Fear of water (aquaphobia) is a common fear. In part 1 of this article, we discussed this fear and proposed a few basic exercises to get used to being in the water. Now we will show you that it is in fact very easy to float in the water without much effort.
The Human Body Floats Very Well
If you get anxious around bodies of water, you may believe that in the water you would sink to the ground like a stone. If this is the case, it may come as a surprise to you that water in fact supports the human body very well. It most cases people can float easily without using their limbs as long as their lungs are filled with air.
This is because your body, being made of 60% of water, is slightly less dense than water provided that your lungs are filled with air. Additionally, you may (or may not) remember Archimedes’ Principle from school:
Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.
This means that water will have the tendency to push you up to the surface because your body is less dense than water!
Mushroom float is a simple exercise you can do that demonstrates the human body's natural tendency to float:
Here's how to do Mushroom Float:
- Stand in the shallow area of the pool.
- Take a deep breath and then hold your breath.
- Curl up into a ball by drawing your legs against your chest, and brace your legs with your arms.
- Your feet lose contact with the ground and you can float freely for a few seconds.
- When you need to breathe, unroll, put your feet on the ground, and stand up to get your head above the water.
While you do this exercise you will see that your head submerges but that you nevertheless float close to the water surface. As an additional experiment, you can try to exhale while being curled up. You will see that your body starts to sink as your lungs get empty. This demonstrates that your lungs help your body to float for as long as they are filled with air.
At the start of the video above, I hold my breath and you can see that the water actually pushes me up to the surface. Then, while I slowly exhale, my body starts to sink as it becomes less buoyant.
Once you have done this exercise a few times and feel how easy it is to be supported by the water, it should become easier for you to relax in the water and this should help reduce your fear of water.
Note: A small minority of people still sink when their lungs are filled with air. These often are very skinny people or people with a very low body fat percentage, like bodybuilders. They might need to scull a little bit with their hands or tread water with their feet to float.
In the next step to overcome fear of water, you will practice getting comfortable into a horizontal position. The horizontal position is an important prerequisite to swimming because most swim strokes spend most of their time in this horizontal position. So do the following:
- Go to the shallow area of the pool.
- Crouch down until the water is at the level of your chest.
- Extend your arms forward.
- Take a deep breath and then hold your breath.
- Slowly glide forward in the water, as if sliding forward on a bed made of water.
- Try to keep your head in a neutral position, in line with your spine. Because your body assumes a horizontal position, your face will actually be put underwater. But because you are holding your breath, the water can't go up in your nostrils and you are perfectly safe. (This principle was explained in part 1 of this article).
- Slide forward until your body is completely extended.
- Now try to get comfortable in that position and to hold it for a few moments, until you need to breathe.
- Your position can be completely horizontal, floating freely and sticking to the water surface. Or maybe your position is tilted, with your upper body being supported by the water but your feet still touching the ground. Or somewhere in between. This depends on your body composition. Either is fine as long as you can relax and feel supported by the water for a few moments.
- To stand up, pull you knees towards your chest and move your arms downwards. Your torso will roll into an upright position with your feet beneath your torso. Then extend your legs, touch the ground with your feet and stand upright.
Note: As explained above, some people (called sinkers) will completely sink to the ground because of their low body fat percentage. If this is your case, your goal is to try to relax for a few seconds while lying flat on your stomach on the pool ground (in the shallow area of the pool).
Gliding In a Horizontal Position
As a last exercise to overcome fear of water, you will learn to glide in a horizontal position on your stomach and still feel supported by the water. So do the following:
- In the shallow area of the pool, turn your back towards the pool wall.
- Inhale, hold your breath, then draw your legs up towards your chest like you did in Mushroom Float.
- Don't brace your legs with your arms however. Extend your arms forward instead, and extend your legs backward at the same time to quickly push against the vertical wall of the pool.
- Extend your body and try to get as horizontal as possible. Keep your head in line with your trunk and try to glide as far as possible.
- Eventually the forward momentum will stop. Your legs may also drop at the end of the glide.
- To stand up and the end of the glide, do as before: draw your legs towards your chest, roll down, extend and touch the ground with your feet.
- Repeat this exercise a few times, until you feel well balanced and horizontal during the glide. Notice that no water gets into your nose as long as you hold your breath even though you are floating in a horizontal position.
To up the ante a little bit, you can try to slowly exhale during the glide and/or to flutter kick to extend the glide.
As an alternative you can try out the following with a friend:
- Get into the horizontal position with your arms extended forward but don't push off the wall.
- Let your friend grab one of your hands and gently tow you forward.
- Notice that it doesn't take much forward movement for you to float in a horizontal position, as long as you keep your body straight and stay relaxed at the same time.
- Your friend can even release your hand once you have gained some forward momentum. You should still float and move forward a few moments until the momentum stops.
With this article, I hope you have discovered that being in the water doesn't have to be intimidating and that it is quite easy to stay afloat in the water. You might even start to like the feeling of being supported by the water.
Hopefully with time and practice you will be able to overcome your fear of water. Don't rush it, take your time with the exercises, even if it takes weeks or months!
If you still struggle with your fear even after doing all the exercises described in this article, Conquer Your Fear of Water: An Innovative Self-Discovery Course in Swimming by Melon Dash might be a good resource for you (see below).
The book aims to get you over your fear of water in 104 detailed steps. Each step is a mini-chapter in the book and can cover various things, such as relaxation strategies, writing about your beliefs or fears, floating exercises in the water, and so on.
The book goes deeply into the psychological and physical aspects of going into the water, getting used to it and being able to relax. Highly recommended.
There's also a companion DVD available, called The Miracle Swimmer: Learn to Be in Control in Water, Shallow and Deep and Prevent Panic (see below).