Why We Swim with Bonnie Tsui on the Art of Manliness with Brett McKay

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Key Takeaways

  • The earliest evidence of human swimming is 10,000 years ago, from cave drawings in the Sahara
  • Most animals can swim from birth – however, humans have to be taught
  • In sea-nomad cultures, children learn how to swim before they walk
  • Human brains respond to water – the sound boosts alpha activity associated with calmness
  • Human bodies respond to water – blood circulation increases, dopamine levels go up and metabolism increases
  • Cold-water immersion increases circulation and oxygen levels
  • Swimming in cold water is highly sensory and can offer a sense of euphoria
  • Samurai swimming started in feudal Japan when coastal clans had to specialize in martial water techniques – like swimming without ripples
  • Swimming is the most-watched sport at the Summer Olympics

Books

Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui – a kind of love letter to being in the water

American Chinatown by Bonnie Tsui

Be Water, My Friend by Bruce Lee – The teachings of Bruce Lee

Intro

Guest: Bonnie Tsui (t:@bonnietsui) is a longtime contributor to The New York Times and California Sunday Magazine. She is the author of American Chinatown, winner of the 2009-2010 Asian/Pacific​ ​American Award for Literature, and author of Why We Swim

Host: Brett McKay (@brettmckay)

When and When Did Humans Start Swimming?

  • The earliest evidence of human swimming is about 10,000 years ago, from cave drawings in the Sahara of swimmers
  • Water is a source of food – shellfish, fish
  • Water is enjoyable recreationally
  • Humans don’t have an instinctive ability to swim- most other land animals do, even bats!
  • Most animals can swim from birth – however, humans have to be taught

Adaptive changes and the Culture of Swimming

  • Swimming is a cultural knowledge that is passed on each generation
  • In Southeast Asia, there are sea-nomad populations that have lived on the water for years
  • Adaptive changes
    • In sea-nomad cultures, children learn to swim before they walk
    • Free swimmers learn to hold their breath for a long time
    • Some sea-nomad people have great underwater vision through practice
  • Evolutionary changes
    • Baja people -their spleens are 50% larger than inland people in Thailand due to increased swimming
    • Their bodies evolved – spleens expel red blood cells so the body has more oxygen

Why are Humans Drawn to Water?

  • Human brains respond to water
    • The sound of water boosts the brain’s alpha activity that’s associated with calmness
  • Human bodies respond to water
    • When you’re immersed in water blood circulation increases, dopamine levels go up and metabolism goes up
  • People feel great when they’re near it – water is a mood lifter
  • People respond to water – humans go to beaches like animals to a watering hole

Why is Water So Restorative?

  • For some athletes, water therapy changes their life- they start swimming after an injury and get hooked
  • Swimming is a low impact sport you can do your whole life
  • Swimming is a whole-body exercise
  • It takes you out of your normal state of being
  • Rhythm is huge in swimming– you pair breathing with your movement
  • Regular swim sessions can lower blood pressure

Cold Water Immersion

  • Cold water immersion stimulates and increases circulation and oxygen levels reaching nerves that lack circulation
  • There are cold water immersion rituals around the world, including Siberia
  • Swimming in cold water is highly sensory and can offer a sense of euphoria

The Community Aspect of Swimming

  • In 2008, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, people were allowed to use the swimming pools in his many palaces
  • One man started to teach swimming to soldiers, locals, contractors, and interpreters
  • They called themselves the Baghdad Swim team which grew to 250 members over two years
  • They got together a few times a week
  • In the water, they found a sense of calm and buoyancy
  • Some started out just treading water and became accomplished swimmers
  • The participants stayed connected to the sport—and each other—even after they left Baghdad

Swimming as a Martial Skill

  • Romans and Ancient Egyptians saw swimming as a martial art
  • Archeologists have found old drawings of warriors battling in water – even in mythology
  • Samurai swimming – during the feudal period in Japan, coastal clans had to specialize in martial arts water techniques – ex) Swimming without ripples
  • These techniques are foundational traditions that continue today – and were supposed to be demonstrated at Olympics this summer in Tokyo

Swimming at the Olympics

  • Swimming is the most-watched sport at the Summer Olympics
  • There is a community aspect to the sport

Famous Swimmers

  • Henry David Thoreau swam every morning at Walden Pond – he said it was one of best things he did
  • Oliver Sacks – neurologist and naturalist
  • Zadie Smith – writer
  • YoYo Ma – musician

The Flow State

  • Swimming can help you lose track of time
  • Swimming allows you time with your thoughts, even meditation
  • The flow state is described in Bruce Lee’s Be Water, My Friend
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Notes By EWerbitsky

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