Alice taught a first-time TI student named Paul this morning in our Endless Pool-equipped home Swim Studio. Paul presented a learning challenge: he’d lost his left leg just above the knee and part of his right foot in an accident at 16. Because I’d taught a number of amputees and other challenged athletes, but Alice had not, she asked me to look in on the lesson
Paul has just taken up triathlon and while he runs and cycles with a prosthetic, there’s nothing to take the place of a missing leg in swimming. As I explained to Paul a missing leg presents two challenges:
1) Because he has more body mass on one side of his body, achieving balance and stability is more of a challenge.
2) Because we rely on our legs as ‘levers’ to help with body rotation – a left-leg downbeat helps us rotate (or weight shift) onto our right side AND helps us spear the right arm forward – something must compensate for the missing leverage when he enters his right hand.
I watched Paul swim for 10 seconds and could immediately see that he faces the same challenge as every adult who is just beginning to swim — the instinct that Job One is to fight your way from one end of the pool to the other, usually with a flurry of arm-and-leg churning. Once he set his sights on doing a triathlon, Paul did what came naturally — took out a pool membership and began trying to build his swimming endurance.
What that has meant is churning through a single lap. Pant for a while at the other end, then churn his way back. In the Endless Pool’s current there was no ‘other end’ to reach, but the churning habit still held.
Those early laps haven’t only begun forming movement habits. They’ve also begun forming thinking habits. As I explained to Paul, the first thing we need to do is undo his thinking habits. Thinking Differently will make it much easier for him to Swim Differently.
And the very first New Thought we wanted to teach Paul was this: When he no longer had a ‘mission’ to reach the other end, he could instead focus on being In This Moment and Place with a sense of comfort and calm. Both physical calm – in his movements — and mental calm. Mental calm comes from replacing Reactive thought (I feel myself sinking so I’d better keep churning) with Reflective thought (What signals am I receiving from the water and my body and what do they mean?)
As it happens, an Endless Pool is an ideal place to acquire new ways of thinking. There’s no lap to complete, no time to keep, and no distractions at all. There’s only you, the water and the experience they have together.
The second clue to awareness I gave Paul was this: Adults who take up swimming not only tend to fight their way from one end to the other. They also tend to engage in near-constant self-criticism and self-judging. They’re aware there’s a Right Way to swim. They’re also aware that what they’re doing is emphatically Wrong. So at every instant they’re likely to be comparing what they ARE doing to what they believe they SHOULD BE doing and finding themselves wanting.
But learning to swim (as well as learning nearly anything else in adulthood) doesn’t do well in a Pass/Fail environment. Rather, we should view every experience we have as Information. In this instance our experiences are teaching us how a human body (and psyche) tend to behave in an aquatic environment.
So Paul begin his lesson with repeats of Superman Glide, with Alice towing lightly so he could glice a bit longer in a gentle current, with the lightest possible kick. While gliding there – gazing at the mirror below – he was able to begin gathering information
Are my arms extended directly forward of the shoulders?
Is my head hanging neutral – so I look directly into my own eyes in the mirror?
When in this position, how supported do I feel? Is that a new sensation? What significance does this have for my swimming.
Ninety minutes later Paul left with a different way of moving and thinking. He’ll practice both in the coming week, before his next appointment with Alice.
Learn Balance, Superman Glide and Reflective Thinking in Lesson One of the DVD TI Self Coached Workshop in 10 Lessons.