This is the third in a series of blog posts we’ll be pulling from the archives. We miss Terry dearly, but do find comfort in re-reading pieces he’d written when he was in good health and spirits. Terry’s optimism and lust-for-life comes through loud and clear in his writing, and we hope you’ll find these posts both inspirational and informative.
This article was originally published in October, 2014.
Ellen Langer, at age 67, is the longest-serving psychology prof at Harvard. What she is best known for is studies which have shown that people can make marked physical changes, improving health, reversing aging effects, etc. in response to mental suggestions, which she calls primes.
The New York Times Magazine just published an article about Langer’s work What If Age Is Nothing But a Mindset. This excerpt from that article describes mindfulness in a way that applies exceptionally well to improvement-oriented swimming practice.
“If people could learn to be mindful and always perceive the choices available to them, Langer says, they would fulfill their potential and improve their health. Langer’s technique of achieving a state of mindfulness is different from the one often utilized in Eastern “mindfulness meditation” — nonjudgmental awareness of the thoughts and feelings drifting through your mind — that is everywhere today.”
“Her emphasis is on noticing moment-to-moment changes around you, from the differences in the face of your spouse across the breakfast table to the variability of your asthma symptoms.”
When we are “actively making new distinctions, rather than relying on habitual” categorizations, we’re alive; and when we’re alive, we can improve.
A key goal of TI Focal Point Practice is precisely as Langer defines it–to replace habitual perception by pursuing new distinctions.
For instance, the first step in improving Balance is to get the head into an aligned and buoyancy-neutral (‘weightless’) position. But muscle memory can impede this change. To make the change we need to be able to make finer distinctions between when the head is slightly elevated, exactly in equilibrium, or slightly depressed.
Or as Langer says, “actively making new distinctions.”
We do that in TI practice by combining three kinds of focus–internal, external, and visualization.
For head position these are:
Internal: Release your head’s weight by relaxing neck and upper back muscles.
External: Feel the water’s density as a ‘pillow’ cushioning the weight of your head.
Visualization: Visualize a laser projecting forward from your head-spine line.
And by using Focal Points like these, you should be able to achieve head position as aligned as this.