Your skull holds three brains, each built on top of the other serving different purposes and functions. The ancient reptilian brain is the smallest part of the evolving human brain. The brain center is concerned with the fundamental processes of keeping the body alive, needs of survival and safety, fight, flight or freeze. When a situation of either real or perceived survival is at hand, the reptilian brain overrides the newer, more complex rational components of the brain. The newest brain center, neo cortex is on top and controls higher-order thinking skills, reason, language, creativity, visions and dreams. The right and left hemispheres along with the frontal lobe area are all a part of the neo cortex. The neo cortex is responsible for complex thought and social interactions. When older parts of the brain are triggered, they completely override the dreams and goals of the neo cortex. Fear and safety always override rational thoughts.

Fear is a series of reactions in the brain triggered by a stressful stimulus and ending with such physical reactions as tense muscles, rapid heartbeat and rushed breathing. This is the well-known fight-or-flight response. Although many areas in the brain are at least partially involved in the fear response, research has shown which parts play major roles:

  • Thalamus : determines where to send incoming data from the five senses
  • Sensory cortex : interprets the data
  • Hippocampus : stores and recovers cognitive memories, processes stimuli to ascertain their context
  • Amygdala : interprets emotions, discovers possible threats, stores memories of past fears
  • Hypothalamus: activates the fight-or-flight response when necessary.The brain uses two simultaneous processes to create a fear response, the “low road” and the “high road.” The low road is reactive; it initiates a fight-or-flight response even before the nature of the stimulus is known. The high road is calmer and more thought-orientated. Here the brain analyzes the stimulus and compares it with other incoming data, such as sights and sounds, as well as memories of similar events; it then determines if the threat is real. The high road takes a bit longer than the low road, which is why an unexpected event first causes a moment of fear before calm sets in.The limbic system is concerned with emotions and the avoidance of pain and the seeking of pleasure. Emotions can exist of conscious experiences as well as physiological and neurological reactions and voluntary and involuntary behaviors. The components of fear go beyond feelings and emotions. It is also the specific memory of the emotion. After a frightful experience, one can remember the logical reasons for the experience ( e.g. the time and place ) but one will also “feel” the memory, and the body will react as such ( i.e. increased heart and respiration rate ). In a near drowning incident, the victim could not only vividly remember each detail, but when doing so, his body reacted as though he were reliving the experience. These feelings of memory are stored in the amygdala. The amygdala has a dual sensory input system. Both inputs run from the eyes, ears and other sense organs to the thalamus. At that point the inputs diverge. One pathway leads directly to the amygdala while the other first passes through the cortex. Each input causes a distinct and specialized behavior. The amygdala is specialized for reacting to stimuli and triggering a physiological response, a process that would be described as the “emotion” of fear. After this the stimuli of the activation of the amygdala is transmitted to the cortex. This is a distinct difference from a conscious feeling of fear. Feelings are thought arise from the second, slower pathway that travels from the sensory input first to the higher cortex and then to the amygdala.. In the cortex the frightening stimulus is analyzed in detail, using information from many parts of the brain, and a message is sent back down to the amygdala. The initial signal, activating the amygdala and its corresponding physiological behaviors, prepares the body for immediate reaction to the stimulus. This is part of the startle circuit. Its physiological effects are similar to the initial stages of fear.Fortunately there are methods of reducing fear and inhibiting the fear response. Through testing with laboratory animals, it has been determined that when attention is shifted away from the anxiety-provoking stimulus, less fear is observed. When a novel stimulus is presented slightly before or at the same time as a well-trained condition stimulus, the condition response will be disrupted. Another method of inhibiting the fear circuit is through conditioning. This is a similar method of treatment that is used for people with phobias. This method is inhibiting the emotional response produced by the amygdala during a threatening situation. The person still remembers that he used to be afflicted by his phobia, but no longer has the emotional response attached to it. There is much correlation between the emotional states of fear. Anxiety, distress and fear are closely related negative emotional states associated with physical or psychological harm. These three emotions can be differentiated by the temporal relationship between the feeling and the potential threat..       Aqua phobia , a persistent and abnormal fear of water , is not inborn. Fear is aroused by any stimulus perceived as a threat, and the baby’s response is shown by crying and clutching out. Fear is one of the most difficult problems in teaching swimming. Babies learn to fear the water by watching their parents, or from their own experience. Most infants under 6 months of age have not had a chance to develop aqua phobia, so they usually adapt to swimming lessons fearlessly. It is also easier for young infants to adapt to water, because they have not yet had time to formulate their own attitude about swimming. For the most part, their attitude will be the same as that of their parents. For children, parents are among the best and worst influences on their young lives. A child’s attitude about swimming is formed by his parents and teacher. Sometimes a parent scares his child by telling him that if he does not learn to swim he will drown. The experience of learning to swim should be fun, and a child should look forward to swimming lessons. A baby will respond to swimming eagerly or fearfully, in exact accordance with the way it has been presented to him. How can this small being, which evolved after conception in water manifest an instinctive fear of the medium in which he floated? The amniotic fluid composed of 98% of water and 2% of alkaline chlorides and organic materials. The baby considers water as the protection against this mysterious world full of obscurities and unknowns.  A group of coaches in Singapore have been studying children to understand aqua phobia. They found fear of submerging the head to be common among aqua phobic children, including those who have little fear of proximity to water. More precisely, they found that submersion of the nose and the ears are the most feared. Most children are not afraid of the water, but when you come across one who is, he must be dealt with very carefully, with tenderness and understanding. Talking about fear and explaining to the child what fear is will only help him overcome some of his anxiety. Many children are ashamed and feel guilty of being afraid and such feelings add to their discomfort. Fear of water is an important factor in learning to swim and fearful children can be recognized by such behavior as reluctance to enter the water and clinging to physical support. Often a child will be afraid of trying a specific skill. One of the most common is floating. Help him overcome his fear by letting him hold onto your arm while he is in a floating position. First you must gain his confidence in you and then you must help him gain confidence in himself. If a fearful child is put in a class of children who are learning very rapidly, it will only make him withdraw. Sometimes, though, by teaching two fearful children together, you will find they encourage each other. Your approach should be entirely an individual matter when you are dealing with a fearful child. Fear should be dealt with frankly and openly. Characteristics of fear of the water:
  • Psychologists indicate that aqua phobia manifests itself in people through a combination of experiential and genetic factors.
  • What is fear? A feeling of anxiety and agitation caused by the presence or nearness of danger. A newborn should be afraid of anything but water. Fear of water is an acquired fear, an invention impressed upon the child’s mind by the adult’s morbid dread of dangers of water and drowning. We cannot expect adults who, for centuries, have been conditioned through ignorance, to act otherwise.
  • Panic at the thought of being in water.
  • Tensing muscles and a feeling of insecurity.
  • Loosing balance when in the water.
  • Panic while swimming and only focus on getting to the other side of the pool.
  • Holding his breath while swimming.
  • Swimming with head out of water.
  • Becoming anxious if another swimmer is close by.Babies who are nervous or anxious about the water tend to hold themselves in awkward positions that actually inhibit their ability in learning how to swim. In a typical fearful approach they often keep their body rigid and tense in an attempt to keep as much of the head and body above the water as they can. This reaction tends to restrict breathing and makes it actually more difficult to remain buoyant.Up to the age of about 16 months, a baby has no fear of water but is afraid of separation, of being “cut–off “ of losing “a vital support“, by which it is holding on to life. It comes at the same time as consciousness. According to Freud, a reaction of fear is caused by a perception which is connected by the child with previous experience of displeasure. Older babies are more likely to have difficulty making an adjustment to the water. As children mature, they become accustomed to a certain set of surroundings and may become upset when introduced to unfamiliar environments. By age 2 years, changes and new experiences are often viewed as threatening. It is at this age that fear of water may start to develop. Starting swimming after age 2 means your child will need lots of time to experiment with the water before deciding that is an acceptable place. Forcing your baby underwater before the child is ready will result in tears or tantrums. At the worst, it may lead to lifelong fear of water. If your child is over age 2, the first lessons will be spent getting adjusted to the new, wet environment. Each water skill must be introduced slowly to allow time to desensitize your baby to the water. If you were a bit adventuresome during your baby’s first years and did not rush to rescue every time your baby faced a problem, your baby will probably meet the challenge of swimming confidently. Babies who start swimming after age 2 are not the only ones who develop problems. The child may pass through a stage at around 2-3 years in which he will seem frightened of the water. Although your baby may have accepted the water without question during the first years, as the baby starts to formulate opinions, he may need to readjust to the water from a more mature point of view. Whatever you do, do not force underwater swimming. For a temporary time, lower your expectations to your baby’s current emotional level. Fears at this age are common, but usually short-lived if handled with understanding and encouragement.The body needs to feel safe in order to transform the old patterns and fear. If the baby does not feel safe, the only safety it knows is the old, so the body will keep going back to those old patterns. As the body clears the patterns, new behaviors, thoughts and insights arise.Fearful stages are a normal part of childhood, but your baby is more likely to emerge from these periods unscratched if you never use fear as a method of discipline. It is better to handle fears by encouraging your child to express the reasons for being frightened of performing a skill. Praise your baby for each step forward. Each of these little accomplishments builds confidence and eventually leads to the final defeat of fear. Here I would point out the adult’s mistaken belief that his psychological state of mind must have been inherited by his child. I have already stated that as a baby grows it becomes less aquatic. This is not because of physical reasons, the ability to float remains the same and movement improves over the months. The reasons for the loss of inborn qualities lie in the psychological development. It is almost impossible to predict how long it will take a child to overcome his fear. Sometimes it takes months, even when you work with him several times a week. You should start out with the idea that it will take some time. Never forget how important it is to proceed slowly and with caution.
  • The more a baby’s brain develops, the more receptive it will be to both positive and negative emotions caused by the environment. When reflection develops, the baby will remember unpleasant or even painful adventure. I most cases the, the child’s subconscious mind is influenced by the attitude of the parents, who by a reflex or by inhibition, slowly implant a fear of water in the mind. As a baby grows, it is likely to endure these taboos which may bring about a mental block against water resulting in it refusing to take a bath or even a shower. If parents have been forewarned and the baby does not undergo predominant exterior influences, it will not experience the stage of anguish that certain children feel between the age of 2 and 3 years old. This also applies to swimming: the younger the babies are when starting, the better they will tolerate swimming pools and enjoy the water.

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory is the ability of the mind to capture a particular activity or movement and can best be described as a type of movement with which the muscles become familiar over time. For instance, babies don’t have muscle memory for activities like crawling or walking. The only way for the muscles to become accustomed to these activities is for the baby to learn how to do these things and then practice them with a great deal of trial and error. Gradually, as the baby becomes a skilled walker, he falls less, is able to balance, and finally is able to incorporate other activities into his life such as running. muscle memory Although the precise mechanism of muscle memory is unknown, what is theorized is that anyone learning a new activity, or practicing an old one has significant brain activity during this time. Most theories reckon that our muscles get accustomed to a particular process, when the activity is performed time and again because of the neural pathway that develops due to repetition. The neural pathway helps us store certain muscle movements within the memory. Neurons send messages to neighbouring neurons in the form of electrical pulses across a synapse (a small gap separating neurons). A neuron is built up of the cell body, the dendrites, and the axons. Dendrites bring information to the cell body and axons take information away from the cell body. These connections, or “wiring” in the brain is what gives the brain its unique structure and what allows the brain to operate in a coordinated way. While we are born with a complete set of neurons and some genetically “wired” connections, many connections between neurons are determined by a learning process. Learning organizes and reorganizes the brain. Brain development is related to the ongoing process of connecting neurons. The number of neurons seems to be less crucial than the strength of the connections between neurons. Learning and memory are believed to result from long – term changes in synaptic strength. In the period of age between 0 and 5 years, the baby’s brain develops fast which is signed by the fast development of branch nerves “dendrite” in the brain. Therefore, this is the time to optimize the stimulation process for the baby’s motor system (regulate body to make a movement), sensory system (regulate body to feel a sensation), and also teach knowledge as early as possible. Muscle memory is an unconscious process because of the ability of the muscles to get accustomed to certain body movements. The walking child is gradually building neural pathways that will give the muscles a sense of muscle memory. In other words, even without thinking, the child is soon able to walk, and the muscles are completely accustomed to this process. The child doesn’t have to tell the body to walk, the body just knows how to do it, largely because neurons communicate with the muscles. Our muscle memory registers certain muscle movements and thus becomes an unconscious process. The muscles grow accustomed to certain types of movement. Once you learn cycling or swimming during your childhood days you don’t have to learn it again even after a decade long break. The more often you do a certain activity, the more likely you are to do it as needed, when needed. It takes a great deal of practice and repetition for a task to be completed on a strictly subconscious level. The process of adding specific motor movements to the brain’s memory can take either a short or long time depending on the type of movement being performed. When movements are first being learned, the muscles and other body controlling features (ligaments and tendons ) are stiff and slow and can be easily disrupted if the brain is not completely focused on the movement. In order to complete the memorization, acts must be done with full attention. This is because the brain activity increases when performing movements, and this increased activity must be fully centered on the activity being completed. Much of the motor learning in the brain is located in the cerebellum which is part of the brain in charge of controlling sensory and cognitive functions. After certain training exercises synapses get enhanced in the muscles which increases the speed impulses travel from the brain through the nervous system in the muscles. Muscle memory comes from focusing on a single action or movement. For instance, when you’ve kicked thousands of field goals, exercise physiologists assume that the likelihood of being able to kick one during a football game is pretty good through muscle memory. You don’t have to think. Your body already knows how to do it. Another similar example is diving, which involves less concentration with experience in both diving and the route. It does appear though  despite practice, attitude can interfere with muscle memory. Nerves can lead to clenched muscles that can’t quite perform, as they would probably do if you weren’t thinking about it. A sense of being unable to perform as you would wish, may also affect muscle memory. The processes are still complex, and the “confidence factor” needs to be taken into account in future studies on muscle memory. There are two types of motor skills involved in muscle memory: fine and gross. Fine motor skills are very small skills we perform with our hands. Gross motor skills are those actions that require large body parts and large body movements. Muscle memory is fashioned over time through repetition of a given suite of motor skills and the ability through brain activity to inculcate and instil it such that they become automatic. As one reinforces those movements through repetition, the neural system learns those fine and gross motor skills to the degree that one no longer needs to think about them, but merely to react and perform appropriately. When an active person repeatedly trains movement, often of the same activity, in an effort to stimulate the mind’s adaptation process, the outcome is to induce physiological changes which attain increased levels of accuracy through repetition. Individuals rely upon the mind’s ability to assimilate a given activity and adapt to the training. As the brain and muscle adapts to training, the subsequent changes are a form or representation of its muscle memory.