Is Swimming a Neurological Deficit?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 26th, 2009

There was a fascinating  article in today’s NY Times about an actor who has had cerebral palsy for life. A meeting with inventive choreographer Tamara Rogoff resulted in a collaboration in which she created a dance piece specifically for him, and while teaching it to him taught him to move in more liberating ways than he had ever experienced. She also taught him to feel his body in ways he had not previously.

The article will uplift any reader. I drew something more from it. My greatest insight this year has been a more profound understanding that we learn and improve at swimming by training the brain and nervous system — and allow aerobic training to “happen” while we do. I’ve become far more familiar with terms like Neural Strength and Neural Plasticity.

Thus, this graf from the article really grabbed my attention. “In the past, people thought that a neurological deficit was fixed and immutable,” Dr. Paget said. “Now there’s this whole concept of neuroplasticity: the neurological system has this ability to change itself and constantly grow.”

It also started a set of “conceptual neurons” growing. For many people a better path to swimming mastery may be to understand it as a “neurological deficit”  to be addressed by learning methods that focus on the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity.

4 Responses to “Is Swimming a Neurological Deficit?”

  1. I read the article and another, and I think I see what you are getting at, but if I’m reading the concepts right, swimming is NOT a neurological deficit, it is the lack of swimming that is a neurological deficit for most people. As we use mindfulness (focused brain training) in our swim and use our mental and physical focus to caress and intensify different areas of our kinetic and sensory moments we are deeply enhancing the neuroplasticity in ways that bring benefits in overall wellness, balance and cognition.

    Before I got into TI, my knees were arthritic and disablingly painful (a situation that started from a traumatic knee injury at the age of 8), I was *trying* to ballroom dance with my wife of 25 years and most days I was happy to be able to walk reasonably well with minimal discomfort. As I progressed with TI over the last 3 years the pain has receded strikingly, I have become a better dancer and the painful knee days are the anomaly, not the rule. I’ve retrained my body to swim with grace, and it has taught my knees to live without agony. The way I let the pain from my knees and the lack of balance and limited mobility control my entire life was evidence of a neruological deficit (habitual limitations, voluntary mental acceptance of disability and compensating restricted movements) that I’d build up over the last 40 years as a defense mechanism to cope with my pain. I was disabled more by my mind accepting my limits than by the limits themselves.

    I do not accept those limits now, am exploring ways to stretch past my perceived physical limits and only infrequently do I experience them. My I continue to grow in my mental, neurological and physical flexibility all the days of my life. You have given me much to be thankful for today Terry.

    Brian Suddeth
    Bowie, MD

  2. This concept of neuroplasticity for individuals with cerebral palsy has been known by researchers and physicians in Japan for many years now. There is a methodology called KAATSU (which roughly translated means additional pressure in Japanese) that has been helping thousands of patients in Japan. Very positive research has been ongoing at the Tokyo University Hospital with numerous concrete examples for years. KAATSU was recently accepted by the World Health Organization as an effective and cost-efficient means to help bring relief to those in the undeveloped and under-developed worlds. KAATSU will also be used by the Chinese Olympic Committee for the development of its advanced athletes in all its Olympic sports.

  3. Brian
    I’m gratified to hear that TI practice has improved your quality of life and increased your intention to continue on the improvement path. I’d also agree that unskilled swimming, rather than swimming itself, might be interpreted – and “treated” – as a neurological deficit.

    The main takeaway is to persuade more people to seek improvement by training brain and nervous system, rather than heart and lungs.

  4. TSwain says:

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂

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