A recent Art of Swimming Level 1 course attracted pupils from across the globe. We asked why they had travelled such long distances to learn from Steven….

by Fiona Duffy

Mum of four, Obielumani Ideh, 46, a consultant gynaecologist, flew 4,000 miles from Nigeria.

I first heard about the Shaw method 14 years ago after reading a book on the Alexander Technique while experiencing lower back problems.

I was lucky enough to secure some lessons for myself and my son, who was then seven, and we flew to London to be coached by Steven.

I loved how it focused on using the body in a positive way. We can get stuck in bad habits without even being aware they are there.

People think you can’t go wrong with swimming. Well, yes you can! As part of my job, I talk a lot to patients about getting fit, exercising, losing weight and dealing with musculoskeletal issues. Running and high impact exercise isn’t really good for the body. But if you can swim, and swim well, you have introduced them to a healthy, sustainable, lifestyle.

Just from the Level 1 course I have been able to release my neck and hips and find it so much easier to pick up on tension. I hope to complete Level 2 in the summer and, eventually, start to teach swim fundamentals (or Steven’s swim basics) at my children’s school.  

Mum of two Cressida Illingworth, 47, a technical programme manager, travelled 3.5,000 miles from Brooklyn, New York.

 I’ve always enjoyed swimming but never dreamed it would help me find my purpose in life.

 I first met Steven Shaw 20 years ago while he was giving group swim lessons, for advanced swimmers who wanted to improve, at my local gym in Muswell Hill, North London.

The lessons transformed my swim style and eased a lower back problem I’d sustained from an over-vigorous tumble turn some years earlier.

I’ve stayed in contact with Steven ever since. I was all set to train with him in 2012 but ended up moving from London to New York for work.

Since joining a ‘masters’ swimming club (for over 25s) several people have commented on my fluid and efficient swimming style and asked me to teach them – but I never felt qualified to do so.

One day I listened to a talk on finding a calling in life.  The speaker suggested reflecting on something that has remained a constant throughout life.  I realised that, for me, that constant was swimming; it has been my passion since my childhood. I made a decision to complete Steven’s courses and qualify as a Shaw method teacher.

 I’ve travelled to Somerset twice now for Foundation and Level 1 courses – a  7,000 mile  round trip each time – and hope to complete Level 2 this spring. It’s been well worth it.

Back in New York, I’ll be giving free tuition to friends and fellow swimmers until I’ve gathered enough confidence to set up in business. My dream is to reduce the hours in my full-time job and teach swimming part time.

Former management consultant, Dr Manuela Tennikat, 55, travelled 678 miles from North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany 

I first heard about the Alexander Technique after developing pain in my left shoulder and arm.

I saw various experts – including osteopaths and chiropractors – but nothing helped.

 Then my physicist recommended the Alexander Technique and I started taking lessons. I loved the pupil-teacher relationship and continual learning process of becoming more body-aware. I realised this pain was an accumulation of bad postural habits that had built up over a lifetime. I felt an immediate release although it took about three years to become completely pain-free.

Inspired, I became an Alexander Technique teacher and retired from management work to teach full time a year ago. But I was looking for an area to specialise in.

I’ve always loved swimming but had never heard of the Shaw method until attending an Alexander Technique conference in Limerick, Ireland. One of the other attendees came back raving about his swimming workshop. As she demonstrated some of the ‘eagle and tiger’ elements of front crawl I thought ‘wow, this could be my niche’.

I read up on the Shaw method, watched videos and started trying out ideas with pupils – both on dry land and in water – and had amazing results. One pupil, who is over 60, went from never submerging her face to diving in.

I had one to one lessons with Steven last summer, completed courses over the winter, and have just qualified as a Shaw method instructor.

This type of swimming helps keep you flexible which is so important as we age. It doesn’t matter if you can already swim or not – as long as you willing to learn new habits (or unlearn bad ones!).

Alexander Technique teacher, Simon Fitzgibbon, 48, travelled 10,000 miles from Sydney, Australia 

I’ve swum all my life (two miles before school every morning) and became an Alexander Technique teacher straight from school.

Over time, I noticed how a lot of people saw sport as something to be endured – really straining and pushing themselves while working out.

In the pool, you see people ploughing up and down, clocking up laps, but are they enjoying it? The only happy people in a pool were kids! It’s as if they see getting fit as a moral obligation.

 I bought Steven’s book on swimming more than 20 years ago when it was first published – but struggled to understand it. So when I got the chance to do some swimming workshops with him at Alexander Technique conventions in Limerick and Chicago I jumped at the chance. Suddenly, it all fell into place. I thought ‘I want to do this!’

Firstly, learning the Shaw method transformed my own swimming. Until that point, I’d continually applied effort in front crawl. But by learning the simple difference between propulsion and non-propulsion, I realised I could get to the end of the pool feeling better than when I started.

I’ve just completed Level 2, have got clients lined up back home and can’t wait to start making a difference. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I am helping people to go about their daily lives without suffering pain. The same principle applies to when they swim, as well.”

 INSPIRED? Take a look at our upcoming courses


  • Obi 4,000 miles – from Nigeria
  • Cressida 3.5,000 miles from New York
  • Simon 10,000 miles – from Sydney, Australia
  • Manuela 678 miles – from Germany

Total: 18, 178 miles