Balance, Closed Eyes, and the “Monkey Mind”
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 20th, 2010

In the thread Close your eyes and listen on the TI Discussion Forum, Boken wrote: Today I found I could hold form for everything I worked on if I closed my eyes. I’d open them a blink when I breathed but otherwise kept them closed. I became much more perceptive to the feel of the water, my weight shift, or the difference from one stroke to the next. It was also easier to relax and breathe when I only had to ‘listen’ to two senses.

Westy replied: Take away one of the senses and the others pick up the slack. Just sit with eyes  closed and I’ll bet you hear more of your surroundings. Not real profound just a simple observation that can help us swim silently.

I’ve also experienced how much more attuned I become to minute changes in my stroke when I close my eyes. The past month, I’ve begun practice with a few reps of Superman Glide mixed with and/or followed by whole stroke with Balance Thoughts. (See an example below.)

Relaxed hands; hanging head, arms shoulder-wide, legs streamlined

I’ve noticed (for years actually) that I involuntarily close my eyes when I’m trying to achieve greater self-perception. As Boken does, I blink them open while breathing to check navigation.

Closing your eyes doesn’t just improve your form. It also helps you transform swimming into a moving meditation, especially if you’re not an experienced meditator.

In the most basic meditation exercise, you sit with eyes closed and try to focus on one thing, usually breathing. The point of the exercise is to train yourself to control your thoughts.  Meditation novices find that very difficult. Thoughts pop into your head and no sooner do you banish one than another takes its place.  Zen monks call that the “monkey mind.”

If distraction is such a challenge when sitting quietly, imagine how febrile your mind may be when swimming with a constant stream of sensory and environmental stimuli.

Because awareness of how minute adjustments to head, hand or arm position improve ease and overall relaxation closed-eyes practice for a few minutes during warmup can provide great rewards over the rest of an hour-long practice.

In the Self-Coached Workshop in 10 Lessons many exercises in the Foundations section, Lessons 1 to 3, are designed for brief practice, 8 to 10 yards or seconds, before standing for a breather. These are the best activities for warmup as well as perfectly suited for closed-eyes practice.

F0r instance, while practicing Step 1.3 Superman Glide-to-Swim close your eyes as you begin Superman Glide. Tune into the sense of a Hanging Head. After a few moments begin stroking. Keep eyes closed while sensing whether your head feels the same as during the glide. Continue swimming as long as it does. Stand for a breath. Reset your intention. Repeat.

After 3 to 4 repeats, progress to 25-yd/m repeats of whole-stroke. Keep eyes closed for the first breathing cycle. Or close them between breaths. Use the mental calm to tune in acutely to head position and its effect on body position.

Repeat that process with a focus on extended weightless arms, with hanging hands. Then with passive, streamlined legs. Etc. Do the same with Laser Lead Flutter. Laser Lead Rotation, Skating, etc. and all the Stroke Thoughts associated with them.

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