I am finally completing the last chapter of my book Better Breathing In Freestyle (a working title – it may not be the final one) and preparing a draft for a first round of editing. This final chapter is the one I have been most eager to bring to light because it is where I have taken my personal interest in the therapeutic viewpoint and attempt to explain how we infuse that into the process of learning to swim, and in particular, creating a learning environment for people who experience great struggle with breathing and because of that feel great, almost debilitating stress when trying to work on it.
It’s easy and common for instructors to tell a struggling person what they need to do, but it is critical (and unfortunately rare) to guide them in a way that both increases their skill and reduces their stress at the same time. Because it is not known how to put them at ease, the assumption is that if they can just endure the stress for as long as it takes and break through with the skills, the stress will then all go away. But for many this is not the case because that stress gets embedded more deeply into their body and becomes more detrimentally associated with swimming.
Here is an excerpt from a section titled Breathing And Psychology…
Breathing in this context is a body and mind experience…
For those who are struggling with breathing, who experience a lot of stress in swimming because of it, the experience is as much mental as it is physical. After all, the body, brain and mind are all a part of one integrated system. An experience in the body is also an experience in the mind whether consciously aware of it or not. When that experience is intense enough, the brain will kick it up into consciousness and the swimmer will become aware that something out of the ordinary is happening. In the case of a struggling swimmer, that will be an awareness – an alarm – that something difficult and unpleasant is happening, perhaps even threatening. And if that alarm gets bad enough or carries on long enough the swimmer will likely form a negative emotional reaction to the struggle. This negative emotional reaction hinders the learning mode of the brain and it puts drag on the motivation to keep trying. This reaction is going to be on a spectrum somewhere between the mildly ‘anxious’ and the extremely ‘fearful.’
Many adult swimmers who feel a negative reaction are embarrassed by it. They may try to hide that embarrassment or they might admit it. But that embarrassment, seen or unseen, is a hindrance to learning. What we end up with is a situation where those who need the breakthrough the most are in the most difficult mental condition to get to it easily.
This chapter is about looking at the ways we remove those hindrances and setting up the learning environment so it is more comfortable and therefore easier to learn this vital skill. And the first I want to do is provide you with a more helpful way to interpret what is happening in the fearful person…
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