This summer, while teaching swimming on a magical Greek Island, I had an extraordinary encounter with Monachus Monachus, the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal. Only a few hundred survive and most people on the island had never seen one.
I have a bit of an obsession with seals. People wax lyrically over dolphins but seals do it for me. In Norfolk where I live, we are blessed with large populations of grey and common seals, so we can readily observe them. Although they are curious about us, they usually keep a safe distance. Superbly adapted to aquatic life while originally evolving on land, they look very clumsy moving caterpillar-like towards the sea. Only too aware of how awkward I used to be in water, I envy their supreme grace in the sea. The monk seal can apparently outmanoeuvre a shark.
I’ve often invited my swimmers to discover their inner seal. We share any of the same adaptions that are highly developed in seals. Conventional swimming teaching is based largely on the “arms and legs” department approach. There is little regard as to what’s going on inside the core of the body and the relationship of the neck and head to the torso, central to the Alexander Technique.
Prior to our visit to Greece, I wished we might see one of these seals.
On the first morning of the course, a seal was hauled out in the little cove. While we were doing some Tai-chi on the old jetty, he undulated across to check us out, then swam away and hauled out again. Half-way through the swimming lesson, he re-entered the water… and took over the lesson.
We discovered later – he was tagged – that he had been an orphaned seal pup, used to human beings. We did not initiate contact; he sought it in the most wonderful way, coming up to us, nuzzling like a puppy. We stroked his smooth, almost hairless coat and felt his firm muscular, blubbery body. And then I swam with him, in close embrace.
One of our group had the presence of mind to grab her phone camera and film some amazing footage. It will never go up on social media because we wouldn’t want to do anything to put this trusting, beautiful creature at more risk from those who might try to harm him. Instead here is a video showing that very same seal’s early life.”
Jonathan will be teaching a One Day Front Crawl Workshop at Champney’s Henlow this weekend – spaces are still available.
Sunday September 23 | 9.30-5.00PM One Day Front Crawl
Jonathan is an experienced teacher of the Alexander Technique and Tai-chi, and author of three books on the Alexander Technique. He is passionate about holistic approaches to improving fitness and well-being using Alexander Technique principles. These include running and walking, rowing, skiing and skating, and swimming.
Swimming did not come easily to him & he felt cold and uncomfortable in water as a young person. This all began to change when he started having Alexander Technique lessons. In 1999 he met Steven Shaw and the world of swimming, its joys and possibilities of connection to self and the water, began to open up to him. Jonathan has assisted Steven on Art of Swimming holidays in Iceland and at Champneys in the UK. He is a member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique and a Swimming Teacher Association qualified teacher.