It has been a big summer of firsts for this middle-aged man. First I flew a kite, then I went camping and now I have taken my first what I hope will be many swimming lessons. According to the teacher my story is painfully common. I almost drowned as a child and never learned to swim. When I was six or seven I was away with my family when one of the kids we were travelling with coaxed me up a slide that hung over the pool, and promptly pushed me. I sunk quickly to the bottom though a lifeguard was there in seconds and I was fine.
In the years since I have spent plenty of time in the water without fear but I never took swimming lessons. Yesterdays lesson was pretty extraordinary. The teacher was a triathelete with years of experience and as it turned out a wealth of anatomy and alignment information.
The first thing we learned was to float face down. He said that if we could float we could swim. The idea was to have the heels, the butt, and the back of the head slightly above water. The head and butt were no problem but my heels weren’t so interested in breaking the surface. “Point your feet more and bring your legs closer together,” was the advice I was given.
I went under again and really worked my legs straight and extended my feet with force but still the heels stayed below the surface. I was born with crazy open hips and a ridiculous range of motion. I have an enviable first position and I thank the stars that my parents didn’t put me in ballet. But great turn out often means less than great turn in.
On top of the water I was trying to figure out how to get my heels above the surface and I remember my inner thighs. Ah my inner thighs. Many years ago after my mother had a back surgery that went as badly as it could go (she can no longer walk without help), I sent her to a yoga teacher that I really respected. The following day when I went to class with that same teacher she told me that she met my mother and my mother was me; and if I didn’t build my inner thighs I would end up in the same wheelchair. She had asked my mother to put a block between her thighs to stand and it was so difficult she almost passed out in the attempt.
So I went inner thigh crazy and built what I have thought was a respectable balance between my inner and outer thighs. Well that thought went out the window as I tried squeezing my legs together in the water.
Oh my! When I finally accessed what I was looking for I felt my inner thighs turn on, I then tried to bring them towards each other and then up toward the surface of the water. It worked and my heels popped up. But at the same time my calves seized in a way that I couldn’t believe possible. Every time I worked my heels to the surface the calves extended and seized. After about ten of these mini events everything opened and I could float as desired.
After that I learned to do your basic crawl and breathe at the same time even though I drank about half of the pond. It is very exciting to have a new form of movement open up to me. I am always searching for intelligent ways to bring balance to the body.