The irony of this article may strike after you have read it, hopefully provoking a smile. Today we exist in various simultaneous levels of reality. Our most basic and fundamental level of reality is the physical awareness of our bodies and our five senses. The next level of our reality is that of language, which in a sense created our first virtual reality when our paleolithic hunter ancestors told stories around the fire.
This virtual reality of passing on information continued with writing. Today this has been succeeded by social media, the latest virtual reality of cyber space, inhabited by who we identify with on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For some, they are so immersed in this new world that unless something is posted and commented on in social media, it is almost as if it just didn’t happen. With the advent of each of these artificial constructs of consciousness, we become further removed from the completely present, first-hand reality of our physical awareness.
Lately in my swimming, I am working hard to catch up to where I was at my peak last year and then hopefully surpass it. One of the biggest challenges that I am constantly facing is the tendency of some elements of my technique, namely my left arm, to not move in the most efficient way, creating asymmetry in my stroke.
I blame it on previously training too much alone without any form of feedback, not knowing I was making this error. Anyway, correcting this has been very frustrating, as it is a constant conscious battle to override and retrain my brain and nerve synapses in the correct movement pattern, so as to become subconscious. This recent struggle has forced me to reconnect with my primal awareness in a deeper way, and to reexamine how we learn movement patterns. What I have learnt can apply to optimising everything physical from the avoidance of injury to complex sporting movements like yoga asanas, golf swings, basketball shots, cricket, gymnastics, swimming, etc.
The truth is that even though language is perhaps our greatest invention, it has limits. It’s often very difficult to accurately convey a feeling or an emotion through words. Don’t truly profound feelings leave us speechless? The very act of naming defines something as to what it is and what it isn’t, creating boundaries. In swimming, due to these limitations we, have been forced to invent new words and utilise old ones in new ways like purple, platinum, shoulder driven etc., in feeble attempts to deconstruct feelings into words. But, how many words can you carry around with you while you are trying to do something before they literally slip through your fingers, regardless of how hard you try to hold on to them? Words are too slippery to describe the incredible kinesthetic awareness that fosters the complicated, synchronised movements required to execute various sporting skills and aspects.
Nature’s design of the modern human body has not changed in hundreds of thousands of years. To properly control this ancient hardware we need to revert back to its most primal software. The part of our brain that is responsible for movement is in the oldest, most basic part of our brain’s design, known as the reptilian brain, which evolved hundreds of millions of years ago. It is responsible for our survival instincts, reproduction, dominance, respiration, levels of arousal, heart rate and movement. Our cerebellum, in this reptilian part of our brain, has hundreds of millions of years of experience in controlling movement, balance and learning new movement patterns. We just need to relax and trust it.
To tap into this ancient part of our brain to correct my left arm technique I have found it best, yet difficult to withdraw from the virtual reality of words, to stop thinking in them and believe it or not, think solely in terms of feelings and sensations. Simply “chase the feeling”. Through this intuitive mindset I have managed to cut through the overwhelmingly cerebral, confusing layers of language that tend to scramble our circuits with awkward, deliberate movements to just feel the easiest, most efficient way of moving. It is ironic that I am even using words to describe this basic process. You have to do it to understand. While you are executing it, imagine that you are moving for the first time, really try to feel every sensation! By tapping into this primal way of thinking in terms of feelings, we are better able to learn and implement the most complicated synchronised movements that comprise the technically advanced aspects of sport, showcasing with stunning awe what we as human beings are physically capable of.
Reality is still reserved for the athletes out there who skip the clumsy process of trying to describe greatness to others in one virtual reality, while avoiding having to post it online in another, by simply feeling it in real life, allowing us to watch. This is called sport.