Animal immersion

Gradually, over millions of years, humans have separated from animals. Not only have we hunted apex predators into near extinction, we have co-opted their likeness for Snapchat filters. We have transcended the animal kingdom.

However, animal instincts remain deep in our psyche and will likely continue to be a powerful force in our lives far into our future. Carl Jung believed that acceptance and integration of the animal soul was a critical “condition for wholeness” and dangerous if ignored, suppressed or left to run wild.

A primitive chief is not only disguised as the animal; when he appears at initiation rites in full animal disguise, he is the animal.

Dancing was part of even the ice age rites. Only heel prints can be seen. The dancers had moved like bisons.

Man and his Symbols – Carl Jung

Tarantulas and Peacocks

These days, most of us don’t really take animals that seriously, unless we are judging them or if there’s a strong chance we might become their dinner.

Or if you’re an actor.

In the 1920’s actress Maria Ouspenskaya helped popularize “animal work” to help actors “break out of the traditional ways of movement”. This method continues to this day. Jake Gyllenhaal explored nocturnal scavenger animals as he developed his creepy crime reporter Lou for Nightcrawler. “He’s a coyote. They’re very skinny..their eyes are bulging out. They move in this certain way. That was my main study.” Jim Carrey puts it even more simply when talking about his famously physical Ace Ventura character. “(He’s) just a smart bird at the edge of a pond.” When Sir Anthony Hopkins heard this, he shared that he was not one, but two animals in his Oscar winning performance of Hannibal Lector: A crocodile and a tarantula.

Main character energy

Tim Gallwey introduced the concept of ‘Self 2’ in what I think is the best book about thinking (and) tennis. Self 2 is pointing at our inherent, natural and spontaneous skills and abilities. We tend to interfere with this part of ourselves by judging, overthinking and extra conscious control, like when we tell ourselves to “hit it better” or “stop sinking” when we swim.

Since Self 2 is by definition unconscious, we can’t directly control it. But we do know it likes to communicate with images. “To Self 2, a picture is worth a thousand words. It learns by watching the actions of others, as well as by performing actions itself.”

For example, when we dream, images and visuals serve as powerful metaphors, archetypes or messages that need to be decoded by our conscious mind. In a similar way, you may have noticed yourself moving differently when you walked out of the cinema; swaggering like Thor or brooding like Batman. Maybe your free throws improved after spending all night watching the playoffs? Think of your unconscious mind like a sponge, curiously soaking up new things and squeezing them out in different ways

If actors can use the natural movement and behavior of animals to deliver believable and sometimes mesmerizing performances, could the same technique be applied in the pool?

Kicking like a dolphin

…pointing to (Mark) Spitz. “My god. He’s a fish.”

Grit – Angela Duckworth

To swim better, we know we’ve got to reduce our resistance in the water, to go with the flow, literally. This is something fish do passively: “Flow is controlled mainly by streamlining the body shape to minimize drag. It is no accident that fish, dolphins and even submarines have an elongated, teardrop design.”

Aquatic animals also manipulate flow actively with fins and paddles. Since we’re not shaped like a submarine, that’s what we need to do in the pool. We need to actively adjust our form to manipulate flow.

Assuming decent self-awareness, visualizing a marlin, shark or a dolphin might help streamline your stroke.

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