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The Swimming Blog

Don't Leave Home Without...

Don't Leave Home Without...

Everything Cheryl needed for her warm water swimming adventure

Packing my one cabin bag for my trip to the Montenegro Fjords I was distressed to find I didn't have room for my Aqua Sphere Aqua Skin wetsuit, even though the Strel expert, Borut, and everyone else I asked (given the predicted sea temperature of 24 degrees), said I wouldn't need it.

Still at least I'd have my Gul Evotherm top. Nobody would think I was a whimp in that, would they? I tested the water, in private in case it made me howl a bit (that's what I'm used to) and found I didn't need the thermal top either.

The sea really was warm enough and so was the sun. For ease (and to make my flight size sun cream last) I wore a Gul rashguard  and Bohn jammers with my costume and on one occasion when the back of my knees were looking a bit pink, I wore some three quarter length Bohn leggings.  Towards the ending of the week I was able to risk swimming in just my Zoggs costumes.  I knew they'd be reliable - lifetime guarantee, good coverage, excellent freedom of movement, and quick drying (although it was sensible to have more than one).

As for goggles I wore my favourite Aqua Sphere Vista. You can't beat it for visibility which I appreciated even more in the beautiful setting and clear water, and the Maru Groove - also watertight and comfortable and with mirrored lenses which weren't too dark.
During one swim, I was irritated by some leaking (it was the Vista) which I think was caused by sun cream upsetting the seal, as they were fine next day after a rinse in fresh water.

Lastly I was very happy with the Lifeventure towel. So easy to pack and quick drying but large enough to wrap myself in while drinking tea on the boat. I'd chosen the World Words design thinking that as I was travelling alone I might have time to swot a bit for the pub quiz.But time-fillers in case I was lonely or bored were definitely something else I didn't need.

Three essential items I didn't need were my earplugsglide cap and anti-fog solution.  But they weighed nothing and took up no space. 

Photo shows Cheryl back home in her vista goggles and glide cap.

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18-Jul-2017 /  written by Cheryl Cross
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
Going Away and Getting Somewhere

Going Away and Getting Somewhere

Cheryl's home from her Strel Swimming Adventure in Montenegro.

Thank you Strel Swimming Adventures for the lovely trip in Montenegro last week.

This was the prize I won in the raffle at the 2017 Cold Water Swimming Championships.

On Monday, before breakfast, we had our first swim from the beach outside the hotel in Tivat. This was so our swimming guides, Borut and Laura, could have a look at our swimming speeds. Our small group was very easily split into two groups. The fast group (two Dutch ladies and a man from South Africa) were all in training for various competitive events later in the summer. The slower group was made up of another keen Dutch swimmer, though not interested in events, a German 'head up' breaststroker and myself.

After breakfast we were off on Gudo's boat into the beautiful bays of Risan and Kotor.  

Not having ever swum any kind of distance in open water I was surprised to find how much easier it was than I expected. Easier than in the pool. The first swim of just over 2k was over in what seemed like 20 minutes (it was more like an hour).

The other unknown was how tired I would be swimming 2-3k twice a day. The answer was not tired at all thanks to the very relaxing time spent on the boat between swims. We visited the lovely villages around the bays, and Laura's lunches on the boat were just right.

We also got to see some underwater footage filmed and critiqued by Borut (mostly from a 'how to go faster' angle most helpful for the competitive swimmers) and were given useful tips.

The whole trip was lovely and personally I was very pleased with my swimming performance. I knew my strokes were comfortable but thought I'd find keeping going more mentally challenging. Generally I spend my time in the water just enjoying its support, feeling my movements become freer and simply playing around rather than actually getting somewhere.  I'm pleased to say the 'getting somewhere' was also enjoyable. I now feel more confident about swimming in open water.

 I'm looking forward to spending much more time in the sea at home in Pembrokeshire this summer. I know the beautiful weather and sea temperature on the trip contributed a lot to the pleasure but I do have my Aqua Skin to help.

Also see: Old Man River / A Timeless Swim / It's All Right Once You're In / What Are You Training For? / Camp Training / Clock Sucker / Tame Swimming / Mediocrity and Excellence


04-Jul-2017 /  written by Cheryl 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


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


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 


20-May-2017 /  written by Ian Cross