Be One with the Water

My article this month was inspired by watching a trainee scuba diver waving and ‘swimming’ their arms whilst trying to move across the pool, legs splayed wide, wobbling from side to side. It was the kind of position I’d take if caught in quicksand!

It made me wonder how much confidence we have in the water to hold us up. Some of you may feel so comfortable in the water that trust doesn’t come into it, but there are others who can’t relax and feel set against the elements.

World champion freediver Umberto Pelizzari recounts a story in his book of coconut milk blending effortlessly with seawater. The old fisherman telling the story throws a piece of coral into the sea and says we need to dive like the milk, merging with the sea, rather than remaining coral (human) versus the sea. Pelizzari calls it ‘aquaticity’.

It’s far harder for scuba divers to blend-in given all the equipment to carry, but there are plenty of ways we can improve how we move, think and breathe in the water to dive effortlessly.

The aim is to align your body so as to create minimal resistance to the water, with the least physical tension. Then you want your movements to be as efficient and smooth as possible.

Alignment

Swimming and Alexander Technique guru Steven Shaw emphasises the benefits of head and neck alignment. In the water, your head ‘acts like a rudder, leading the way’, so look downwards to free the neck when swimming or finning. Diving up or down a line this equates to looking straight ahead. Any tension in the neck or shoulders is wasted energy.

Total Immersion swimmer Terry Laughlin suggests you ‘hide your head’ by leading with the crown of the head, not the forehead. Try lifting your head while swimming in the pool and you’ll notice your hips and legs sink. This creates drag making your swim more of an effort.

Flutter kick with bent knees will also create drag. Try to kick from the hips, you’ll know you’re doing it right as you’ll feel the thigh muscles working. Practice gliding between each kick to take advantage of the forward propulsion keeping the legs straight, feet together. Terry Laughlin talks of becoming ‘slippery’ or streamlined, piercing the smallest hole possible through the water, and ‘swimming tall’ by lengthening the body. For freedivers and swimmers this means reaching the arms overhead, as if touching the pool wall.

photo of Jenna McGrath courtesy of Courtney Platt

Balance and Buoyancy

Tense muscles and shallow breathing make you sink so if you are relaxed you’ll either float on the surface more easily, which will aid your swimming or snorkeling, and you may need less adjustment to your buoyancy at depth.

We rely on the ‘feeling’ of buoyancy more at depth than at the surface. It’s easy to feel disorientated with no reference point such as a reef or rope. Spend some time developing your sense of buoyancy and body position in the water column so that you can feel how big a breath you need to take, or air to add or remove from your BCD. Practice in the pool with your eyes closed.

Freedivers can sense the start of their negative buoyancy; they remain still and allow the sea to take them down. This is total effortlessness and is very addictive!

Trust the water to hold you up, relax the ankles, kick from the hips and allow a gentle swaying movement through the hips. Although we want to keep the legs straight, don’t lock the knees or try to hard. Less is more – let go, do less, feel more.