Swim like Sun Yang ‘in your dreams.’ No, Really!
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on April 19th, 2012

Mathieu, a TI enthusiast from Paris, is spending a week at the Endless Pool-equipped TI Swim Studio in New Paltz. Mathieu had done an impressive job self-coaching with the Self-Coached Workshop DVD.  By the time he arrived in New Paltz he already had well-formed foundation skills of Balance, Stability, Streamlining and Whole Body Propulsion.  TI Coach Alice Laughlin put a higher degree of polish on those, then I joined in his coaching to work on Kaizen skills.

On Tuesday we worked on how subtle adjustments to Mathieu’s recovery and entry could set him up for a much firmer catch – so each stroke would do a better job of moving his body forward, rather than moving the water around. We worked through a linked series of three Rehearsals — Elbow Circles, Draw A Line and Mail Slot (illustrated in Lesson 7 on the Self-Coached Workshop DVD) followed by Whole Stroke practice for each skill, guided by Focal Points related to those Rehearsals.

As is typical when working on a subtle new skill–one that requires fine motor coordination and intense concentration–Mathieu could perform Elbow Circles reasonably well after about 10 minutes of focused practice.  When he moved on Draw a Line he could also execute it well–but he lost the Elbow Circles. When we moved on to Mail Slot, same thing. Nice job slipping his hand and forearm into the water cleanly. Not so good on circling his elbows or drawing a line with his fingertips.

Shinji's Mail Slot Entry

I assured him that’s normal.  Continue to practice each Mini-Skill individually. Each cumulative hour of practice will wire them into your brain more deeply and they will be stronger when you shift your focus to something else.

On Wednesday morning as we began our lesson, Mathieu said “I was dreaming about TI all night – circling elbows and drawing lines in  my sleep. ” I replied “That’s typical; I hear it all the time from students. When they’ve been deeply engaged in learning something new, they tend to dream about it that night.”

When I turned on the current – Voila! The three skills Mathieu had struggled to integrate the day before were  a beautiful symphony of graceful, effective movement.  He looked like Alexandre Popov or Sun Yang — at least for 10 to 12 precious strokes.

This is a thrilling real-life illustration of a phenomenon brain researches observed while working with lab rats. After spending their waking hours solving a maze to gain the reward of a piece of cheese at the end, the scientists observed that their  brain scans displayed exactly the same patterns of activity as they napped.  As the scientists explained, when the brain perceives a problem-solving activity to be a high-value activity, it continues to encode the solution as you sleep. And the way you communicate to the brain that it’s a high value activity is the intensity of focus you give it.

Activating Neurons

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6 Responses to “Swim like Sun Yang ‘in your dreams.’ No, Really!”

  1. George Randall says:

    Terry,
    Your blogs always provide valuable insight. Interesting when we focus on isolated deep practices how the brain continues to encode problem solving activity during sleep time.

    Reading this blog reminds me how important it is as I age to continue the learning process not just in swimming but in life as well.
    George

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  2. Saad says:

    Excellent post Terry! Funny things happening to me sometimes during my sleep, my wife tells me that I am ‘kicking’ with 1 leg then the other…It’s the 2-beat kick!!!

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  3. salle huber says:

    I am a Stott Pilates instructor and we have this same phenomenon in pilates…the work is complex and cannot be integrated all at once…so my clients often work on it in their sleep. Actually, now that i think about it, I do the same thing when I am working on a new tune to sing. Hmm…maybe swimming is an analogy for life.

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  4. Gene says:

    Very interesting blog. My wife said that while asleep in my reclining lazy-boy the other night, that I was somewhat clumsily (due to large padded armrests) practicing recovery and stroking. Lead arm out, other arm exiting water, marionetting forward and entering water and then other arm catching and stroking.

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  5. Jim Porter says:

    Hey guys interesting discussion. I remember years ago, when I had hair, working and living in Tahiti. I was learning French and often when I dreamt I would be speaking perfect French…not so when I woke up. The subconscious was leading me towards improving my skills. There have been studies done on this phenomenon see here a NY Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/books/review/Erard-t.html

    I love my swimming; reading and watching the TI info regularly for a dose of inspiration. Just had a hip replacement; have just returned to the pool this week.

    kind regards

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  6. Matthew Sove says:

    Terry,
    Thank you for the thoughtful post. I teach dance and have observed similar learning phenomena with my students.
    The best to you.

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