Shaw Method swimming
Fed up with thrashing about? Bored with counting laps? The Shaw Method offers a new approach to swimming. How well do you swim? Not how far or how fast, but how gracefully, how efficiently, how aesthetically?
These are not words normally associated with the everyday activity of ploughing up and down a pool, keeping one eye on the flailing limbs of the wannabe Thorpedo in front and the other on the kids threatening to divebomb you from the side. Indeed, swimming is for many of us a deeply unsatisfying experience. Twelve million people swim regularly in the knowledge that it’s great exercise, and we can all no doubt remember the thrill of body surfing on to a warm, sunny beach somewhere. But swimming too often becomes a battle against an intransigent opponent, with thoughts of elegance or mindfulness destroyed by the need to ‘get it done’.Steven Shaw was a competitive swimmer in his youth, propelled by the belief that success meant ‘how far’ and ‘how fast’. He was driven by a coach whose axiom was ‘Training is suffering; after suffering comes results’.
Burnt out at 17, it was only after studying to become an Alexander Technique teacher that he returned to the pool to see if he could establish a less confrontational relationship with water.The Alexander Technique is a way of becoming aware of how we use our bodies, in order that we can function in a more free and natural fashion. Shaw began to recognise that he had previously swum with his whole body in a state of tension. ‘The tension was so familiar that it felt natural,’ he recalls, ‘whereas swimming without strain felt odd and even incorrect. As soon as I got in the water my old, habitual ways of swimming returned. In breaststroke, my shoulders would end up by my ears. And I couldn’t stop myself from racing if a fast swimmer came near me.’
In 1996, Shaw wrote ‘The Art of Swimming: A New Direction Using the Alexander Technique’. It was an unexpected success, being the first book to challenge the belief that swimming is always beneficial. He showed that poor style – in particular, the tendency to swim with your head out of the water – can do more harm than good.
From this came the Shaw Method, which he describes as ‘a balance between power, grace and efficiency’. The approach breaks down each stroke into a series of progressive movements, allowing pupils to work on the essential elements and unlearn unhelpful habits. The aim, Shaw hopes, is that swimming becomes ‘playful, reflective, meditative, and a break from our busy and pressured lives’. The Shaw Method of Teaching Swimming Diploma, accredited by Middlesex University, has produced a team of more than 50 instructors working at venues all over the UK, enabling the Method to be taught far beyond the north London pools where Shaw first refined his thinking.
Weekly classes, one-day workshops, videos, private lessons and even holiday courses in Malta and Egypt are now available. In addition, Shaw’s latest reflections are captured in a beautifully illustrated new book, ‘Master the Art of Swimming’ (Collins & Brown, £12.99), which shows how to craft each stroke through exercises that can be practised in the pool or on dry land. Underpinning all is Shaw’s conviction that swimming is closer to a martial art than a competitive sport: ‘winning or losing are mere distractions from an ongoing journey toward self-mastery’.
For details of Shaw Method classes in London and to buy books, videos and swimming aids, call 020 8446 9442 or visit www.artofswimming.com
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