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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.
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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!

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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

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03-Aug-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
What’s Welsh for Puddle?

What’s Welsh for Puddle?

Learning to let learning happen

I’ve lived in Wales for 18 years, my dad’s Welsh and a friend recommended I put myself in the position of learner starting from scratch, like a lot of our pupils. So I’ve started learning Welsh.

The internet course I’m doing,  Say Something in Welsh, involves constructing a sentence, using the language you know,  before the teacher says it.  Trying too hard to get the words out in those few seconds freezes my brain. But when I don’t worry about speaking and just listen, understand and absorb, like a child does, it’s much more relaxing. I often fall asleep halfway through a lesson or ‘challenge’ and am woken by Aran, the teacher,  telling me how well I’ve done to make it to the end!

Babies ideally crawl a lot before they walk and do lots of listening before they start to talk. Non-swimmers need to enjoy floating around and playing with movement before learning strokes.

Watching the growing confidence of our two year old grandson Gruff is inspiring. With limited language he manages to communicate what he wants very effectively and he understands a lot. When we go for a walk with him, we don't get far. But he’s always learning. The other evening he spent about 10 minutes dropping stones into puddles.

While I wouldn't be able to string two sentences of Welsh together in the real world, I do feel engaged in a learning process. I wake up in the morning, knowing how to say, “I met your sister in the pub last night’ or ‘I’ve got a friend who knows your brother”. And when I listen to Tommo on Radio Cymru I’m starting to recognise more and more words.

I might do a residential Welsh course but I’ll have no expectation of being able to communicate in a natural setting by the end. That would be like a non-swimmer coming to us and expecting to be ready, on course completion, to enter a triathlon.

Learning without caring about results, without crippling yourself with expectation, must be the best way to learn anything. With Welsh, I remind myself to give up the idea of getting anywhere, but not to give up.

Also see:  Floating Foundations / Floating is a Feeling  / Sing When You're Winning / Rescued, Learner Lost with Woggle at Leisure Centre  / Learn Not to Swim / Stopping the Fight for Survival / Landing Before Standing

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24-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


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04-Jul-2017 /  written by Cheryl Cross
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