Breathing with Bryan

Aug 08, 2013

For the past six weeks I have embraced my fear of learning to swim. From 8:00 am – 9:00 am, three times a week, I’ve been working with Bryan Stinchfield who has returned to coaching at the Tokeneke Beach Club pool after two years in the Peace Corps in Madagascar.

Bryan is not your typical coach. I call him my yoga swim coach. “There are 100 ways to swim,” he says. “I don’t want to tell you to swim like this or that. I want you to find your own way and discover what works for you.”

Ben with his swim coach, Bryan Stinchfield
Ben with his swim coach, Bryan Stinchfield

Bryan is putting me in harmony with the water. He takes me through a series of experiences to help me build a foundation for swimming. I think of this as yoga swimming. I’ve learned to rise and fall in the water on my breath alone. I exhale until I’m hovering above the bottom of the pool, creeping along doing a “crab walk” for over one minute each time. I kick on my back with boards under each arm. I tip my head back until I feel a ring of water around my face.

One morning, while I was practicing my “Dead Man” pose in the diving well, the lifeguard almost jumped into the deep end to safe me. I truly mastered the exercise. It was so believable.

Morning practice at Tokeneke Beach Club pool
Morning practice at Tokeneke Beach Club pool

Finally this summer, after four decades of wanting to learn to swim and two decades of watching my athletic wife enjoy laps in the pool, I’ve undertaken a sustained effort to master some basics.

Ok I admit it, I was feeling jealous.

The diving well at Tokeneke Beach Club pool
The diving well at Tokeneke Beach Club pool

I now realize that learning how to breathe is a metaphor for how I approach my photography. I’m learning to let go and relax into the swimming. Eliminating the subliminal anxiety of when I’m going to get my next breath or when I’m going to get my next great shot. There’s a rhythm. A flow. Once I relax into it I realize how easily and naturally my next breath comes. In the same way that I trust images will appear effortlessly, under grace in perfect ways.

My experience of swimming has gone from one of dread and discomfort, to surprise and delight. It’s all in the breath. I’m just floating along, nothing strenuous. Just kicking gently and focusing on deep inhales and total exhales.

Brian tells me I’m going fast. Really? That’s success.

And now I can swim with my baby, Trudie, and that makes her very happy.

Channeling Cartier-Bresson
Nantucket Ferry Series

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