This is a continuation from my original post on Swimming and Clarinet Playing.
One commenter, an oboist, mentioned the benefits of swimming for breathing control. Though I had thought of it, I didn't mention it since most people would assume swimming to be good for breathing.
But after considering it, I want to emphasize how truly beneficial swimming is to breathing. In most exercise (outside of water) we can breathe as often as we like. Most of us don't think of it at all as we do other forms of cardio exercise. But in swimming, holding and controlling the breath is critical.
As a kid, I loved testing how far I could swim underwater holding my breath. I still do that a bit during my swimming workouts. Maintaining a bit of that element of play, however, I still take as few breaths as possible, encouraging my lungs toward higher efficiency, and challenging my breath control.
Beyond enhancing breath control, I practice maintaining "primary control" (Alexander Technique), meaning the direction (intention up, or in swimming, forward) and freedom of head, neck and back, helping to better coordinate the motion of arms and legs.
As I experimented with and then found a good rhythm between kicking and arm motions, I realized how importantly rhythm and coordination factors toward becoming a good swimmer. I kick my legs in a triplet rhythm for each arm stroke. A similar sense of rhythmic coordination is a requisite skill for any musician.
Another comparison between swimming and playing clarinet, or any instrument, is gracefulness. I sense the inefficiency of splashing more than necessary to move the water down under me with my hands and behind me with my legs. In becoming a more graceful swimmer, I become a better one. Again, playing an instrument requires graceful, rhythmic, coordinated motions in order to master it.
To revisit and emphasize we come to perhaps most important aspect of learning any physical skill: efficiency. Through swimming, I gain strength and coordination, and so I keep referring back to my own buoyancy as the neutral point of greatest efficiency. I have to remind myself to avoid struggling as I seek to swim faster. I observe and maintain my central point of coordination, the "primary control," as I continue to increase speed.
In other words, one must constantly balance between effort and graceful, effortless flow. So it is also with playing clarinet, or any instrument.