Kate Tregaskis gets at one with the water as she learns the gentle Art of Swimming
Underwater, swimming guru Steven Shaw has the effortless grace of an aquatic creature. Sheathed in a short wetsuit – half-man, half-seal – he whizzes from one end of the pool to the other, propelled only by the occasional flick of a limb.
Along with a small group of others, I have come to the pool at the King’s Manor Hotel in Edinburgh to learn to crawl, the Art of Swimming way. Most people ‘fight the water’ when they swim, explains Shaw, aka ‘the horse whisperer of swimming’. By contrast, he is a man who loves water, as is clear when his bald head breaks the surface, his face melting into a Zen grin. It hasn’t always been so. Shaw originally trained as a competitive swimmer, clocking up lengths by hunching his shoulders round his ears and contorting his body to make it more streamlined. Burnt-out, sore and no longer enjoying swimming, he gave up and took up the Alexander Technique to iron out his aches and pains. Shaw was so impressed with the technique, he went on to study it, and then applied its principles of postural re-education and body alignment to swimming. In the process he invented a radical new approach to swimming and the Shaw Method was born.
The workshop begins on dry land, with everyone sitting in a circle, AA-meeting style. I wait nervously for my turn. ‘Hi my name is Kate and I am an incompetent swimmer …’ I begin.
I blame my dad. A teacher and non-swimmer, he spent a rainy summer standing at the edge of the local outdoor pool, bawling instructions at me and the rest of the class. I now swim with about as much finesse as someone continuously thrusting out their arms to stop themselves from falling – or drowning as it’s called when you’re in the water. I know I’m not alone. The fact that swimming is still taught principally as a means to stop people from drowning exacerbates the problem – not to mention the Baltic temperature of some pools.
So does the Shaw method work? Initially I was taken aback by how much it is like a martial art. ‘While it takes 500 repetitions to learn a new movement it takes five thousand repetitions to re-learn one,’ Shaw tells us. There is no quick fix then. A single workshop is only ever the beginning of the journey. The revelation of the day, however, is beginning to have a different relationship to the water – not as something that you fall through, but as something that buoys you up; a magical, gravity-free playground through which it is possible to glide effortlessly, a sensation that feels like flying. ‘Swimming should be playful, reflective, meditative, and a break from our busy and pressured lives,’ says Shaw. Yes, this is swimming, but not as we know it.
One-to-one lessons and shared tuition in the Shaw Method will be available from Tue 5 and Wed 6 May at the Nuffield Fitness and Wellbeing Centre, East Kilbride and the King’s Manor Hotel, Edinburgh, respectively. Steven Shaw will be back in Edinburgh on Sat 2 and Sun 3 May running workshops on crawl, backstroke and butterfly. The first three people placing a booking for any of these workshops will receive a free copy of The Art of Swimming book by Steven Shaw (rrp £12.99).
Bookings can be made by phoning 0845 604 1910. For further information visit: www.artofswimming.com
Three Others to Try: Get back on Track
Edinburgh Alexander Centre, 0131 662 4500, www.edinburgh alexandercentre.com
Used to improve posture, movement and muscle efficiency through verbal coaching and monitoring, students are taught about new ways to walk, stand, and sit to correct poor posture. Fans are said to include Paul McCartney and Sting.
Glasgow Osteopathic Centre, 0141 632 1266, www.paindrain.co.uk
This gentle soft-tissue treatment involves the manipulation of bones, muscles and joints to encourage the body’s own natural recuperative powers. Osteopaths can treat a variety of common conditions including repetitive strain injury, postural problems, arthritis and sports injuries.
Hot Stone therapy/massage
Tonic Health, Edinburgh, 0131 554 6161, www.tonichealthscotland. com
It’s all in the name with this relaxing treatment that uses carefully gathered volcanic rocks that are handcrafted to complement various parts of the body. Therapists use hot and cold stones to encourage muscle relaxation and blood circulation.