Can a Swimming Method Change Your Life?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on July 12th, 2011

In 1989, when I first thought of offering a swim camp for adults, and to call it “Total Immersion” my goals were relatively modest: To attract a few Masters swimmers and spend 6 days improving the efficiency of their strokes (all strokes) mainly via stroke drills I’d been using since 1972. When we began attracting larger numbers of triathletes, and traditional drills proved unsuited to their needs, we needed to come up with another approach. That’s when we began teaching Balance and Streamlining. The improvement we saw — for newbies and veterans alike — was so striking I decided to write a book describing this ‘revolutionary’ way to teach swimming.

My ambitions with that book were mainly to give people a means to change their stroke.  But soon I began to hear from readers “Your book changed my life.” I was surprised and gratified. I was also curious. What was transformed, other than movement quality?  It turned out that the experience of Mindfulness (I didn’t call it that at the time; I only emphasized that because the new skills were counterintuitive, you needed to give them your full attention to replace instinct and habit.) was the life-changing part.  So that helps answer the question: How can a swimming method change your life?

Obviously it should improve your swimming. In fact it should transform your swimming, because when you transform anything about yourself that has seemed highly resistant to change, you begin to ask yourself “What else might I be able to change?”

Beyond that it should lift swimming from the realm of the purely physical–a form of exercise–to a form of self-expression. Swimming as the new book advocates should help you feel that you are:

  • Using your body intelligently and healthfully.
  • Exploring and fulfilling your potential.
  • Discovering and developing new capacities.
  • Feeling enthusiasm for life and engaged with the world.

And finally you should finish every swim practice feeling balanced, vital, happy and healthy. The key is to remain mindful that feeling that way, rather than swimming a certain distance or time, is your primary goal each time you enter the water.


3 Responses to “Can a Swimming Method Change Your Life?”

  1. Jayadeep Purushothaman says:

    While my life was transformed before I learned about TI, it aligned so well with my philosophies and it did transform my swimming though I remain a 2-lap swimmer even now. From someone who could just do the doggy stroke, I learned freestyle and backstroke by reading the TI book and now perfecting the freestyle with the DVD! Thank you Terry for your invaluable contributions!

  2. Donal says:

    One of my problems with tennis was finding people that were willing to practice. Most guys would hit for five or ten minutes then want to play a set. Tennis is a game, of course, and they preferred to play rather than practice. I, and one or two of my friends, would practice for hours. We knew the professionals used drills to get better, and we wanted to get better – so we drilled.

    Swimmers always “practice,” but my early coaches conducted practice like a series of near-races. Do 5 x 200 with 15 seconds in between – that sort of thing. The only drill I recall was the one-arm drill. I tried to improve my stroke based on reading Counsilman, but while he had a few ideas about stroke mechanics, he also stressed Hurt Pain Agony. Looking back, that style of training also seems like playing, or racing, instead of practicing.

    For many adult years I practiced swimming that same way that I had learned in high school and college – lots of fast repeats of varying distances, pyramids, etc. I was occasionally in good shape but more often too intimidated to get back in the pool. Fortunately I ran into TI and learned some drills that made a difference.

    What I like now is that even when I am swimming whole stroke, I am practicing to improve, not just to slog through 1500 meters.

  3. Donal
    I’ve had the same thought, but I may never have expressed it in writing, as you have here. Traditional swim workouts–Masters just as much as kids–very often devolve into little more than a series of dozens of races, often with only time for a few panting breaths between them. Nonstop pressure. No time for reflection or experimentation. And the faster folks nearly always win.

    Imagine if musicians or dancers always practiced with performance pressure.

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