I was introduced to the concept of balance (by an insightful and unconventional coach named Bill Boomer), when I was nearly 40. The first time I did a balance drill—though it was less precise than those we teach now—I recognized its transformative potential in the first 30 seconds. My legs–which had always felt like burdensome baggage–felt so light, it seemed I hardly needed to kick.
Though I’d swum only sporadically in the 20 years since college, I’ve remained an avid swimmer ever since. Swimming in balance has brought me to a level of comfort, ease and, most important, sheer enjoyment, I’d not contemplated during my first quarter-century of swimming.
To swim efficiently we must undo an inbred terrestrial balance sense and primal instincts about position and movement. As land-dwellers, we spend most of our lives experiencing gravity vertically— from the ground up the spine. In the water, we experience gravity horizontally. On land, we stand on our balance. In water we hang from it–complicated by the fact that we hang unevenly.
As we swim, gravity pulls our dense lower body down while buoyancy pushes air-filled lungs up. Legs-lower and chest-higher is the natural position of a human body in water. One problem this creates is a huge increase in drag. A more insidious problem is that while sinking legs aren’t usually fatal, that sensation—at least in a novice–sends the brain into panic mode.
We instinctively respond to ‘that sinking sensation’ with frantic churning, creating a lot of commotion but little locomotion. If ‘okay’ swimmers waste 97% of energy, survival swimmers might be 99% inefficient—explaining why even a highly conditioned marathon runner can feel exhausted after a single lap as a new swimmer.
Just a few sessions of balance practice will teach us an ‘effortless equilibrium’ which brings immediate significant energy savings. The effect it has on our psyche is just as significant:
The experience of comfort and being in control of your body increases your optimism and expectation of good outcomes.
The combination of relaxed, rhythmic, repetitive movement with mindfulness (via Focal Points) puts you in the Alpha brainwave zone–also known as the Superlearning Zone–where the brain is most receptive to learning new skills.
Practicing swimming as a ‘moving meditation’ also creates conditions for experiencing highly pleasurable Flow states–the aspect of our approach to learning that ignites a passion for swimming in so many TI students.
This combination of skill foundations and psychic benefits is why all TI instruction—even for swimmers long past the survival stage—starts with balance. TI balance drills look simple on the surface, but they don’t just change your body position. They also radically alter your understanding of how swimming ‘works.’
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Superman Glide teaches two essential physical skills:
1. Sink into support. Because the human body is denser than water, our natural body position is with 95% of body mass below the surface—as you can see in the opening clips showing two swimmers. Our fear-induced inbred instinct is to fight gravity to stay on top–a wasteful and unwinnable exercise. Superman Glide teaches you that when you ‘cooperate’ with gravity, the water will support upi almost effortlessly.
2. Extend your bodyline. This maximizes surface area, improving water displacement and helping you achieve equilibrium closer to the surface. (It also reduces drag.)
The psychic effect of effortless travel without doing anything–as when I cross a pool in three glides and no strokes or kicks– is powerfully liberating and encouraging for anyone who’s had to struggle for every yard. Even if you’ve long left fear behind, it’s the closest you may ever come to knowing how unaided flight might feel.
Leaning Torpedo is one example of our ‘micro-skill’ drills. You do these quite briefly–usually only a few seconds or yards–to highlight a critical component of a larger skill. Leaning Torpedo heightens awareness of the core-body ‘tone’ needed to keep head and spine in alignment. Maintaining alignment even as legs sink breaks the universal instinct to react with thrashing kicks.
Superman-to-Torpedo reinforces awareness of a weightless head. By isolating your head in front, with arms at your sides, you’re more aware of head-spine alignment and whether you’ve fully released your head’s weight. Feel it being ‘cushioned’ by the water.
Superman + Strokes allows you to ‘test-drive’ new thoughts and awareness in whole stroke. Glide for a few moments in Superman Glide, focusing on one skill or sensation–weightless head, ‘wide-track’ arms, effortless support, legs-drafting, etc.–then take four to six strokes, comparing sensations between gliding and swimming. We provide guidance on how to imprint and integrate one mini-skill at a time.
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