Thrice weekly, I go to the pool at my gym to attend an aquafit class. Each class is taught by a very different instructor, resulting in very different experiences.
The Saturday morning teacher is a very Saturday Morning kind of person. She introduces us to the lifeguard on duty when we start (and when they change part way through the class). She knows most of us by name. She walks from the deep end to the shallow end to give different instructions adapted for the depth of water her students are in. She counts down reps to the next set of twists or jacks or tucks.
The Tuesday night teacher doesn’t really change things up – it’s a predictable class with predictable moves. She says Half-tempo when she means double-time. She makes the sign for Time Out when she wants us to go back to “regular tempo” – which really, REALLY threw off a new guy who was kind of a know-it-all. But once you learn her shorthand, she’s consistent. Once, she had us using hand paddles and never again. I don’t know if the good people of Tuesday night aquafit had a revolt against the usual predictable moves that they can reliably do. That said, there’s a lot of chatting going on, so it may have also been that the paddles introduced a variable that meant that they had to pay more attention rather than socialize. But hey, if the only socialization you get is from your classmates in the pool on Tuesday night, then that’s not a bad health choice either.
The Thursday morning teacher starts the class with an inspirational quote. She also does a fairly predictable flow, but very different than Tuesday Night Teach’s flow. She incorporates a Tabata style intensity build. But the biggest difference I noticed with her is that she goes by time, not by music. While she demonstrates the moves she wants us to mimic to the beat of her soundtrack, her sets are not bound by the beats of the music – they’re bound to the lap clock on the wall of the aquatic center. She says things like “The next time your legs are straight start doing [this move] for the next 20 seconds” instead of “two more tucks and then we’re moving on to jacks”.
For someone with a music and dance background, random 10 or 20 or 40 second bursts of hard/harder/hardest As Many As You Can is a big change. I’m used to drills tucked neatly into sets of 12-15 repetitions. Or choreography tucked into measures of multiples-of-8 beats broken up by the whole, half, quarter, and eighth of a beat. I have to pay more attention to her timing cues rather than just letting myself get swept into the sunshiny music of surf-pop or 80’s Billboard hits.
And you know what that means, friends?
You have to be present. You can’t just put on autopilot.
In a world super-saturated with CARPE DIEM and YOLO, I often roll my eyes at another rose-coloured plea to just be present in your life. Tomorrow is never guaranteed! The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is right now! I mean, being present as a concept certainly has merits. I put goals in my yearly Guiding Principles around this – Spend Out! (use the fancy skincare samples. drink the tea I like. Spend the gift certificates and the reward points). And sure, being present helps you to not burn the garlic in the frying pan and ruin the mirepoix. It strengthens relationship because it shows loved ones you’re focusing on them and not just doomscrolling through social media on your phone or watching reruns of sitcoms you’ve seen a million times when they’re trying to talk to you. And it forces you to get out of that anxiety death spiral that your brain sometimes springs on you when you’re fighting (or imagining) too many fires at once.
So yes. Be Present. There are lots of ways to be present. Enjoy your meals with ALL your senses instead of shoveling it into your maw. Gratitude journaling. Tabata drills, apparently. Your mileage may vary of course. I’m terrible at journaling, but I have Grati-Tuesday. When I’m feeling anxious, I go outside and force my brain to focus on things I can see, smell, hear, feel…
Sometimes, though, I’m laying in bed in the dark and I can’t see anything. And the only thing I hear is the Sleep Sounds loop that my gentleman associate requires for his own restful night. In those moments, being present by my senses falters. I try deep breaths, but if I’m right and truly spun out, and thinking of eleventy thousand other things, deep breaths aren’t so deep, and sleep won’t come.
In those moments, being present means the undistracted quiet of prayer. I have two decade rosaries – one with olivewood beads and one with ox-bone beads , and an 18-bead mala bracelet with a black onyx guru bead on my bedside table. I loop the beads around my hand, and I do breathwork; often in the combination of 4-count box-breathing and breathprayers:
(inhale for 4 counts) Seek the Lord (exhale for 4) while he may be found. (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Or (Inhale for 4) With God all things are possible. (exhale for 4 – maybe repeat)(Matthew 19:26).
Or (inhale for 4) Be Still and know (exhale for 4) that I am God (Psalm 46:10).
Of course, I have at least 3 other full 5-decade rosaries tucked away – they come out for funerals, Fridays in Lent, and really truly crunchy times when a single decade of breathwork ain’t gonna cut it.
There’s music to the 4 count breathwork for me, and on prayer beads, it’s the poetry of the petition to God that sometimes makes the scripture into hymn. It’s like a holy lullaby on nights such as those. A lullaby that happens in multiples of 8 counts. Even when I say Je Vous Salue Marie (Hail Mary in French – to make me further focus on the words and not slip into Rosary Autopilot), settles it’s way into the 4 beats of the breathing. The known rhythm of this, steady as a heartbeat, always settles me.
Sometimes, though, being present comes in freeform affirmations. Like Desiderata. Or this:
During Lent, may the poetry of prayer and the prose of affirmations provide the anchor to Be Present. May we all find what we need to be centered and present in our lives.
I’ve created landing pages for the last 3 years of Lent Project. You can access them from the Reflections Projects option in the menu bar. Happy reading, friends!