How I learnt how to swim and understood my fear in less than 1 month

#2 — Second month of my challenge: 12 topics to learn in 12 months

A paradise in Dominican Republic, a good place to learn how to swim

Just after finishing my first learning challenge I took 1 week of vacations in the island of Dominican Republic 🇩🇴. In order to take fully advantage of this trip I decided that swimming would be my next learning challenge.

Yes, you read it well I cannot swim 🙁! Actually I can swim more or less and quite slowly but only in shallow waters. When I go on deep water I start panicking and I sink.

So my level before starting was the following:

  • I know what are the moves to progress into the water, with my head under the water or over it with the breaststroke.
  • I can do the star shape and float in my back.
  • I like going in the water.
  • I can put my head inside the water.
  • I cannot breathe out under water and I don’t like when water enters my nose.
  • I cannot float vertically inside the water, when I do that I sink.
  • I cannot swim at all when I cannot touch the water with my feet because I panic.
I am a bit like this little guy!

The reasons why I want to learn how to swim are quite obvious, every time I go to the sea I cannot go as far as the others go. I have to stay close to the beach and this is very frustrating.

Preparation

  1. Finding a mentor
    I chose my favorite travel companion of this trip as a mentor, Patricia. She is not a professional instructor but she can swim easily, long enough and anywhere. The main goal of the mentor for this topic is to ensure the safety and to bring me confidence. I need some guidance and also to feel secure, knowing that I will not die 😬😬
  2. Defining the scope of the topic
    Since I only have one week of vacation I cannot expect to be a professional swimmer by the end. That is why I limited my scope to find what are the reasons I cannot swim on deep water and to find ways to fight them.
  3. Choosing a learning resource
    Again, I was limited on time so instead of looking for a book I used google as a resource and I read a few articles from these two websites:
    * Enjoy Swimming — http://www.enjoy-swimming.com 
    * Swim Teach — http://www.swim-teach.com
  4. Defining a project
    It’s hard in the case of swimming to have a real project that you can release, so I decided to give some tips for people like me. You will find them in this article.
This is one of the role of the mentor

Learning the tricks

While reading these articles I took a few notes. The main advice to conquer your fear is to relax, always relax, no matter what 😀. It’s actually very hard to relax, easier said than done. You need to come to terms with the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing, because there is always this small bit of anxiety and panic, and purely focus in your body. The second advice that I read everywhere is that most of the body floats naturally, especially when your lungs are filled with air. This is just physics!

Then I also read about a few exercises that you can do to get used to the water, to float, and to breathe. Here I list the ones that have helped me the most:

  1. Put little by little your body into the water, first starting by the feet, legs, hips, shoulder and then the head.
  2. Practice to breathe in outside the water and then go inside and breathe out (make bubbles) with the nose. And repeat the same process with the mouth. Therefore never breathe in under the water!
  3. Try to pick up an object under the water while holding your breathe.
  4. Try to float under the water with the mushroom float (see picture below) and breathe out. Repeat
  5. Try to float horizontally with the back facing the sky and glide
Mushroom float — Source: Enjoy-swimming.com

All these exercise has to be done in shallow water.

While reading all these articles I still had a question, which is for me vital, how to float vertically without swimming, because this is how I usually sink and the reason why I am not confident in deep water.

So after googling a bit I found out that there are two solutions: either you keep on swimming, or you do these little moves from the video below to make you float. People usually do it naturally but I don’t, so I have to practice it as well.

Sorry, it’s in French but visual enough to understand!

Practicing

After all this reading you can imagine how eager I was to start really trying all the exercises and tips. As soon as we reached the first beach in Dominican Republic I started to put into practice all the lessons.

First trial in the sea

(1) Going little by little into the water is something I always do naturally because the water temperature is always colder than air. Moreover, I usually do the starfish float facing the sky in the back to relax a bit before trying anything.

Starfish float — Source: Enjoy-swimming.com

(2) The breathing exercise was really interesting. It was the first time I successfully breathe out under the water and the sensation is a bit weird: you make bubbles and you have to force it against the water pressure to make it happen. This exercise is mandatory to understand that the water cannot go inside you except if you open the mouth or breathe in while inside. Thus, you should never breathe in or open the mouth inside the water. Sometime I accidentally do it, for example when a big wave come to me. Now, I have to consciously force it to be sure.

(3) I didn’t directly pick an object inside the water but I was trying to reach my legs inside the water and to hold my breathe. It helps being more confident inside the water.

(4) The mushroom float brought a good feeling and it also helps to feel confident, knowing that even inside the water we can float!

(5) Floating horizontally with the back facing the sky was a bit hard for me, I preferred just to practice the breast stroke every time.

Second trial in the sea

I repeated these exercises also in the second beach we went to (Playa Rincon), one of the most beautiful beaches of the Caribbean, with white sand, turquoise water, and most important for me: warm water 😉. Here I tried also something new, I used the “Easybreathe” snorkeling mask from Decathlon.

Easybreathe mask — Source: Decathlon.com

This snorkeling mask allows people to breathe naturally (with the nose or the mouth) under the water, the breathing tube with its valve should stay outside of the water if you want to breathe of course like a normal snorkel.

The reason I bought it is simple: I tried once to snorkel with a life jacket to float and a normal mask and tube. As soon as I tried to breathe, I drunk water, and of course, I started to panic. I stayed the rest of the snorkeling trip inside the boat looking how the rest of the people kept enjoying…

What happened when I swam with this mask is that I could put my head easily inside the water and I could easily float without moving. I was relax and I could swim very slowly. The possible reasons I believe this was possible are:

  • I could see clearly where I was and what was around me
  • I could breathe naturally

After this first attempt I tried to go a bit further into deep water with my mentor Patricia. When I realized that I was actually in deep water and that I couldn’t touch the floor with my feet I started to feel a bit anxious. I was very conscious of my body and I tried to continue being relax. When I started to feel a bit tired I decided to go slowly back and trying to keep relax. So even with the mask I felt this fear of not being able to touch the floor. I am convinced that it’s something that will disappear with repetition.

Trial in the swimming pool

I tried a few time in the swimming pool where the salt is not here to help you float. I did again the previous exercises.

I tried there different ways of swimming: breathe stroke and butterfly stroke that came a bit naturally.

I used again a bit the mask to swim and to be able to feel consciously how to relax and swim at the same time.

Moreover I took advantage of the swimming pool to practice vertical floating like in the video.

More trial in the sea

I tried to swim again in another beach in Dominican Republic and to repeat the exercises but I couldn’t do much because of the waves. Once I came back to France I tried to practice again in a very calm water of Mediterranean sea. I could even swim in some part of deep water with a calm way of swimming. I can easily distinguish the relaxed swimming since I am not tense after a few strokes.

What I realized there is that even though I am not fully confident with the vertical floating that I need to practice more and more, I am confident with going around if I keep on swimming. Indeed I have to practice my endurance to be able to do it longer, in a relaxed way ☺️.

My swimming tips

As promised, here are my swimming tips for the people who have the fear of swimming out of shallow water.

  • Keep someone around you
  • Go on a swimming pool or a calm sea
  • Always start with the breathing exercises: breathe in outside, breathe out inside (repeat it a few times with the nose and then the mouth)
  • Then continue with floating in the back
  • Practice swimming around
  • Be conscious when you are not relaxed
  • In non shallow water: don’t stop swimming, and come back to the shallow water when you don’t feel confident (or practice first with the Easybreathe mask)
  • Practice to float vertically
  • Continue practicing each point

Feedback from this learning month

What went well

  • Cooperation with my mentor
  • Enjoying the water
  • Staying in the time scope (I practiced only during the vacation)
  • Understanding of my fear
  • Knowing what to do next

What to improve

  • Continue practicing to be able to fully swim without the mask
  • Continue practicing to be able to float vertically
  • A better project like a video that I would take while swimming would be more motivating

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