John shared an exciting discovery about breathing on the TI Discussion Forum: I’m a bit reluctant to admit it took me a year to come to this insight, but perhaps it will help others. I’ve always struggled to find the right head position for breathing. Sometimes I feel I need to nearly submerge my head to feel balanced, but in that position I feel I can’t get air.
I had an ‘aha’ moment last week, when I finally noticed that I close my eyes while breathing. I began to consciously keep my eyes focused through the breath and it has made a world of difference. Now I can see precisely how far to rotate, when to inhale and when to stop. With my eyes closed, I would turn my head too far, lose balance and then need to recover.
Now, as I rotate toward air, I see the tint of the water change, watch one goggle clear the surface, begin inhaling and close my mouth just as the water closes over it. Suddenly I feel as if I have far more time to breathe and I stay better aligned and balanced. With eyes closed, I didn’t know what I was missing.
Too bad it took me a year to figure out. Doh!
John, congratulations, on your invaluable ‘insight’ – which came over 30 years quicker than it did to me! I can precisely recall the day I had a similar discovery. I was swimming at Lake Minnewaska Labor Day weekend around 2003. It was chilly – about 54 degrees – and raining steadily. Dave Barra and I were the only two people swimming.
After we’d been swimming about 10 minutes, looking for diversion, I began ‘scanning’ with my eyes as I rotated to breathe. First I noticed that the underside of the surface was dimpled by the rain and found that almost mesmerizing. Then I kept my gaze keen as my eyes and mouth broke the surface. Like you, I immediately realized this helped me sharpen the timing of the breath and make small adjustments to head position. That has stayed with me ever since.
While your insight will be of value to many, I think you also make a larger point — The Value of Being Observant. Paying attention, and consequently noticing things that usually escape your attention is relatively rare among swimmers. This is a result of the common focus on yardage totals, repeat times, intervals, etc. Tuning out to get through it also results when workouts are tedious, or lack a clear purpose beyond “getting the yards in.” The fact that it took me 30 years to notice what you noticed after one is evidence of how pervasive inattention can be.
Be Observant is just another way of saying Swim Mindfully.
And here’s the flip side to your discovery of the value of keeping your eyes open. Have you ever noticed yourself closing your eyes when trying to intensify your focus, usually on a subtle or elusive aspect of technique?
After I began swimming more mindfully, I noticed that during moments of especially keen focus I would instinctively close my eyes. It’s well known that people who lose their sight become far more attuned to sound and feel. For the rest of us, taking away visual input has the effect of making your sense of feel a lot keener. In water — which is literally a sea of sensation — anything that sharpens kinesthetic awareness is invaluable.