Day in the Work Life: Water world

Marketplace Staff Jan 5, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I’m Kai Ryssdal. Hey, nice job getting through the first week in the new year. I hope you held firm on a resolution or two. For many of us that means trying to exercise away all those holiday cookies and eggnog. On this week’s a day in the work life we meet a man who can help. He’s a swimming instructor and he uses something called the Alexander technique, that’s a method of adjusting your posture. And he says getting healthy doesn’t have to mean getting hurt.

STEVEN SHAW: What I want you to do is I want you to walk that way, then you swim back and you’re going to try and reproduce the same timing as what you walked there.

Hi, my name’s Steven Shaw. I’m a teacher of the Alexander technique in swimming. I’m 44. I love being in the water.

But I’m going to come help each of you individually so keep, don’t wait for me to correct you.

I took up swimming as a child about 4 or 5. I got involved in competitive swimming about 10. As a result of my competitive swimming I damaged my neck and back. Breast stroke involves a lot of hunching and so I was kind of very, very hunched and constantly stiff, could never sit in a comfortable position and I always felt tense really. Learning the Alexander technique changed my posture, changed my alignment.

I formed a company called The Art of Swimming, teaching individuals, teaching groups, running workshops, running through any holidays, writing books, producing films. My average earning varies from year to year but it’s in the region of about $100,000 to $120,000.

I like seeing people going beyond their expectations of what they think is possible. My oldest pupil now is someone who’s 93. He decided at the age of 90 that he was going to learn another stroke. So he’s now learning the front crawl. And another thing that I really enjoy doing is that people think the butterfly, for example, which is a wonderful stroke, is only for very fit, very strong people and I really enjoy showing people that it’s much more simple than they imagine.

The most challenging and kind of strange situation I was in — I turned up to teach in Tokyo and normally a typical workshop is like 8 to 10 people and we had 100 participants and only me and one other assistant teacher for three days. And the Japanese were so kind of disciplined that it kind of really worked out well, but it was kind of shocking.

A typical work day would involve eight to nine
hours in the water. And at the beginning it felt quite tiring and quite difficult to do. Now it feels like, kind of it’s rejuvenating. It revitalizes me. So at the moment I’m doing quite a big tour of the states, having courses every single day. And I think I couldn’t do that with the flying and all if it wasn’t for the kind of, the element of the water.

To win at swimming is to improve your relationship with yourself. It’s a kind of meditation. It’s fine to go fast, but the be all and end to go is for me isn’t going fast and I think that’s the problem. Most people can only judge their performance in the water for how fast they go from A to B. Swimming is an art form. The better you become at it the more flowing, the more attractive, the more graceful, the easier it gets. And I think that’s where the pleasure of swimming goes.

RYSSDAL: A day in the work life was reported by Sally Herships.

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