If you’ve been swimming since you were a child, you probably don’t think too much about it anymore. But when you take a step back, the human act of swimming is a pretty interesting thing. You weren’t born knowing how to swim; it’s not instinctual. So why are people so naturally drawn to water? And what do we get out of paddling around in it?

My guest today explores these questions in her book Why We Swim. Her name is Bonnie Tsui, and we begin our conversation today with how humans are some of the few land animals that have to be taught how to swim, and when our ancestors first took to the water. We then discuss how peoples who have made swimming a primary part of their culture, have evolved adaptations that have made them better at it. We discuss how swimming can be both psychically and physically restorative and how it can also bring people together, using as an example a unique community of swimmers which developed during the Iraq War inside one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. We also talk about the competitive element of swimming, and how for thousands of years it was in fact a combat skill, and even took the form of a martial art, called samurai swimming, in Japan. We end our conversation with how swimming can facilitate flow, and some of the famous philosophers and thinkers who tuned the currents of their thoughts while gliding through currents of water.

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Show Highlights

When did humans start swimming? Do we know?Why aren’t humans and other primates instinctive swimmers?How does our body react to being in the water?The power of just hearing the sound of waterThe enduring appeal of swimming for health and fitnessSwimming’s ability to bring people together Swimming as a martial skill Why is swimming the most-watched Olympic sport?Famous regular swimmers — Thoreau, Oliver Sacks, Yo-Yo Ma, Fred Rogers, and moreHow swimming gets you into the flow state

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

WWII Watermanship: Survival SwimmingWWII Watermanship Week on AoMDon’t Save Anything for the Swim BackHow to Swim the Front CrawlHow to Hold Your Breath Like a Deep-Sea FreediverThe Science of FreedivingKim ChambersHow Competition Can Make You BetterCompetition: The Fuel for GreatnessHow to Hack Your FlowFlow and the Rise of SupermanThe Life of Bruce LeeBe Water ESPN film


Connect With Bonnie

Bonnie’s website

Bonnie on Twitter

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

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