92. Cori Myka: Helping non-swimmers overcome fear of deep water

In the third of our guest-hosted episodes, Rob Lawrence, podcaster, and coach from episode 42, talks to Cori Myka, from Orca Swim School about how she supports adult non-swimmers often with a fear of deep water to realize their dreams. And it’s all to do with healing the mind.

Cori Myka is co-owner of Orca Swim School and creator of the Foundations of Change learning method. For over 20 years Cori has been taking adult non-swimmers from fearful beginning to achieving their dreams. Her unique teaching is so highly regarded because it is based on training and healing the mind so individuals can learn physical steps which takes swimming beyond the pool and into life. Based in Seattle, USA Cori has been training students and teachers locally, across the US and in the UK and Singapore.

Cori started her swim teaching career at the young age of 14, when she volunteered at a local pool.  In 1999, she co-founded Orca Swim School, together with her husband Bruce.  In 2004 she was thrilled to work with Melon Dash, founder of Miracle Swimming for adults, becoming one of the first people certified to teach this breakthrough method of swim instruction.  It has shaped the focus of Cori’s business and ignited her passion for teaching adults to swim, especially those with a fear of water.

She began working with Melon to teach new instructors and has taught her own staff to use Miracle Swimming, as well.  In August 2015, after many years of teaching, Cori took a sabbatical with her family.  This sabbatical took them all over the US in a 24-foot trailer. Cori came back having explored many pools and open water of the US and with newfound enthusiasm to teach adults how to swim. Cori’s continued love of learning and exploring has further developed Orca’s own curriculum to include the most recent developments of brain training, life coaching, mindfulness, and online learning.

Connect with Cori Myka and Orca Swim School via Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Connect with Rob Lawrence https://www.roblawrence.co

Key Quotes from Cori Myka

  • What we are teaching our students is to learn to trust themselves.
  • We start this process to notice the difference between the reactions our body has because of our thoughts.
  • Children of color drown at a higher rate than white children in the US.
  • Everything that we do in the world starts with our thoughts.
  • We bring people to the present and sometimes what occurs to people in the present is a memory from the past.
  • It is really about this process of bringing people’s awareness and then slowing things down.


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Cori Myka Transcription

[00:00:00] Sue : Welcome to the Access to Inspiration podcast, the podcast with a social mission to encourage you to reflect on the world differently. And be inspired by people who may be unlike you. We always like to push our boundaries and experiment, so this month we have invited back some of our previous guests so that they can chat to someone who inspires them or they want to learn more about.

So after you’ve listened to the episodes, do get in touch as we love getting your feedback. Tell us what impact has each episode had. How has the conversation caused you to have a different perspective on the world? And as always, you can get in touch with us via the website at accesstoinspiration.org where you can also read a transcript of each episode. And we now have over 90 for you to choose from. This week I’m handing over the job of host to Rob Lawrence, who was a guest in episode 42. And since Rob is also an experienced podcaster, I know you’ll do a great job. Welcome Rob.

[00:01:22] Rob: My guest today is the owner of the Orca swim school and the creator of a learning method called foundations of change. For over 20 years, she has supported adult non-swimmers often with a fear of deep water to realizing their dreams. And it’s all to do with healing the mind. Based in Seattle, not only does she teach locally, but she’s taught students all across the globe, including the UK and Singapore too. So with no further ado, may I introduce to you today? Cori Myka. Cori. Welcome.

[00:01:52] Cori: Hi, thank you for having me.

[00:01:54] Rob: You’re very welcome. Before we begin, I’d love to give our listener a little bit more of an insight as to who you are and how you show up in the world and, and perhaps a little bit about your backstory, how did you get into what it is that you do today?

[00:02:08] Cori: Sure. Well you say a little bit of the backstory. It really is a passion of mind from the time I was very young. I was that kind of kid who hung out at the pool all the time, not realizing this was gonna be my occupation. My husband and I, we started our swim school 21 years ago. We started with kids, but it really wasn’t the kids who drew my attention. It was the adults who drew my attention because they could do the things that I asked them to do. They’d do the physical skills, but I’d ask ’em how it was. And they’d say I have no idea. And I thought. Oh my gosh, what am I doing wrong here? They’re doing everything that I tell ’em to do. And that’s the place that really my passion and inquisitive mind got around. I need to figure out something more for these folks and make that connection for them between those physical skills and actually feeling like a swimmer, feeling confident in themselves and bringing that piece forward.

[00:03:06] Rob: Mm. So, were you always confident in the water? What’s your earliest memory of, playing in the water?

[00:03:11] Cori: Well, let’s see my earliest stories about playing in the water I was confident. My mother has stories of me running off and jumping into pools and her freaking out, oh my gosh, there goes the baby. But my memories actually of swimming my early memories of it are not great. I remember taking swimming lessons and being terrified. They put you on a little platform and I knew for sure they kept the sharks underneath that platform. So there was no way I was leaving that platform. And it was really the line between learning to trust myself versus trusting the teachers. The teachers would do things like, say swim out to me and I’d say, okay, but don’t step back and they’d say, all right, I won’t step back and I’d start swimming out to them. And I could see them walking backwards and I thought, well, this is not good. I do not trust you. And I’d stand up and say, you lied to me. And never finish a swimming lesson.

[00:04:11] Rob: I imagine trust has a lot to do with your work, actually. Tell me more about that in terms of how you connect with the people that you help.

[00:04:18] Cori: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, it is really based on that piece of trust and what we say is we’re what we are teaching our students is to learn to trust themselves.

And that’s where the ultimate loss of trust comes is they don’t trust themselves to be able to figure out what they need to do. They don’t trust their own process. They don’t trust that they can be confident in the water and it may have started with a breach of trust likeminded with a swim teacher. But I, I lost my trust with that other person, but I decided I wasn’t gonna lose my trust with myself or the water.

Now, other areas of life, I might have lost some of that trust, but in the water I brought in to say, how can I figure this out? I can figure this out. and that’s what we really teach. Our students is a space for them to go slow enough to go safely enough so that they can listen to their own intuition, their own, internal voice to go at their pace, really to build that trust with themselves. Starts from when they put their big toe in the water. So they can go all the way through to doing something like jump off the back of the boat. They wanna be able to trust themselves to have their own safety and to have their own back.

[00:05:35] Rob: this is fascinating. Cause I think in my mind, I am not somebody who’s had a deep fear of water. I mean, I’ve always been a bit cautious, I would say. But this is really fascinating to me because this sounds to me much more about a relationship to ourselves and our own mind and how we think than anything to do with the water. Is that right? Is this all about perception in many respects?

[00:05:56] Cori: Yeah, for sure. Because just like you say, you feel cautious, you don’t say that you’re necessarily fearful. And then it’s what we say to ourselves about that story. I mean, there are times when I am cautious around the water, right. There are times where I wear a life jacket. There is water that I don’t swim in. And at no point in time, do I make that mean that I’m not a swimmer. Or do I make that mean that there’s something wrong with me,

I just know. Yeah. I’m not gonna get in. I’m not gonna jump off the back of the fishing boat in Alaska. not a good idea. yeah. Doesn’t make me not a swimmer. Doesn’t make their mean anything about me. And that is the big difference that people make it mean something about them that they don’t know how to swim or that they have this heightened pattern of fear around the water.

[00:06:50] Rob: So let’s break that down a bit. I’m, I’m fascinated to learn how this relates to achieving our dreams, but I’d love to kind of get into some of the psychology or the, deeper elements, I suppose, of what it must be like for somebody who is petrified of water. They must in their mind think that this is an insurmountable kind of possibility to be able to get in there. I mean, where do you begin? What steps do you take with folks that you work with in terms of beginning to overcome that fear.

[00:07:16] Cori: Yeah. So the first thing again, back to that establishing trust and trust with themselves is to really be in conversation outside of the water. and to really kind of break down, well, what is it that I’m worried about?

What am I concerned about? How do I feel right now? And often times a student who’s come to a pool and we’re sitting next to the pool. Or butterflies in their stomach or cold and clammy hands, this anxious kind of feeling shortness of breath, maybe even and for us to really notice.

This feeling is coming from their thoughts. It’s not actually coming from them being in physical danger. . And so we start this process to just really notice that to notice the difference between the reactions our body has because of our thoughts. It could be our thoughts about what’s gonna happen in the future or something that happened in the past and to connect with the present time that actually can notice there is no problem happening, right now and so breaking that down for people so they can see where all these physical sensations come from.

[00:09:15] Rob: So are we projecting ourselves into the future or perhaps reflecting on a past experience often in those moments?

[00:08:34] Cori: For sure. I mean, our mind is an amazing thing, right? You can watch a movie and be crying over, let’s say the death of the main character or a sub character, and really feel it in your body as if it’s somebody that you really loved has died. Our brain is so powerful like that, that we can just be given a thought and it can bring us to a literal emotion in our body sensations in our body. Our body has a physical reaction to it. And so this is true when you’re watching a movie or you’re making up a movie in your own head.

[00:09:15] Rob: Yeah, this is it’s interesting. Isn’t it? It’s this is almost to do with our imagination in, in many respects. So it’s about taming the imagination and getting ourselves into the reality of the moment,

[00:09:23] Cori: right? Yes. Yep.

[00:09:24] Rob: So how does this then relate to getting to that place that we want to get to? So I know a lot of the work that you do is helping people to achieve what I imagine for them is unimaginable in their terms, perhaps their wildest dreams in that sense, how do you then take what it is that those first few steps, how do you then take that the next step forward?

[00:09:34] Cori: Yeah, so it’s looking like you say that wildest dream. Okay. I have this wildest dream and we kind of see the physical steps of that. Let’s take the one of jumping off the back of the boat. So I wanna be able to jump off the back of the boat but how do I want that to feel? Right? What do I want that actually? What, what do I want going on inside of me when I jump off the back of the boat? Because anybody can just make themselves do it.

But no, I wanna feel confident. I wanna feel joyous. I wanna feel fun or, you know, whatever it is. And so that’s where we’re going. And then we have to bring ourselves back to where we are. which where we are, is usually in this state that we just talked about, that your brain is spinning off into all these places, but bringing people back to their actual physical state in the moment.

And because that’s the only place we can make change. It’s the only place that we can learn from. It’s the only place we can actually control our physical bodies. So. We do things in the beginning to really connect themselves to how do you actually feel today and feel as an emotions that are created from your brain, but also feel your physiology like. Let’s just feel your butt in the chair. We’re not even in the water yet. Let’s bring ourselves to grounding in the sensations that you feel now and start to really understand that place. And people then feel better. That’s when they start to get the information of. Oh, right. I’m actually not in the middle of the ocean. I can breathe. I have air right here right now is totally safe. And now I can take a step forward cuz I can now listen to myself to say, well, could I also stay in curiosity or confidence or fun by sticking my big toe in the water? Oh, it turns out I can, when I stay connected to the present, not when I jump out to the future, but when I stay in the present.

[00:11:46] Rob: So what’s going through my mind now is you are describing that is how much this is about transforming. I suppose the transformation in terms of getting out of our minds and more into our body, would that be an accurate way of describing it?

[00:11:56] Cori: Absolutely. Yes.

[00:11:58] Rob: Yeah. So with that in mind, what have been some of the biggest transformations that you’ve seen in the work that you do?

[00:12:05] Cori: So the biggest transformations that I’ve see, I mean, Mount my head’s Rolodexing are seeing all these different people through time. I means big piece of it is when we get people who make swimming transformations, right? Like we take students to Hawaii and I mean the biggest hug I have ever had, it was my student, Rhonda, who after we went snorkeling from a boat,

so in deep water in Hawaii, we’re snorkeling. I mean, that woman hugged me with every muscle in her body. She was so completely thrilled with herself that she did this thing. That was, as you said, completely unimaginable to her. So there’s those kinds of transformation, but then there’s also the transformation where people will tell us afterwards, you know what, I decided it was okay for me to quit that job or to change that relationship or they bring it to this other place, like, oh, I didn’t notice. What all was going on for me in my body, in some of these other areas of my life, I decided to try this other new thing. One of my students she’s told me about going on and she’s like, yeah, I’m learning how to do break dancing. Now I’m 40 something years old. I always wanted to do it. And she’s like, I’m doing it. ,

[00:13:05] Rob: that’s amazing. And that, that reminds me of what we were talking about earlier in terms of confidence and being able to help people’s confidence. So this is a skill essentially that, that people are learning that they’re then able to take that to another part of their lives. Now, one of the things that really stood out for me is that you work with adults primarily, and you don’t work with children. Is there any reason for that ?

[00:13:25] Cori: well, we used to work with children. That’s how we started our business. Like I said earlier, I found the adults much more interesting. I do enjoy working with children. We are good with working with children because we really help them connect to the present. And we we’re really about meeting the student where they are and that’s what really made our kids program Excel. I chose to change, we sold our kids program and just to focus on the adults cuz there are a lot of people out there who work with children.

And I also, I really was looking at why, you know, people look at the drowning statistics of children and for us here and I think in the UK as well. Children of color. They drown at a higher rate than our white children in the us. And there’s a large cultural reason to that. It’s rooted in systemic racism and just families not being swimmer families. And so one of the ways that we felt it was super important to make a change in those statistics is to really support the people who teach children, the people who bring swimming to their children. And so we wanted to go about it from that side of things to really empower the parents or the grandparents or the aunts to really bring swimming alive to their families. And to change whole families, not just to change children.

[00:14:57] Rob: Yeah. I love this idea that actually that’s a kind of a family thing. As a sort of family responsibility, you remind me there in many respects that children particularly very young children are almost fearless, I guess they don’t have the, the the risk awareness that perhaps we develop as we get older and older. I’m curious to know through the work that you do. Do you do you find that the reason adults are petrified of water , is because of some experience that they’ve had? Or is it because they’ve lost confidence at an early age? What is it you think that’s the root of why they’re fearful?

[00:15:33] Cori: Well, that piece that you mentioned about the kids and their fearlessness and it is about that kids brains are developed different than an adult brain. And so kids, brains are much more developed to be in the present time. And they don’t do much future thinking, this is why we hold children’s hands going across the street, even when they have become good at looking out for cars. It’s still a parent’s responsibility to really forward thing.

Cuz a child can just get excited about the ball and forget about looking, for cars. So adults brains are developed in a different way. So some adults do have a memory of something traumatic as a kid. Something that happened when they were young and that has stuck with them. That narrative has stuck with them. What they made that mean out of that experience, but there are also a lot of students who are first or second generation and they came from places where swimming just wasn’t part of what was done. And so with an adult thinking brain, they’re like, I know people die doing this thing. So it would be smart for me to be a little afraid of it. So fear actually, isn’t a bad thing, right? It’s a thing that does keep us safe in many regards. It just isn’t useful when it kind of goes on hyperdrive. And so having a coach, having somebody with you to help you, okay. Hang on, slow this down. Where is this coming from? This is really just coming from our thoughts.

[00:17:09] Rob: So it’s a case of slowing down. And I understand that you teach a bit of mindfulness as well. So how does that fit in is that part of this process,

[00:17:16] Cori: yeah, everything that we do in the world starts with our thoughts. If we want to acknowledge those thoughts or not. So for our swimming students, people have a thought that I’m supposed to float and floating is an activity that you do. So that consequently means that people get in the water and they hold their body out, very stiffly trying to make themselves float. And the truth is floating is just a physics thing. You don’t actually have to try to do it or not either it floats or it doesn’t float. So it’s really that process of seeing okay. What are my underlying thoughts and belief that is driving whatever it is I’m doing.

[00:18:00] Rob: It sounds to me like what you are doing is essentially coaching. And as I understand, coaching in my mind is taking somebody where they already are and getting them to where they want to be with not too much reflection on the past. Is that true for the work that you do?

[00:18:16] Cori: It is true how you said it, that we really bring people to the present. And sometimes what occurs to people in the present is a memory from the past. It’s their judgment of the past. It’s their shame about the past right. So in that ways, things of the past will come up. But we’re not like rooting around and digging into it necessarily. We can just reveal it, have it. come into our awareness cuz we’re operating from those places of judgements and thoughts about the past. So it’s about becoming aware of it in the case of swimming, how does this manifest in my body of just feeling it in my body and we have that process, it can allow us to start to let go of those things versus managing them or ignoring them or covering them up.

[00:19:09] Rob: I like what you said there about, it’s a process of revealing the past and acknowledging it. And then once you’ve established that, it’s then a case of getting back into the present moment and then moving forward from there.

[00:19:12] Cori: Right. We just wanna see how it operates right now. We can’t do anything about the past. We can’t change the past. You can go back and say that was a good or a bad decision, but it really wasn’t. It was just a decision. It was a decision that you needed to make in that moment in time. And it’s unfair of us to go back and say, oh, I should have made this decision. Well, that’s because you have hindsight you’ve made the decision that you needed to make in the time. That’s okay. Now what are our thoughts about it? How does it manifest in us today?

[00:19:47] Rob: Hmm. Yeah. So it’s very much about where, where we are today and then looking forward. One of the things that’s fascinating to me about the work that you do is teach people online as well. How does that work?

[00:19:58] Cori: Yeah. So it is really about this process of bringing people’s awareness and then slowing things down. So I present all the physical steps for people that they can see online. But we’ve broken it down. Our in person classes, we break things down into smaller steps than usually anybody’s ever seen before. And then online, we break it down, even smaller. Because they are doing the additional work of really trusting themselves from the very beginning.

When you do a class with an instructor there, you lean on trusting the instructor while you’re still figuring out how to trust yourself. So my first student who did the online, her comment back to me was That she said, man, I’m really glad that I did it on my own, because I really had to slow down to trust myself.

I really had to pay attention and not just let myself flip off and, and get in judgment and shame and all these kinds of things. So, we break things down for people and then we coach them, we do live zoom kind of coaching, over the internet cuz you know, I’ve been around the block a few times, so I can listen to what people say and really see how that translate into the water, and because people’s physical actions really come out of their thoughts. And the thoughts and beliefs are the piece that people have the hardest time seeing for themselves. It’s really useful to have somebody outside of yourself to help you look at that.

[00:21:25] Rob: I think what’s really fascinating to me about this process that, that you embark on with others is that it’s very much to do with the mind. And it’s a lot of kind of internal work and not so much external in that sense. I I can see how that works online because you’re working on. Your mindset on habits, how the mind is working, the relationships and between all of the different elements that you’re establishing for yourself. Which is absolutely fascinating. And I guess a lot of this happens even before you introduce the water.

[00:21:54] Cori: Absolutely. Yes. And that’s a way that’s a big way that students use our online. Even if they do end up doing in person classes is they use it to help them start that process before they even come to their first class.

 I really see the, the going to the water piece of it the physical activity of it is, is really like the testing lab to put the mind, work to practice. Right. You can sit and meditate all you want and think about your thoughts. If you wanna move it forward, you have to test it.

And it gives me something to be able to then notice what my thoughts are about it. How do I react in it? And how do I how can I learn from it? If you actually get out there into the world and do something, now you have something to work with and we can move to the next step. When we just sit thinking about it, we’re not actually putting anything to test. We can’t actually learn from it.

[00:22:48] Rob: So what’s fascinating to me is the fact that if you’re able to teach this online, I know you work with many people around the world, how does it work more practically then I’m intrigued to know. So would somebody remotely, perhaps the other side of the globe to you have their own swimming instructor, and then you work with them, how does that work?

[00:23:06] Cori: So it’s set up that somebody goes onto the platform. They watch a lesson. And they do some of the feedback quizzes, and we take a look at those and make sure that they’re on the right track with them or provide them feedback. Again, that listening between what they say to really help pull forward what those thoughts are for them.

And then we have. PDF downloadables that they can print out. And I tell ’em, print it out, fold it up and put it in a little zip box bag. People are gonna just think that’s your workout. that’s your thing you can take to the pool. And it has lowly reminder notes of the things you’re supposed to do.

And so we have, we have assignments of things for them to do. And the first thing really to do is just to even go to a pool .To go to a place. Maybe they don’t even swim on the first time. That would be totally fine, is like to go there and to hear the sounds and smell the smells, see where the locker room is, how the facility works. Right? So they go and they do a thing and then we give them reflections to do. And again, in those reflections, those, the place that we can offer the coaching to them, the support, asking them additional questions for them to consider, letting them know. Yes. Going to the pool, even though you didn’t swim, but you paid attention in a new way than you did before. This is taking you a step forward. Right? And so they move forward like that.

[00:24:33] Rob: Yeah. That’s amazing. So when they get to the pool, they’ve got a plan rather than just turning up at a pool. Because I can imagine that going to a pool that will bring up all sorts of emotions and feelings for them, and to have some kind of plan or strategy to be able to work with those feelings is exactly what it is that you are doing here. What have been some of the the proudest moments for you with the business that you’ve got now?

[00:24:56] Cori: Well, I think really the proudest moment is sharing back to that story with Rhonda swimming off the boat in Hawaii. That was, that was a very proud moment of taking our first group of students to Hawaii, really taking us to this new adventure and new place. I always feel so humbled by my work, to be able to work with people in this way.

 I think I told you before we started the interview are people don’t have to do this they don’t have to come out to learn to swim, but we have a desire as humans have a desire for growth and for change and development. And so to be, to walk with somebody on that path is so remarkable and amazing and such a privilege. And so taking people all the way out to doing the snorkeling in that warm crystal clear water and enjoying it that is really a kind of a pinnacle moment for sure.

[00:25:48] Rob: Yeah, you must have met some amazing people and made some really great friends through the work that you do.

[00:26:36] Cori: I have. And the funny thing is they wouldn’t call themselves amazing. That’s, I think what a lot of us do, we do amazing things in the world, but we don’t recognize ourselves as being amazing.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. You remind me there. Actually, we do. We take so much for granted. There’s so many people they’re confidence, swimmers, they take to the water without , moments thought really. But actually I was quite moved when I learned about what it is that you do because there must be a whole world of people out there that really struggle with this stuff. And I guess you are finding more and more every day.

Cori: Yes. There was an old survey done again in the US that said that about half of the adult population here is afraid in water. Doesn’t know how to swim. And as I stretch out across the planet, I mean, I think that is. That is true everywhere. I know there’s a big movement there in England, too, around swimming for adults and swimming, particularly for people of color that there’s higher rates of non swimming in those communities there too.

Rob: Yeah. Fascinating, so coming back to your business then in terms of what you’ve achieved so far, have you what’s what’s next for you?

Cori: Yeah, we’re about scaling and really about training up teachers. I’ve had teachers over the years, but this is really our big focus to train lots and lots of teachers because there are so many people who wanna learn and and for people to have work that is so transformative. So that is one big thing for us is to go out and to train a lot of teachers and get them going and get them, teaching people and making these transformations in the world. Not only so people can have it around their swimming, but so they can have their swimming as a place to grow themselves for other areas of their lives as well.

Rob: It’s been a fascinating chat and I can’t believe where the time’s gone actually, there are so many aspects of what we’ve touched upon. I I’m sure we’ve only just scratched the surface in many respects. For our listener where they can find out more about the work that you do and of course you and your story.

Cori: Sure. Yeah. So you can find find us on our swim school is called Orca swim school. So Orca like the whale, O R C A and we’re in the social media channels there and Facebook and LinkedIn and. Twitter and Instagram. You can also find our website there Orca swim school.com

Rob: that’s fantastic. Corey, thank you so much for your time today.

Cori: Thank you for having me. This was great fun. You gave me great questions to consider.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)

Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)