Have you ever felt anxious about facing a new experience? Do you avoid becoming involved in activities that are unfamiliar? If you do then you are not alone. The fear of the unknown can be an insurmountable barrier for some people. Learning to swim is a very good example. A fear of the water is quite common particularly amongst certain age groups.
To be more specific, I am a member of a generation that was never given the opportunity to learn to swim during those formative school-years. The facilities that we take for granted these days simply didn’t exist then. In fact, during my time at school I went to a swimming pool only on two occasions. These two visits were a nightmare experience as the only method of learning to swim in those days was to be thrown into the deep end. If you survived you were given a certificate. If you didn’t you were given a very different type of certificate! Swimming was not part of the curriculum. Neither of my parents could swim and there was no such thing as a Parent Teacher Association to fill the gap.
It was not until the grand old age of 54 that my wife, who was similarly disadvantaged at school, and I took steps to learn to swim. We signed up for a week’s residential course at an Hotel in the West Country that specialised in teaching people to swim. While our main fear of the water was overcome, to a degree, at the end of the week we had only scratched the surface of our difficulty. We managed a few 10-meter-lengths of the training pool without drowning. Just!
I am now approaching 70 and during the time between my first steps to becoming a swimmer and now I have been a reasonably regular visitor to our local pool attempting to improve my meagre skills in the water. To be honest, my
performance in the water is based upon getting to the other end as quickly as possible without drowning. When I get there I am totally out of breath. (The Cross Channel Record is safe!)
Learning to swim so late in life has not been easy for me or my wife. The coordination of stroke, proper breathing and the required confidence in the water have turned out to be so alien that any progress that we might have made has gone unnoticed, that is, until now.
My wife pointed out an advertisement in one of the magazines that spelled out the benefits of learn to swim with The Mind/Body Awareness Programme, which teaches people, of all levels of skill, to learn to swim and improve their strokes. The learning tools of this method are based upon the Alexander Technique. (This is the relationship of the head, neck and back.) Eventually, plucking up courage, I started the process to enrol for a series of lessons with the local expert who was approved to conduct such training. This turned out to be Stephanie Dutton whose practice is in Tring when she was not engaged in a similar function in the United States. I enrolled for a course of 5 lessons as I felt I would need more than just the odd one here and there. Continuity is always very important during any learning process. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to be encouraged to think about how I use the water to achieve a satisfactory result by making my stroke more efficient and therefore using less energy. The objective is to reduce the body’s frontal area to the water and cause less wake turbulence thereby increasing swimming efficiency.
The big bonus about signing up with Stephanie is that she is in the water with you all the time never more than a meter away. This promotes wonderful confidence and greatly improves concentration. Her analysis and encouragement to swim with good body alignment is re-enforced by her many excellent demonstrations, all at close quarters and her patience is exemplary. I found all these to be major benefits during my efforts to become a better swimmer. Any anxiety that I might have had in the water has disappeared, all thanks to Stephanie.
When I am in the water, I can “feel” that my swimming has become more relaxed and more fluid. I now enjoy slipping through the water with relative ease.
I know what you are thinking, if there is so much improvement what about entering for the Olympic Games in 2012? Well, I regret to say that I will have to rule myself out as not being available. I will be on holiday at the time never very far away from a sun-baked swimming pool where I will be revelling in my newly found swimming skills.
Anxiety! What anxiety?
Stuart Grieve, Berkhamstead UK