind On Meditation In The Open Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Patti Bauernfeind is planning a swim across Loch Ness in Scotland. She is brutally honest about the swim.

I’m very excited and intimidated by this swim. My window is August 12th – 17th. I got lucky with the snowpack this year in California so I will be able to find alpine lakes that are still cold well into the summer. I reached out to Sarah Thomas and asked about her experience training and completing a crossing of Loch Ness. Sarah said they had a lot of challenges finding cold enough water to train in.”

Bauernfeind is swimming up to 35,000 meters weekly as she works full-time at Salesforce, an American cloud computing company in San Francisco. She will soon start doing 10+ km training swims in cold mountain lakes over the upcoming months. “San Francisco Bay is getting [too] warm at 56°F (13°C).”

Her physical preparation is augmented by mental training. “Meditation is something that is overlooked by [many] open water swimmers. Visualization has been around for a while, but meditation infused in sports is newer. As the sport of open water swimming grows, the approach to reaching a goal will expand beyond bravado and just ‘tough it out’.

We are athletes and we need some reliable tools to go after big swims over and over again. Everyone knows the marathon swims are very mental, but not a lot of people talk about how to strengthen their mental skills and how to personalize their own mental tool kit

Bauernfeind lives in northern California where the meditation movement on the West Coast took root back in the early 1970s. “It is not uncommon to have a conversation with someone about meditation or to have an employer who talks about meditation within their wellness program.”

At Bauernfeind’s office, there are wellness rooms for meditation. “Additionally, monks from Plum Village came for dharma talks and meditation sessions.”

While guided visualization, mindfulness and meditation are practices that has been used throughout the world over the millennia, few specialists or practitioners mention – or perhaps even consider – swimming in a pool or in the open water as one form of mindfulness or meditation.

Bauernfeind discussed her perspective of meditation in her niche of marathon swimming:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you practice meditation?

Patti Bauernfeind: Yes, I’ve found regular practice plus meditation retreats are powerful.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you believe meditation can be practiced in the water or while swimming?

Patti Bauernfeind: For me, meditating BY the water and while swimming are both enriching. Meditating while swimming is just another form of active meditation – like walking meditation or navigating a labyrinth. I repeat mettas while I swim to focus my mind and to be at ease.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How is meditation on land different or the same as meditation while swimming?

Patti Bauernfeind: Meditating while swimming is more comfortable from a sitting meditation for me. The water is soothing and eliminates noise and distractions. You are pretty much left to you thoughts while swimming so meditating on an idea or metta seems easier.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Are there specific advantages to meditation on land versus in the water?

Patti Bauernfeind: On land, you have the benefit of others around you and their energy plus you can meditate following a guided meditation from a teacher or instructor.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you ever ‘lose yourself’ or daydream while swimming?

Patti Bauernfeind: All the time…if I can unhook my brain and lose myself into a state of not thinking, that is the ideal. I float in and out of this state and have to actively go back to thinking of nothing which is meditation.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you believe the traditional sensory deprivation of swimming in the open water is beneficial or conducive to mindfulness while swimming?

Patti Bauernfeind: Absolutely, the only distractions are your own thoughts running through your head. When I run or bike, I have to be aware of my surroundings for the sake of safety. When I swim in a pool or a cover, I can get lost in just being quiet.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How can we learn or develop better ways of mindfulness or meditation while swimming?

Patti Bauernfeind: It’s been a journey that started with yoga. I explored meditation when I started doing ultra swims as a way to train my brain for the long swims. Meditation has been huge for getting through ultra swims and has helped me to develop more equanimity in life.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you practice yoga to benefit or augment your swimming workouts?

Patti Bauernfeind: Yes about twice per week.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you pray during, before or after your swims?

Patti Bauernfeind: During my swims, I repeat a metta such as ‘May I be at ease’ and focus on being at ease which I think of as being contemplative rather than praying. I take a more traditional view of praying meaning that I think of it as being steeped in a religious faith. While I think of open water swimming as having spiritual qualities because of our relationship with nature, my thoughts are not addressed to anyone else.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you have anything else to add about mindfulness or meditation in the water?

Patti Bauernfeind: Everyone is unique and will experience their own degree of meditative state, but I think going into a swim, it’s really helpful to have something in mind to focus on. I like some traditional meditation topics such as ‘loving kindness’, ‘forgiveness’, and ‘having an open heart’. If these topics are challenging and too touchy-feely, then just focusing on ‘being at ease’ is really helpful.

I divide my ultra solo swims into quarters and determine what I will think about for each quarter. For me, the third quarter or about 70% of the way is always tough. I need to have tools and topics to get me through the dark moments of doubt, cold and pain.

Bauernfeind’s Loch Ness crossing will be a charity swim on behalf of Trust in Education. “Trust in Education focuses on education for kids in Afghanistan and health services for Afghani women. I still tutor and help refugee kids and families in the San Francisco Bay area so this is an extension of what I do for volunteering. Afghanistan is crippled after four decades of war and now a young government that struggles with corruption and the Taliban. The kids and women continue to suffer terribly.”

Bauernfeind has swum 34 km across Lake Tahoe, completed the 26.4 km International Self-Transcendence Marathon-Schwimmen, participated in a 48.2 km relay across the Red Triangle from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands, took four attempts to complete a 45 km crossing of Monterey Bay, crossed the Catalina Channel, completed a Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, and crossed the English Channel.

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Steven Munatones