Waterbabe When I was born the midwife told my mother that her newly born daughter would either be a ballet dancer or a swimmer. This she deduced by the flexibility of my ankle joints and by the tone of my muscles at the time of birth! Although I don’ t believe it was the midwife’s observations which mapped out my future, the fact is that I quickly became a natural waterbaby and later went on to swim competitively over many years at national and international levels. I was born and grew up in a natural spa town so maybe the spa waters of my roots also played a part! Inspiration and selfdiscovery Since those formative years of playing and tumbling about in water as well as running, climbing and playing in the countryside of my childhood, I have remained in the field of physical education, fitness, movement, teaching and coaching. Not least have I experienced and felt the physical and mental effects of training from a very young age whilst under the professional dictatorial auspices of coaches and physiologists within the industry (or business which it is now undoubetdly). I continue to be fascinated by and teach about the potential of human movement and its adaption to the society we live in and are formed by. Through awareness work and allowing ourselves to be inspired we can rediscover the potential we have in ourselves on the physical, mental and spiritual levels. This enables us to decide for ourselves the best and most effective way to keep fit and healthy throughout life. Movement and physical activity is the most natural thing living creatures and human beings on this planet are born with for survival. Look at any group of children at play to see the boundless physical energy. Children who don’t move and play are cause for concern. We need only wonder at the aesthetic movement of animals, birds and fish on land, air or in water. Pure artistry! We are born to move and to enjoy movement. When I swim I feel like a fish and enjoy the sensation of being at one with the water element. As a child I remember vividly the fantasy of being in my underwater world and I couldn’t be in the water enough. I swam freely and experimented in moving efficiently through and under the water. At this stage there were no teachers or coaches directing me. If any tried I would be off! No one was going to interfere with this magical activity of mine. I remember it so well. I had learned all my swimming strokes naturally and they were part of my range of natural movement. I still am aware of this same sensation whenever I am in water. Adult intervention As I approached school age it became increasingly difficult to avoid the intrusion of adults in my water world. This talent had to be captured and developed. Clubs, instructors and coaches were now very evident. My natural stroke technique was changed and changed again according to the technique trends of the time and I went smoothly from strength to strength as I excercised my young body as I was dictated to. I was written about in the press as being a wonder girl at such a young age – the world was at my feet!

With the onset of puberty suddenly life wasn’t so easy anymore. The body weight – heart ratio changed. Measuring of fat / muscle fibre typing took place regularly and consequent dietry demands. Fluctuating body weight and praise for every kilo lost resulted in a borderline anorexia state throughout adolescence. Coaches getting too close for comfort during training camps were part of experiences some of us endured whilst others put inhuman demands upon us with their training methods. I recall a welcome back injury during a weight training session resulting in a free afternoon. However nobody managed to take away the magical feel of my childhood underwater world. That was still there underneath! At times I had to train myself as I lived far away from the national training centres. It was during these times away from the coaches and theoreticians I got back into my own personal method of training – one which suited my body and mind. I cut down on the endless mileage and repetitions. I adapted my stroke patterns to suit me and I used a lot of visualisation. I always felt inspired during these periods. I trained a lot outdoors in the nature away from the confines of the gym. It was as though being away from the restrained barrack like gymnasium and equipment set my mind and body free again, so that I could develop naturally. Interestingly my times and technique always improved when I had these respites from the training machines set up. I felt powerful and at one with my element again. The pure pleasure of movement enabled me to release my potential again. I had escaped from the imprisonment I had felt from coaches fighting to take command or frighten me into submission to try to get better times out of me and to help seal their success as a coach. It was a relief to be away from the military style training where every little part was under analysis and scrutiny. The body as a machine The fitness industry has developed since then. Or has it really? It has become more scientific and analytical. Our western linear way of thinking desires results with scientific proof and answers. Not only are professional athletes put through their enduring paces until they are sick or injured but now also the ordinary man in his or her quest for physical perfection and fitness is persuaded that they need similar controls. This is a recent trend. Before this lifestyle trend people had to move through their waking and working hours. Today it is common to sit until it is time to go to bed. We have created for ourselves a life of physical convenience and leisure. To compensate for this health studios and spas have mushroomed to entice people to get fit by purchasing their services. Coming from a true spa town I am amused at the numerous “spas” popping up. The nearest water a lot of these “spas” are situated to is the local underground sewage and water system. With all the gyms and healthstudios opening and companies offering their employees membership is the ordinary man any healthier, happier or fitter today than thirty years ago? Statistics (and we like to analyse and have proof) say not so. Lifestyle complaints and diseases are on the increase. Health studios for me are like the negative coaches I experienced of my youth when competing internationally. You are taken over by the sales talk. In the case of health studios it is the facade factor and clever advertising ploys which are the driving force. People are placed in machines to move certain muscles and then in other machines to work the others or crammed into studios to be worked like zombies. However our bodies are designed to work as a whole unit when moving. The machines are excellent for their original purpose in strengthening specific muscles following injury. I get a picture popping up of an animal experiment laboratory when I see the rows of humans forcing themselves monotonously in a confined and unnatural state.

Physical and mental attunement means to be in tune and in balance with ourselves and our surroundings. This means our senses and balance should be incorporated into training for optimal efficiency in the moving body. Pounding music to deafen, sergeant major personal trainers shouting and TV screens or magazines to look at as the body is disconnected from the mind is today’s unique manner of encouraging people to be aware of their physical health. I suspect that the only ones getting in better shape today are the pockets of the health studio owners. I am left wondering how sport and fitness coaching has developed. I wonder if the trends of today are just built on those of the past – but with further reduction and analysis of the small parts by theoreticions in the lab and increased business profit. From dictatorial coaching gurus deciding over somebody else’s unique body and mind to flashy training temples for the ordinary person with a personal trainer to shout at you and decide for you as you push a machine. Cashing in If you prefer training outdoors you always have the possibility to walk the Nordic pole way. Living in Scandinavia I have spent many hours watching the interesting postures of the majority of Nordic walkers as I have jumped out of their way so as not to get my feet impaled. This interesting selection of fitness seekers are often seen in herds. My immediate thought is if we were meant to walk with poles we would have been born with disproportionate arms length. The majority of people today are unable to walk correctly without poles let alone with them as our lives become physically more restricted. For the ordinary man walking with poles results in an even poorer posture, balance and upper body stiffness. For those interested in extra cardiac and calorie workouts – the rucksack is also Nordic and so are a couple of stones. Then you will then be able to keep your hands and arms free to swing and be aware of maintaining your posture and balance! But then the Nordic walking pole business may suffer……. Is it not time for a paradigm shift in sport and fitness coaching? Who dares?

As Muhammed Ali once said, “ Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a vision. They have to have last minute stamina. They have to be a little faster. They have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

©AGA 2006