home
call us on: 01239 613 789

Teaching

Freedom from Form

Freedom from Form

Available to everybody including me

Learner swimmers need to focus on enjoying the support of the water and develop a feel for it through play,  instead of being restricted by the form of competitive strokes. They shouldn’t be too fixed on the goal of being able to swim lengths for exercise.  Swimming up and down without freedom of movement does nobody any good.

I explain all this with enthusiasm to people attending our course and encourage them to be bold and do their own thing.

Then I go off to the pool and swim lengths, almost exclusively using the four competitive strokes, albeit with the intention of freeing my neck.

But if I want to swim with the Alexander Technique, the cornerstones of which are non-doing and direction of energy, I really don't need to be using conventional strokes.

I have photos of myself as an infant, always tilting my head to one side. The twist that causes this is related to mild hearing difficulty, left eye/ right hand dominance and a retained baby reflex which hinders independence of the head from the neck and back when turning. It persists in every activity of life for me. So swimming the four strokes, even though I can execute them well, with all the head movement it entails, creates problems for my neck. Floating face down on the other hand, and doing a bit of movement from that foundation, does me the world of good.

On my last swim of the summer holidays, I went for a 20 minute dip at Aberporth.  I told myself to be creative and decided not to do anything that could be construed as a proper, conventional stroke.

I started with some crawl but rolled all the way onto my back every time I needed to breathe. It felt odd, stopping and starting, like a learner. But I knew it would be better for my neck and I kept going till I arrived at the last buoy from the shore. On the way back I began to play with breaststroke. At first, when I popped out of the water for a breath, I looked to the left and then to the right, to help stop my head from fixing in its twist as I rolled it out to breathe. Again, this felt a bit silly but there was nobody around.

Then, without any real planning, a new breaststroke sequence began to emerge. Face down, head resting underwater, I did a big arm sweep and a kick then a smaller sweep and another kick, before popping out for a leisurely breath on the third stroke. I was spending more time underwater, relaxing, and less time bobbing up for air. This produced a definite rhythm - my own rhythm. I felt like the ‘bloke on holiday’ I try to encourage non-swimmers to be. And my neck was fine when I got out.

“You were a long time,” said my friend Clive.
more


06-Sep-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
Not So Slow Sophie

Not So Slow Sophie

Cheryl makes friends with a head-up breaststroker on holiday and shares her top tips

On my recent  Strel swimming trip I met Sophie from Germany.

She was in the 'slow' group with me and another lady. Sophie clearly loved being in the sea and was a very competent head up breaststroker. 

For our first proper swim I breaststroked keeping fairly good time with Esther's crawl and resting or looping back to make sure Sophie didn't get too far behind.  She kept going really well for the whole of the 2k plus swim. But it was clear that as Esther and I got into our stride, she wasn't going to be able to keep up.  Despite her lovely stroke and confidence, keeping her head above the water simply made her stroke less efficient than everyone else's. 
Luckily, we were a small enough group that our guides could cope with our now 3 speed groups and Sophie continued to enjoy her swims without going as far as the rest of the group. She very quickly decided to do something about her "so slow" swimming on her return to Germany. 

I had a few minutes with Sophie to give her a few tips. Here they are: 

Drop your forehead to the floor (in this case to the seabed!). 
This opens up your neck, your breathing, your buoyancy, your freedom of movement and generally makes it all wonderful. 

Keep your mouth open 
Sophie was able to breathe out of her nose underwater but tended to close her mouth on crossing the surface. By keeping it open she avoided the stop/start action which interferes with a natural breath. 

Look at the fish
Something I encourage in the pool at Croft Farm! In the Montenegrin bays seeing the fish, and generally just looking around, helped Sophie relax. 

Fall forwards
By letting the weight of her head, arms, chest carry her forwards and leaving her legs to trail loosely behind, Sophie was able to feel a glide. 

Look at your hands
On the way out to breathe, seeing her hands in front of her meant Sophie had the time and support she needed to allow an in-breath. 

That's all we had time for so Viel Gluck "not so slow" Sophie!

more


17-Aug-2017 /  written by Cheryl Cross
I, Ian Cross, Am Not A Swimming Instructor

I, Ian Cross, Am Not A Swimming Instructor

Freedom from the shackles of a job title

You’re not a swimming teacher are you? You’re a therapist,” a friend said to me on a bike ride.  I took exception to this because I'm not a therapist. But he did have a point.

I would say the thing I do best is help people learn to trust the water to support them, by approaching their problem, of not being able to swim, differently. Learning to swim shouldn’t be about struggling across the water but letting it support you by stopping fearful doing. Not everybody can get it but if anyone can help a nervous non-swimmer become independent in water, I’m confident that I’m the man.

I helped someone float and regain her feet independently for the first time, before we broke up for the summer. I was quite proud of this achievement, for both of us, because her fear in water was so strong when she first came. She knew she needed to come out to Wales if she was going to do it. It took two trips and a lot of hard work.

This morning a friend I often see out walking sent me this link about the amazing benefits of swimming for exercise:

I responded:

Me: Thanks, this is the sort of thing people love. I doubt the truth of most of it. Scientists trot out the same old stuff about swimming and its benefits. In reality most people who swim are unaware that they are stiffening their necks, distorting their backs and gasping. This morning I was planning to go for a pool swim with Cheryl. I did a bit of Alexander Technique work in the kitchen and this helped me to decide that a long walk in the woods would do me more good (and I think it was the right choice).

Friend: I am a pretty hopeless swimmer, stiff necked gasper probably sums it up. A long walk in the woods sounds more pleasant to me than a pool swim.

Me: You don't look like a stiff necked gasper when you're walking and that's the main thing, I reckon. Swimming is too popular at the moment. Think jogging in the 1980s!

Friend: You don't do a very good job of selling swimming, Mr. Swimming Instructor!

Me: People are keen to learn to swim but need to be shown that in water, less is more. Just floating about is the most beneficial thing most of us can do. I don't mind selling that. I have less and less enthusiasm for swimming distances. Maybe I'm not a swimming instructor but I can and do help fearful people learn to trust the water to support them. That's what I do most of. Cheryl is more enthusiastic about teaching movement than I am.

The trouble is, when someone like you who isn't a great swimmer looks at an article like that,  it seems like a no-brainer that you should swim.  Really you're probably better off walking, even if you decide to become a good swimmer through taking lessons. Because we're land based animals and we've got enough work to do on dry land!

So this morning, I went for a walk in the woods with the dogs, had that quick exchange on facebook messenger and am now sitting here, with a sense of well-being, quite clear that I am not a swimming instructor. It feels like a good morning’s work.

Also see:  Floating Foundations / When Movements Muddy The Water To the Wall / Control Freak? Can't Swim / Floating is a Feeling Rescued: Learner Lost with Woggle at Leisure Centre / Learn Not to Swim / Landing Before Standing / Stopping the Fight for Survival / All You Need Is Love / Helping Hands / Positions and Decisions

more


03-Aug-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 

more


27-Mar-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
All You Need Is Love

All You Need Is Love

Putting love of the water into practice

Swimmers often talk about their love of water. But one way or another we fight the thing we love.

With family members, for example,  if I work a bit harder at using the energy of love, I might be less selfish, more tolerant,  a better listener.  

I love the water for its consistent support. When I let it take me, it always helps me to release and expand. I just need to remember that this is what I want.

As in the home, we can use the energy of love in the water, as a way to direct ourselves.

When you're learning to swim,  you have to learn to trust the water to support you.  This is both an emotional and a physical thing but too often we emphasise the physical (What do I have to do?). If you go into the water with an attitude of love, give yourself to it, soften into its support, trust it, you'll make friends with it and have a friend for life.

An old Alexander Technique teacher told a trainee, ‘If you can't put hands on pupils with direction, do it with love.’ It's a useful message because it keeps things simple and prevents anxiety.

If you love water,  see if you can put your love to practical use, next time you go for a swim. Make sure you're not fighting the water, or yourself. Let it support you so you can breathe. Give yourself to the water and swim with love!

This kind of work might be useful preparation for increased contact with friends and relatives at Christmas.  But when human relationships are challenging,  the water may provide a refuge. Our relationship with the water is one we can always get right.

Also see:  Attention, Please / Positions and Decisions / Foundations / He Ain't Heavy / When Movements Muddy The Water To the Wall / Control Freak? Can't Swim / Floating is a Feeling Rescued: Learner Lost with Woggle at Leisure Centre / Learn Not to Swim / Landing Before Standing / Stopping the Fight for Survival

more


15-Dec-2016 /  written by Ian Cross
Why Don't I Just Stick My Neck Out?

Why Don't I Just Stick My Neck Out?

Can finding a balanced front crawl breathing position be more than just a drill?

It can be difficult to know what’s really going on when turning to breathe in front crawl. Because it all happens so fast,  we go wrong in subtle ways. A little bit of twisting the neck, tensing the jaw, sucking in air or gasping. A touch of disintegration of the head/ neck/ back as the mouth rushes the face out of the water, like a fish on a hook, before the body has chance to rotate.  

When I had lessons with Steven Shaw twenty years ago, I felt liberated by learning to kick on my side with my face out of the water, a new way to approach front crawl breathing. It changed the way I swam front crawl because it woke up my body’s willingness to rotate. With my head nice and still in the centre and my neck relaxed as I looked at the pool floor, I could swing from side to side, one gliding arm replacing the other.  The breathing stroke became one of freedom, for my face to follow my rolling body out of the water and rest there, as I fluttered my feet and sent my arm forwards.

Before Alexander Technique lessons, I simply turned my head to breathe, bilaterally,  every third stroke, and everything seemed fine. But I was in my twenties then and got away with things. Aged 48,  I'm aware that my head doesn't like me turning it much at all.

So I’m wondering these days whether, for some people, people whose heads don't like being turned relative to their necks,  kicking on the side with the face out of the water can be more than a drill, which it was originally intended it to be. A drill to engender a sense of balance and take the anxiety out of turning to breathe. A chance to practise a dynamic resting position, where your body can breathe naturally,  from your back.  If we can find a balanced resting place which allows us to keep our neck free, so long as we don't over-rotate and lose our ability to return smoothly to our face down swim, there's nothing to stop us from doing this all the time.

I often ask myself what compels me to get straight in the water and breathe bilaterally, snatching a quick breath every three strokes, reproducing that old ‘one, two three and breathe’ rhythm I established when young.

Is it that resting in this balanced breathing position slows me down and I want to fit in with the swimmers in the fast lane? Do I fancy myself as the finished article, rather than someone who needs to work on himself? Am I happy to risk a bit of a tight neck, or a bit of gasping, so long as I'm swimming ‘proper front crawl’?

I do know after all these years that, if I tell myself to slow down and take my time in the breathing position; to work on finding balance in a place which allows me to keep my neck free, my head supported by the water, my back open and my in-breath natural and unforced, I have a good chance of success. So why don’t I always do it?

Also see: 360 Front Crawl / Knowing Your A Side and B Side / Look on the Bright Side / Front Crawl's Simple So What's The Catch? /  Cross Pattern Crawl / Fish Fingers / Fish Out Of Water / Feet Notes / Keeping It Simple / Watching Where You're Going With Your Crawl? /  Meet Me at the Symmetry Gates


more


24-Nov-2016 /  written by Ian Cross