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Alexander Technique

Just Floating An Idea

Just Floating An Idea

Swimming less and floating more may be better for us.

“If I teach people they can float, the rest is up to them,” my sister in law Chie said, in a conversation about how to teach non-doing in water.

Non-doing is at the heart of the Alexander Technique, not movement but what's behind it, not posture but prevention of postural distortion brought about by what we’re doing.

Floating, not swimming, lends itself best to non-doing. To float, you need to do nothing whereas to swim you need to do something, to go somewhere. As soon as we start moving, we may be going wrong without the first bit of recognition. When we float, if we’re doing nothing, we can't really go wrong.

Swimming outdoors is popular at the moment. Perhaps there's more liberation in ‘wild swimming’ than pool swimming, with its constraining man-made walls, and chlorine.  But in the sea this summer I've been asking myself if there may be more freedom in floating, just giving myself to the salty water, letting it support me and looking around.

The healing properties of salt water have been acknowledged for centuries. But if there's going to be healing, in or out of the water, the less we ‘do’, the better. And I think that might be the reality which is clouded by the idea of swimming.

When you are able just to float, you calm down. You connect with the water and yourself. Your body can release and expand. You might stop holding on. Your moro reflex isn't excited, it’s  quiet, at rest. These are the benefits Alexander work brings. If I really want to attend to the process in the water, floating not swimming gives me the best opportunity. It's an open goal.

If you're a non-swimmer or nervous in the water, floating freely is the thing to aim for. It may not be easy to let go at first but it's the most important thing you'll learn.

When in water, the less we swim, the easier it is to do less. Doing nothing in the water might not make you fitter, stronger or thinner, but the health benefits of stopping may go beyond those three.

I always swim a bit, two or three strokes at a time, to get through an open cave, avoid a jellyfish, or explore the possibility of non-doing in movement. But floating is the best thing I can do for myself in water. It might be the same for you. Perhaps it comes down to how much stopping, how much quietness, you need.

Also see:  Old Man River Sento  / It's All Right Once You're In / Tame Swimming  / A Timeless Swim Swimming Up / Outdoor Swimming - Going It Alone /  Swimming With A Hangover  /  Transform Your Day In 10 Seconds /  Camp Training / Head Away From Knees Away from Worries on the Beach more


08-Jul-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
Old Man River

Old Man River

Reflections on Swimming with the Alexander Technique

I went for a swim in my favourite stretch of the River Teifi today, a beautiful summer day. The water isn’t cold enough to take your breath away at this time of year, but it’s cool. So it took a minute to embrace the support of the water.  

The water’s soft and clear. The banks are steep and full of the greenest trees. Birds are singing loudly and leaves swirl around, caught by rays of sunlight reaching beneath the surface. I soon feel part of the river, even though I’m swimming against its flow, and I continue for about ten minutes.

To get the real benefits of swimming in open water, I don’t think you can be wearing a wetsuit and/ or monitoring time. And I think it’s best to be alone. It’s as if the river doesn’t mind one solitary human quietly joining it. With a group, it quickly becomes a human environment - we take over, make a noise, change things.

Gliding through the river in breaststroke can be like an act of submission. I’m giving myself to the water, becoming part of it. But coming out to breathe is the most interesting bit. It’s a chance to find a real connection between head and pelvis, as well as enjoying the view. As I break the surface, my arms gently support the breathing position as my hips sink and I allow my knees to come forward and my feet to drop. If I’m going to avoid snatching, gasping and pulling my legs forward, I have to think about what I want to let happen. I need to give it time. I want everything to open for the in-breath, especially my ribs and hips. When I go back in for another glide, my legs sweep springily, as a result of that slow, preparation phase. It’s Alexander Technique work in natural water.

I don’t think many people get this kind of experience. Most swimmers don’t know how to coordinate themselves in water, without compromising the integrity of head neck and back. Competing, against the water, time, or other people, isn’t conducive. And wetsuits are de-sensitizing.

It’s likely that even Roger Deakin, as he swam round Britain using breaststroke, did it mostly with a tightened neck. He understood his environment very well, clearly loved the water and didn’t claim to be a technical expert but, sadly, you can’t fully appreciate your aquatic surrondings when swimming with your head pulled back against your spine. And it’s almost certain that he would have been. Because nearly everybody does.

But it’s possible, with lots of the right kind of work,  to coordinate yourself with the water without dis-coordinating yourself. And there are magic moments to be had. Moments of connection with yourself and your environment.

Before turning round I bobbed up and down vertically in the deep water, resting under the surface long enough to direct myself to expand, then emerging to hear the birds.  I headed back, with the tide and a bit of easy butterfly. I stomped up to the car through the steep woods and bought some home grown strawberries from the farm where we buy our eggs. I’m going to have some now.

Also see:  A Timeless SwimSento  / It's All Right Once You're In / Tame Swimming /  Swimming Up / Outdoor Swimming - Going It Alone /  Swimming With A Hangover  / Transform Your Day In 10 Seconds /  Camp Training / Head Away From Knees Away from Worries on the Beach / Swim, Bike, Walk, Exercising Caution / Just Floating An Idea

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17-Jun-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
Zen and Now

Zen and Now

Clinical hypnotherapist Lesley from Sussex changes her mind in water.

I thought I knew what to expect when I embarked on my 8 lessons of ‘Swimming Without Stress’. I was wrong. 

It’s almost the exact opposite of the normal experience of learning to swim.  For me, this had entailed a few lessons to stop swimming with my head out of the water and to try to learn front crawl. I had to give up after I injured my shoulder and thus ended my swimming career. I felt disappointed and a bit hopeless. I’d always felt that swimming would be an ideal exercise because of the water supporting your whole body thus giving a sense of ease to the ‘exercise’ experience. 

Fast forward three years and I decided to bite the bullet, smile as I put my hand in my pocket and book a course of 8, one to one lessons with Ian and Cheryl at Croft Farm. 

The whole experience was delightful.

Both Ian and Cheryl are generous, kind and intelligent beings who share their wide knowledge and experience with the student swimmer, and start slowly but surely to build up the confidence and ability needed to swim without stress. 

Cassius Clay may have been able to, ’float like a butterfly’! I, however, can now float like both a jellyfish and a mushroom and I can tell you that the experience is soooo relaxing that I was rendered speechless, which, if you know me, is some feat! 

Starting to take on board the whole sensation of allowing the water ‘to support me’. Letting go of my ideas and concepts and allowing the feelings to be foremost.  After discovering how the water can become ‘home', a place of comfort, and only then, being led by the teacher into using my cognitive ability to think about the position of the head, the neck, the back, the hands, the feet, all in their rightful place. 

Back on dry land, whenever I hear the word, ’HEAD’, I think of Cheryl, who is not a shouty sort of person, as she shouted it at me. (She had to shout as I was both under water at the time and also a bit deaf.)

All in all it is a very Zen like experience, as you find that quiet, calm place, within and beneath the water; you find your natural body alignment, and then the ’mindset’ settles as a wondrous harmony throughout your whole being. 

It’s about being not doing. Mindfulness within the water. Noticing what is Now. That to me is ‘Swimming Without Stress’.

It was truly wonderful. Thank you so much.

See more first hand accounts of swimmer experiences



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16-Jun-2017 /  written by Lesley
Which End of the Pool Were You in at School?

Which End of the Pool Were You in at School?

People who come to us often recollect their school swimming lessons.

In the school swimming lessons people tell us about there were two areas of the pool: the deep end for kids who could swim and the shallow end for non-swimmers.  

Adults learning to swim with us often recall being left to their own devices in the shallow end as kids, not knowing what they were supposed to be doing and feeling more each week like non-swimmers, like this must be a genetically inherited condition. In their peripheral vision, at the other end of the pool, were the swimmers, the ones having all the fun.

But the lack of a meaningful plan which caused suffering for the nervous kids was liable to be a problem for the swimmers too. Some of those envied deep-enders, including the more confident, sporty ones, were just swimming on instinct. They would willingly jump into the deep water if that was required and, with muscular effort and adrenaline, race from one side of the pool to the other.  As adults they tell us they know they were able to swim as kids but now feel a lack of confidence, especially about the breathing.

The really good swimmers in the deep end, the effortless gliders, had gained their skills somewhere else. But at those school lessons which people tend to look back on with disappointment, everyone was in the same boat.

All the adults that come to us needed but tended not to receive the same basic skills as children: to relax and let the air out; to float by letting the water support them instead of trying to “do” something to make themselves float; to rotate from one plane to another without losing balance.

Without the right kind of guidance, kids will either shy away from water, which is easy for anyone to recognise, or be overexcited in their response to it, which the untrained observer is likely to perceive as fun. 

All learners, children and adults, need to be encouraged and guided to make friends with the water instead of reacting to it with fear.

Also see:  Play Comes First But What Next?  /  Kick Kick Kick /  Need for Speed /  Rotation Rotation Rotation  / In At The Deep End, Sink or SwimRescued: Learner Lost with Woggle at Leisure Centre  / Don't Pass It Up, Pass It On 

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20-May-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
Head Away from Knees Away from Worries on the Beach

Head Away from Knees Away from Worries on the Beach

Enjoying glimpses of freedom more than the long slog

Bank Holiday Monday, I went for a long walk with my friend and we got a bit lost when we decided to explore and ran out of footpath signs. Trampling through boggy fields, avoiding cows, untying and tying knots holding gates, walking on a road with Gordon pulling on his lead and impeding my stride. Sweaty and unwashed, wet feet, lacking sleep, away from the forest path I know so well. Sagging into my lower back. Two hours instead of one. That kind of walk doesn’t seem to do me much good. It’s energy sapping. There’s no freedom in it.  I like to move easily, my arms free to swing as I stride along a clear path, uphill with my heart pumping.  I like my dogs to run free up the forest banks, where there’s nothing for them to chase.  

But I made it to the pool in good time to meet a new pupil who told me that previous attempts at learning to swim weren’t good because teachers tried to get her swimming rather than feeling happy in water. This was music to my ears. She’s already letting her head go to find the support of the water, breathing, doing well. 

In the evening I went for a quick stroll on the beach with Cheryl and our daughters.  Some friends in their wetsuits and caps were setting off for the first Monday night swim of the year, from Poppit Sands to Cemaes Head. I wondered if I should be with them but it looked cold and I get a rash if I wear a wetsuit. Many jelly fish lay dead on the sand. As I walked a few yards behind the others I was worrying about all this. 

Then I gave a direction to myself as I walked, Head Away From Knees. A clear direction, a wish which hit the target with a whoosh.  In a heartbeat, everything opened up. As my body started to breathe and my head led me towards the clouds on the horizon, for a few moments I was free, really walking, part of my environment. Then I took a photo and decided to write a blog, about how the Alexander Technique is, for me. Mostly, that’s what it’s like: moments of freedom. But moments which do make it all worthwhile.  

This was posted yesterday on tumblr, for Ian's new Alexander Technique website  One thing to add here is that it's true for me when swimming, as with walking, that glimpses of freedom coming out of a clear thought are probably more likely to happen when bobbing around not going anywhere than when swimming some distance to a destination. 

Also see:  A Timeless Swim / It's all Right Once You're In / Transform Your Day In 10 Seconds / Tame Swimming /What are you Training for? / Just Floating An Idea

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02-May-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
Meet Me at the Symmetry Gates

Meet Me at the Symmetry Gates

Aiming for balance in the water

The thing I want maybe most from a swim is symmetry. I like to emerge from the pool into the fresh air with a feeling of balance.

All human beings tend to be asymmetrical, to twist to one side, though most of us don’t feel this when we’re moving. Any form of exercise tends to exaggerate our tendency to twist, even walking. So what about in water? What happens there?

If you have symmetrical aspirations, like I do, it’s useful to remember that there are symmetrical strokes and asymmetrical strokes.  Breaststroke and butterfly are symmetrical, the two sides of the body do the same thing at the same time.  Front crawl and backstroke are asymmetrical and, like when we walk, our left and right sides balance each other through opposition.

A free neck makes for a beautifully balanced breaststroke, if you organise the stroke in the right way. While butterfly may be difficult to learn, its main advantage over crawl if you want a more dynamic, muscular and cardiovascular alternative to breaststroke, is symmetry.

Asymmetry in breaststroke usually means a screw kick, one leg doing something different to the other, which it should be mirroring. The more tension in the neck and shoulders, the more wonkiness there’ll be in the legs. The cause of a screw kick is a twist in the pelvis, which is fairly easily remedied by resting the head in the water face down for the kick and glide.  Free your neck to glide and let the head lead when you come up to inhale.

Backstroke and front crawl are more of a challenge for particularly asymmetrical people. For us, rotation one way is always going to be more free and easy than the other. This is why most of us have a favourite breathing side. Very good front crawl swimmers are admirable for their symmetry. A lovely example is Shinji from Total Immersion. I’ve spent far too much time on YouTube watching his effortless gliding. Sometimes I can even hear the accompanying music as I fancy myself cutting through the water like him.  But deep down, even the very elite have an A side and a B side, because they’re human.

Steven Shaw has come up with a useful way of promoting balance in front crawl for ordinary people who want to swim better, not faster. He calls it centering. Before going on a journey to the left or right, the swimmer briefly returns to a neutral, central place. I find this very helpful.

It seems fair to say that, for most people, symmetrical strokes promote symmetry better than asymmetrical strokes. That’s certainly true for me. So long as I’m fully aware of that, I can continue to work on all the strokes. But breaststroke is my definite favourite at the moment. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Also see:  Diving Into Breaststroke / Enjoying the Journey with Breaststroke and Butterfly Knowing Your A Side and B SideWatching Where You're Going With Your Crawl? / 360 Front Crawl / Why Don't I Just Stick My Neck Out? / Cross Pattern Crawl 

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27-Mar-2017 /  written by Ian Cross