The Home Pool
The Yoga concept of meditation and relaxation is helpful in acquiring a tranquil life. For the Water-Shy, relieving stress and unreasonable fear is essential. This section describes several methods of meditation, breathing skills and various ways to relax.
Practitioners of Yoga hold certain body positions (called asanas) for various lengths of time to stimulate specific glandular centers. Devotees believe this practice prevents illness. There are different positions or combinations of poses held for particular maladies and for remaining in good health. A daily asana routine, each held for ten seconds to ten minutes, is only one aspect of Yoga.
The name Yoga, loosely translated means "whole" or "completeness;" that is, the unity of, and the bringing together of body, mind and spirit to perfection. To attain this goal, Yoga advocates a simple diet of natural foods, meditation and a philosophy that helps one to be at peace and relaxed.
YOGA BREATHING: Breathing in ancient civilizations was associated with spirit. The breath of life was often depicted by representational "gods" or "goddesses" blowing into the mouth of a new soul or reviving a revered king. At least six thousand years ago Egyptians pictured this rite on tomb walls. They believed definitive breathing was a way to enter into other planes or dimensions. Ancient Chinese, Mayans and Aztecs are a few other civilizations that also performed breathing rites to increase psychic abilities and to obtain longevity.
Today, we know deep breathing skills promote good health and relaxation.
Most adults who have not had training in proper breathing skills, do not breathe correctly. Observe a sleeping baby or dog and watch them expand and decrease the size of their chests as they breathe. Notice that very young children and animals EXPAND their chests when they INHALE and CONTRACT chests when they EXHALE. They breathe IN by pushing OUT their chests and abdomens. This is most noticeable in a panting dog.
For some reason, possibly due to stress, adult humans breathe in exactly the opposite way. Unless they've had voice lessons or play a musical wind instrument, their chests are CONCAVE when they INHALE, and EXPAND as they EXHALE. It's impossible to speak in a "stage" voice or belt out a loud note when singing without pushing hard on the abdominal muscles and diaphragm. Once you learn natural breathing by consciously practicing it for several days, you will never do "opposite breathing" again. You will feel better because it helps your body absorb more oxygen. You will be less tense and healthier due to the improvement of cell metabolism because of increased blood oxygen.
TRUE STORY: As a teenager I took trumpet lessons from a renowned instructor who refused to teach me until I learned to breathe properly. After explaining how to fill the lungs with air EXPANDING the chest, then pushing the air out by, "making your stomach press against your backbone," as he put it, he told me to go home and continue to breathe that way for three consecutive days. He said to return after three days and he'd give me trumpet lessons because by then it would be my natural way of breathing.
At first, it was difficult to concentrate on breathing this "new" way, and sometimes I'd lapse, but I was determined to learn. I'd fall asleep at night forcefully expanding my chest as I breathed in, then pushing the air out hard. He was right. After three days I no longer needed to remind myself to breathe correctly. To this day, I still breathe the natural way.
HOW TO LEARN NATURAL BREATHING
1--Stand erect and breathe in deeply through the nostrils with mouth closed.
2--As you inhale, push OUT your stomach. Feel the air move deep into your lungs.
3--Keep pushing out your stomach and hold in the air for several seconds.
4--Slowly exhale through the mouth by pressing the abdominal muscles and diaphragm against the lungs. Control the breathing by allowing only a small amount of air released at a time.
5--Press your hand against the lungs and abdomen to push out more air.
6--Give a little cough at the end of each exhalation.
7--Hold out the air for several seconds, then repeat from beginning.
While learning, after exhaling, remember to give a little cough. Coughing out air flattens the abdomen and emphasizes the proper exhalation position.
After several days of conscious effort doing natural breathing it will no longer be necessary to think about it as it will be easy for you because it's the way we were meant to breathe.
NOTE: To relieve stress, take a moment to breathe naturally but more slowly than usual. Do this three or four times, gradually lifting arms as you inhale.
Another Yoga breathing exercise is performed the same way but more rapidly and with forceful abdominal up and down pushes. It's a panting motion of short quick breaths and is usually done while lying on the back. This practice is said to aid digestion as well as leading one into a meditative state.
Meditation is another word for "self-hypnosis." There are several depths of meditation as well as different reasons for practicing it.
For the Water-Shy, I've found three kinds of meditation that are helpful. I call them: Vacation for the Mind; Recollection; and Positive Program. Each method is explained and practiced on deck at the beginning of the first three swim classes. Once learned, pupils practice them at home.
All forms of meditation begin the same way, as follows:
1. You must be comfortable and relaxed.
2. You must concentrate on something.
3. You must "let go" having a totally blank mind.
The three steps above are explained below.
COMFORT: Choose a time and place where there will be no outside interruptions. Un-plug phones or be where you won't hear them. Low and steady background sounds are all right as well as soft music. A darkened room is best but not necessary.
To completely relax:
a--Take three deep natural breaths.
b--Beginning with toes, move and tense each body joint and muscle twice then relax it. Continue with ankles; knees; hips; arms; hands; fingers; neck; jaws; and facial muscles. Contract each muscle one at a time, then let it go limp.
2--CONCENTRATION (also called Centering): If eyes are open, focus on a chosen object. Concentrate on every aspect of it such as markings; size; color; movement, etc. Some examples are a flower; drop of water; a picture; mandala; mirror; candle or rotating fan.
If eyes are closed, picture an object and "see" each element of it. For example, a drop of dew; "see" it shimmer with tiny rainbows. "Look" at veins and pores in a flower or leaf. Imagine a campfire at night burning with changing forms. Whatever you decide upon, keep everything out of your mind except that one object and every aspect of it. Keep centering for at least five minutes.
3. LETTING GO: Very gradually let the object fade while keeping anything else from your thoughts. If anything creeps into your mind, return to concentrating on the object and letting it fade again. Close your eyes and imagine it moving away from you into a black void, becoming smaller and smaller--hold onto it until it finally disappears. Let go of it. At least for an instant you will be totally without thought. Keep a blank mind as long as possible or desired. To awaken your mind take a few deep breaths, move your fingers and toes, then open your eyes. Slowly stretch before getting up.
It takes practice to be free of thought for more than a few seconds. After performing this exercise every day for a week or so you will be able to hold it (freedom from thought) for longer periods. Don't be surprised if you think only ten minutes have elapsed and you find it's been a half hour or more!
It's most important that during meditation you are not suddenly jarred awake. It can be a shock to your body as well as your mind. It may be wise to put up a sign for family members not to disturb you.
VACATION FOR THE MIND
A vacation for the mind is simply following the above outline and nothing more, which will refresh you mentally and emotionally. A daily routine for as little as ten minutes with this type of meditation helps to lessen anxiety and fear.
When my pupils learned Recollection Meditation (conducted while sitting in a circle at one end of the deck), many decided to practice it at home because they uncovered aspects of their fears they had long forgotten.
Swimming instructors may also conduct this procedure by simply repeating all the steps in a soft steady voice.
1--After centering and reaching the blank mind stage, think of a time when an event occurred causing you to fear water.
2--With eyes closed, "see" yourself several minutes BEFORE the event took place WITHOUT THINKING OF THE EVENT! (This is important!). Recall that day; what you were wearing; the hour; temperature; area; people; conversations; weather; your mood. Think of every aspect at that time, even what you were thinking about. Dwell on this several minutes bringing up more details. Think of everything EXCEPT THE EVENT.
3--Next, (with eyes closed) think of your present surroundings. "See" the room; lights; clothes you have on; temperature; sounds; furniture; weather and tell yourself that you are safe. Think "This is NOW."
4--Return to the scene just PRIOR to the unpleasant event, this time adding a bit more detail leading to the event. Think, "That was THEN."
5--Return to the safety of NOW and your surroundings, again going through all that you have in the present and you are safe. Think "NOW".
6--Go back to the first scene, See it as a picture. See everything in the "picture" at once. Add more detail and a step closer to the event. Think, "THEN".
7--Keep going back and forth with each scene, adding a bit more each time you return to "THEN." Be sure and tell yourself "NOW" while safe, and "THEN" when you return to the scene of the event.
8--When you are able to grasp everything in both scenes, rapidly flash them back and forth, repeating NOW/THEN each time. This should be done at LEAST ten times before going to the next step.
9--Begin adding the actual fearful event one piece at a time. RETURN TO "NOW" AFTER EACH SMALL ADDITION. Be thorough in every detail of the traumatic event, including your feelings then.
10--End the session with NOW--feeling safe, well and happy. Wake up gradually as described under the Meditation heading.
The time it takes to expunge unreasonable fear with this method, depends upon how long you've had the fear without facing it. Recollection Meditation may eliminate the fear after going through it only once; or it could take weeks of Recollection Meditation performed every day before you lose your anxieties about being in water.
This type of meditation is safe because YOU are in control. No one else is conducting it. YOU choose the time in which YOU feel able to face the trauma--or even IF you want to think about it at all, YOU also choose the time to awaken from it.
Positive Program is simple but can be confusing if suggestions to yourself are given in the wrong way--explained at the end of this chapter.
1--Begin the same way as above, but after reaching the "letting go" stage with your mind blank for a while, think of the following:
2--With eyes closed say to yourself, "I love water. Water is beautiful, it feels good on my skin. I enjoy being in it."
3--"See" beautiful lakes, rivers and oceans with setting and rising suns reflected on them. "Watch" tiny waves sparkling with sunlight tripping over pebbles along streams. Imagine the moon and stars reflected onto a still tropical lake.
4--Think, "I'm standing in a waist deep pool feeling the gentle lapping and slapping of water against my body. I feel its coolness and serenity. I love this sensation. I am so relaxed in the water."
5--Imagine fun in the water. "See" lofty sailboats skimmering over broad rivers; small crafts pulling water skiers; kids jumping off diving boards; yourself playing on the beach; surfers gliding over waves.
6--"Listen" to the slurping of oars pulling through silent lake waters. "Hear" water dripping from the paddles each time they are lifted.
7--See yourself performing tasks in swim lessons better than anyone else. See yourself gliding, floating, moving with ease through the water. Think, "I love water. I am relaxed in the water."
The above words are only a few suggestions to tell yourself. There are several themes: Loving water; Being relaxed in water; Having fun in water and Floating or swimming with ease in water.
SUGGESTIONS TO AVOID: Avoid giving yourself suggestions that have negativity in them, such as, "I am NOT AFRAID in water." The word "afraid," could be interpreted by your unconscious mind as an admission of fear, therefore, a difficult emotion to expunge. It can be counter productive to use negative words or phrases describing water during meditation, even when they are combined with prefixes such as, "un" or "non." (I'm un-afraid; water is non-threatening to me, etc.,) Such terms may also cause you to be unafraid when you SHOULD have respect for the water or to become careless and forget to take sensible precautions. A good positive suggestion is, "to be relaxed in water." When relaxed, there is no panic (while remaining relaxed.) It's important to be without fear but at the same time, also be careful and aware of your safety.
Use a "love of water" suggestion, and look forward to being in the water. We always hate what we fear, and love replaces fear.
If you look for the positive aspects of water you will see it in an unprejudiced and objective way--perhaps for the first time which will help greatly in overcoming trauma.