I spent the last week camping on the shores of Lake Ontario. Just a 2 ½ hour drive from Toronto, we camped on one of the largest freshwater sandbanks in the world. You had to wade out at least 60 yards to get over your head in the clear and surprisingly warm water.
Sometimes the lake was still as a bathtub and other times wind roughed up the surface and created choppy waves. On one of my last days there, I spent time floating on my back with my feet towards the shore and my head
out towards the middle of the lake. The waves would arrive and pass over my face, sometimes submerging me for a second or two. Then I would bob back up to the top of the water. I thought this was a particularly good
training for getting comfortable with breathing in the water. I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners, certainly. However, having unexpected but short rounds of submersion (and knowing that you are only in about 2 to 3
feet of water) is effective training for learning how to relax one’s body, and put the mind at ease so that even though you are not in absolute control, you are safe.
As any Alexander Technique teacher can tell you, the neck is usually one of the first parts of us that tenses in response to stress. When I nervously anticipated a wave coming, I sometimes started to tense up and then sink in response. What happens in our neck and head plays out in the rest of our body in terms of our efficiency and coordination. It was a clear example that taking care of my state of mind often translates into better swimming. The water tends to reward a relaxed swimmer and conversely, tends to make things difficult if we are frantic and nervous. Laying there in the trough of these small waves, consciously reminding myself to ease my neck and let my shoulders spread wide was both a good workout for my mind and a refreshing reconnection with one of our most primordial experiences: floating and being gently pitched about in water.