Vesturbæjarlaug: “The Common Man’s Spa”
Translation: Ásdís Sól Ágústsdóttir
You don't have to look far from campus to discover a true oasis among the desert of academia and busy students: the local swimming pool, Vesturbæjarlaug. Vesturbæjarlaug, where steam rises from the hot tubs from morning ‘til night and the air is filled with the scent of chlorine and pleasing promises. The swimming pool is a gathering place for all generations. It's where local schoolchildren and older neighborhood residents alike practice their swimming skills. University students are no exception, for many of them go there for some solace amidst the stress of the day.
What makes swimming pools so special is their disconnect from the internet. Mobile phones are banned both inside the changing rooms and in the pool itself. This means pool-goers have no choice but to pay attention to their surroundings and thoughts. Whether you choose the cold tub or the hot tub, whether you swim a hundred laps or none at all, it’s always refreshing to immerse yourself in water underneath the open sky. A good trip to the swimming pool does not have to depend on the weather; after all, nothing tops cold raindrops while lying in the hot tub.
At Vesturbæjarlaug, you may see the same faces day after day. Some come with the intent to chat up other guests, while others find sanctuary in the steam bath and let their stress melt away in the hot, moist air. People have different habits and reasons for venturing to the swimming pools. The Student Paper interviewed a few regulars and got them to share their swimming pool habits.
Baldvin Flóki, philosophy:
“Every time I slide into the tub at Vesturbæjarlaug, I'm reminded of just how much swimming pools add to the quality of life here in Iceland. The simple, corporeal pleasure of submerging oneself in hot water no matter the weather, under stormy skies or beneath the glow of the northern lights, it simply trumps all the busyness of daily life. You feel the stress of student life melt away, you feel how your exhausted muscles regenerate and how your consciousness thanks you as it would at the end of a good yoga class. For attention seekers like me, it can be a good way to escape the grasp of social media. If you’re well that day you just might dive into the deep end of the pool or chat up complete strangers, perhaps initiate the conversation yourself. Swimming brings out the best in me and I believe Icelanders would be worse off without this incredible pool culture.”
Elín Inga, journalism:
“I adore Vesturbæjarlaug, I practically worship it, I’m not kidding. The steam bath at Vesturbæjarlaug is of great spiritual value to me, I swear. I can’t count the times I’ve had some sort of epiphany in my meditations there. I usually go to the swimming pool alone and I prioritise granting myself this time to nourish myself. It’s so healing to be in the water and freeing to wear so little clothing, to allow yourself to celebrate your body as it is. I think disconnecting from your phone is also important; there are so few places where you’re completely free from the constant connection to the media, where you can really just let yourself be.
“My swimming routine is rather holy to me. I always swim a little - very, very slowly. I’ve occasionally made use of mantras while I swim, if I’m in the mood for that, otherwise I just focus on my breathing. Swimming is so great for meditation as well as for stretching out the body. After my swim I relax in the hot tub, but refocus on my breathing once I enter the cold tub. After I leave the cold tub, I walk in a circle, absorbing the effects on my body and focusing on thoughts that have to do with being kind to myself. I usually end with meditation in the steam bath. Come to think of it, my entire trip to the pool is basically one long mindfulness session.
“I suppose I’ve never thought of how great a mission my trip to the swimming pool is, the mission being to increase my well-being. Doing all of this is so normal to me now, but at the same time it’s sort of ‘holy’ to me. Every time I go to Vesturbæjarlaug I feel as if I’m going to the spa. Perhaps the swimming pools are in a way the common man’s spa. In any case, I highly recommend my swimming routine – it’s a magical formula for your mental health.”
Lísa Björg, applied studies in culture and communication
“I try to go swimming once a week, that is if my laziness allows me. Usually I drag a friend or two from the dorm with me, but I also like going alone, getting comfortable in one of the hot tubs and closing my eyes for a moment. It’s like meditation for me. I don’t like swimming and I haven’t swum since my last compulsory swimming lesson in elementary school. Really. My reasons for going to the swimming pool are of a different nature. Occasionally I really need to take a shower or relax after a stressful day/week. Nothing really compares to the feeling of leaving the pool with clean and soft skin, slipping on a fresh pair of underwear and a cosy sweater and venturing out into the crisp autumn air. I suppose my favourite thing about going swimming is leaving the pool, as strange as it sounds.”
Magnús Jochum, literature:
“Last year I had to start exercising to keep myself from turning into an old man prematurely. I decided to purchase a yearlong subscription to Vesturbæjarlaug, which I renewed just last week. In this past year, the pool has become a sort of health centre for me, and I go there at least four times a week.
“I try to change my routine regularly, but what I always do is change in the outdoor locker room and relax in the ‘Garðarbær’ hot tub. Once that’s out of the way, I can swim a few laps in the deep pool, chat with acquaintances, jump into the steam bath/sauna, play ‘swasket’ (swimming pool basketball) or perform a harakiri ritual in the cold tub.
“I recently discovered the wonders of the weightlifting room, possibly the worst weightlifting room in the country. It’s sort of funny how tiny it is and how badly it reeks. It’s eternally moist because of the wet pool guests and what few machines they have are all terrible. But that’s why it’s so charming; to be able to pump iron despite the disgusting surroundings. Since discovering this weightlifting room, I always try to check in there before I head to the pool.
“I will continue to perform my duty this autumn and I hope to discover more quirks of this swimming pool.“