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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
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
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


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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 / Freedom from Form

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17-Jun-2017 /  written by Ian 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