We’re loving this article about 65-year-old Judith Hansell who, after a 20-year journey, was finally able to conquer her fear when she found the Shaw Method and then added a little bit of Buddhist wisdom…
“…It was only in my forties that I thought, this is something I should be able to do, so I enrolled on a residential learn-to-swim course in Devon. I thought by the end of the week I’d have cracked it, never dreaming it would take another 20 years. On the first day, the teacher stood on the side and asked us to stand up from a floating position. Unable to reach the bottom, I went into a sheer panic, flailing about in terror and swallowing water. By the end of the course, I was still clinging to the float.
Over the next 18 years, I dug out my flip-flops and embarked on countless new attempts – both one-to-one lessons and residential courses – with high hopes. But before long I’d sense both I the teacher and I losing enthusiasm and becoming exasperated.
Then, four years ago, while googling classes, I came across the Shaw Method, a ‘gentle’ form of swimming based on the Alexander Technique and devised by former competitive swimmer Steven Shaw. Nonswimmers are taught to relax and trust the buoyancy of the water, gradually transitioning from floating to swimming- all while the body is in perfect alignment. Ultimately, it promotes swimming as relaxing and revitalising, rather than as a strenuous workout, and the instructor is in the water at all times offering hands-on instruction.
For the next 18 months, I had early morning lessons before work twice a week. My teacher, Joe, was both patient and intuitive and could sense if I was becoming frustrated or nervous and take steps to calm me down. Progress was painfully slow. I went from floating to actually performing swim movements. However, I still couldn’t ‘let go’. I’d have to hold on to a float or reach out to touch him after every single stroke, and standing up from a floating position was still impossible.
I’ve been a Buddhist for 40 years now, chanting twice a day at my home. Over the years, I believe the practice has brought me so many benefits, but when it came to swimming I simply wasn’t advancing.
When Joe announced he would be giving up swimming lessons to focus on teaching the Alexander Technique I was so disappointed. That weekend I confided in a senior Buddhist, who suggested a different approach. Instead of chanting, ‘I’ve got to do this,’ I asked for the freedom to ‘let go’ of whatever it was that was holding me back.
Halfway through the next lesson, Joe looked at me and said, ‘Something’s changed. You’re different.’ And he was right. Over the next few lessons, I felt relaxed and ‘at one’ with the water. Something deep inside me had shifted. In our penultimate lesson, I stunned us both by swimming a couple of strokes without holding on to Joe and then stood up. Just like that. After 20 years, I’d done it. Terrified it was a fluke, I repeated it over and over. The feeling was incredible.
For our last lesson, Joe stood on the side while I climbed calmly into the pool and swam a length of breaststroke. Reaching the other end and calmly standing up, I sobbed with delight and relief.
My partner, David, and friends were all so pleased for me and for my retirement colleagues presented me with a cake decorated with a swimmer. Now I swim twice a week, both breaststroke and front crawl, and absolutely love it. An elderly friend who I shop for, says, ‘I can always tell when you’ve been swimming as you’re glowing.’
Being able to swim is more than just a great way to keep fit. Mastering a life skill after all this time – through finding the right teacher, perseverance and my faith – has been enabling and empowering. I’m proof that you can overcome a fear at any age.”