My letter to the editor in the Washington Post, February 19, 2014:
My letter to the editor in the Washington Post, February 19, 2014:
I don’t want to become an old person with sore joints.
Is this inevitable?
But I have a hypothesis: Stiff, sore people get that way by “baking” muscular tension into their (our!) bodies.
Whatever we practice, we reinforce. By “practicing” chronic tension, perhaps we create necks, backs, and shoulders that become permanently tight and tired.
Josh Hanagarne, who has Tourette’s, explains in The World’s Strongest Librarian that it’s “exhausting” to experience a continual onslaught of muscular contractions. Maysoon Zayid, a comedian, uses the same word – exhausting – to describe what it’s like to “shake all the time” due to cerebral palsy.
Might all of us be exhausting ourselves by inadvertently contracting, clenching, and clamping our shoulders, backs, and necks – not just at work and home but in the water, too?
As a Total Immersion student, I’m learning to swim and relax at the same time. (This one-lap video illustrates that attempt.) During the recovery phase, for instance, Terry Laughlin teaches that the leading hand should dangle as it skims above the water.
Now I find myself wondering what might constitute a “recovery phase” on land. Can I achieve what Terry calls “effortless endurance” here, too? When walking, for instance, do I need to marionette my shoulders up toward my ears? When working, must I vice-clamp my jaw?
Not surprisingly, Terry’s way ahead of me.
“Since I started focusing on pinpoint relaxation (relaxing neck muscles to hang head, hand muscles at all times, the ulnar muscle for a ‘suspended’ forearm,) I find I’m much better at being conscious of unintended, unproductive muscular tension at all times, often related to ordinary living stress,” he explains.
I studied Tai Chi in college, and one day my teacher invited an 80-year-old Japanese master to demonstrate. Before he began moving, she said proudly, “Look at his flaccid muscles!”
Flaccidity had never been my goal. But she made a good point: Muscles are for motion. To tense them unnecessarily is to fatigue and even injure them.
This is not an argument against strength training. It’s an argument for conscious, efficient movement, in the water and on land. I don’t know if we can become flexible, pain-free, energetic old people, but I suspect that the actions we take – and don’t take – right now might make all the difference.
This is a guest post for Terry Laughlin’s “Swimming That Changes Your Life“ blog
A former Stanford and professional basketball player, Mariah Burton Nelson is the author of six books about female athletes, including We Are All Athletes and The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football. She’s in charge of innovation for ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.
What would it mean to lead a splash-free life?
To splash is “to cause water or other liquid to move in a noisy or messy way.”
In swimming, leading a splash-free life means gliding smoothly forward, without wastefully dissipating one’s own energy in messy, noisy, random directions. This is what first attracted me to Total Immersion: The stunningly beautiful, preternaturally graceful, splash-free stroke demonstrated by Shinji Takeuchi in his popular “Most graceful freestyle” video.
Then I heard Terry Laughlin explain why splashing is inefficient. It takes energy to send water up into the air, and this represents energy diverted from moving you forward. And—since Terry notes that human swimmers, by nature, are energy-wasting machines—a focus on minimizing even the smallest form of waste is the simplest way to acquire what he calls ‘Effortless Endurance.’
This makes so much sense! As a lifelong swimmer, I’m shocked that I have logged 50 years’ worth of miles, including many competitions at many ages, without ever wondering how I might “shape my vessel” to slice cleanly through the water without creating a noisy mess. Dolphins don’t splash! Why should we?
I’ve been an enthusiastic Total Immersion student for about six months now, practicing mindfully and relishing my new grace and power. I’ve become a TI evangelist too. I can’t help it. Every time I meet a swimmer or potential swimmer, I feel compelled to tell them about streamlining, slipperiness, reducing drag, and the amazing power of the hip-drive.
My most recent convert is 89-year-old Mom, featured in the clip above talking passionately about Total Immersion, while demonstrating the method — and demonstrating how much energy is required for her, at this age, simply to get dressed and get into the pool. Why waste that precious energy splashing?
Now I’m wondering if it might also behoove me (us?) to splash a bit less on land, too. After practicing Total Immersion in the morning, I stride onto the surprisingly firm land like a sea creature that has recently become amphibious. Still high on the satisfying sense of grace I just experienced in the water, I wonder if I (we?) might practice the same grace with colleagues, family, and the above-sea-level world as a whole.
For example: Must I interrupt others when I’m really, really eager to share my views? Isn’t that simply splashing?
Must that colleague across the hall sing out loud all day? Splashing!
What about Metro riders who elbow aside elderly passengers on their way to the seats? Looks pretty splashy to me.
We can only control our own “splashiness,” of course – and, being fallible humans, we can’t entirely control that either. But I find that my own attempts to “splash less” make me more, rather than less, compassionate for others who are noisily and messily moving through the world. After all, isn’t that what I’ve been doing, lap after lap, for most of my life?
This is a guest post for Terry Laughlin’s “Swimming That Changes Your Life” blog
A former Stanford and professional basketball player, Mariah Burton Nelson is the author of six books about female athletes, including We Are All Athletes and The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football. She’s currently in charge of innovation for ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.
Our message should not be, “If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, tell me.” Unfortunately, they’re not going to tell us. Even in the face of disturbing and damaging sexual contact, they’re going to preserve their “special” relationships with beloved mentors, coaches, teachers and priests.
Even people who don’t give a hoop about basketball are rallying around Brittney Griner, and what’s not to like? This Baylor center, best known for her spectacular dunks, is now publicly chatting and writing (most recently in the New York Times) about what it’s like to be OUT, and why it matters.
And it does matter, to all of us.
Learning that a female basketball player is gay cannot exactly shock anyone. So compared to Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay (wow – a MALE basketball player? Finally!) the Brittney story is a yawn.
I had already heard through the grapevine she was gay – and she herself didn’t see it as an announcement. Unlike Jason, she wasn’t “coming out.” She was “being out,” which is different. Coming out is revealing a secret, or making a revelation that will surprise the audience. Being out is “just being who you are,” as she put it.
But as long as discrimination exists, being openly gay matters. “If I can show that I’m out and I’m fine and everything’s OK, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way,” she told SI.com.
Even in 2013, being out takes courage – and many athletes still fail to live courageously. They’re afraid of losing corporate sponsorships, and thus sacrifice authenticity for money. That’s counterproductive, because as long as corporate America can in effect pay athletes to feign heterosexuality, we will not achieve the equality we deserve. Plus we’ll feel miserable and ashamed.
When I came out as a Stanford basketball player in 1976, I said the same things: “I’m just being who I am.” That was at the height of the feminist movement and the beginning of the gay liberation movement. I naively expected that 37 years later, gay people would have achieved full legal rights and full acceptance. We’ve come a long way, but we aren’t there yet.
What WILL surprise – and please – me is when gay college coaches start “being openly who they are.” Now THAT will be newsworthy.
In the future, who’s gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, or “fluidly” sexual or asexual over the course of their lifetimes will not be a big deal. That’s the goal, or my goal anyway: To create a world where human diversity is appreciated but nowhere near as interesting as a good game of basketball.
– Mariah Burton Nelson has written six books about gender and sports. She enjoys “being out” – and being shorter than Brittney Griner, as pictured above.