Swimming – primary control in the water

A central concept of the Alexander Technique (AT) is the primary control – the relationship between the head, neck and back in governing the overall use and functioning of the body. The relation of the head to the rest of the body is crucial to establishing poise and freedom of movement, because of its effect on the contraction and extension of the spinal column, the muscles of the neck and upper body – and through these on the rib-cage, breathing apparatus, and our whole musculoskeletal structure. This relationship is truly dynamic: virtually every movement we make involves a change in it. At the heart of the AT is the concept that we can replace unconscious alterations to this balance, which work to our detriment, with conscious adjustments that work in favor of helping us to function efficiently. The habitual response of pulling the head backwards and down is prevented by conscious decision. In its place, at every opportunity, we can discover a more natural and healthy response which allows for lengthening and widening throughout the body.

In the water, even a small re-alignment of the head and neck can have a dramatic effect on the balance and orientation of the body. Because of the body’s horizontal position, the head acts as an important counterweight and agent of balance. In particular, when the head is pulled back in the prone (face-down) strokes, it alters the balance of the whole body so that the hips begin to sink. When swimming on our backs, the same result is achieved by bringing the head forward and up.

Swimmers who concentrate on propulsion through the water commonly focus on their arms and legs, paying insufficient attention to the use of the whole body. As a result, the majority of swimmers have little awareness of how their head is moving relative to the rest of their body when they swim. Many swimming manuals lay stress on ‘body position’ as an important aspect of swimming technique. However, this can imply an over-rigid positioning of one’s head relative to the rest of the body, which militates against good use in the water. It’s not body position, but a forward-and-upward direction and a dynamic balance of one’s whole physical structure that are all-important.

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