How I Finally Learned to Jump Into Water Without Holding My Nose (At Age 25)

I'm dead serious.

Me, holding my nose while jumping off a rock in Corsica,

Me, holding my nose while jumping off a rock in Corsica.

“I’m nervous. I’m really, really nervous. I don’t think I can do this,” I whimper, backing away from the edge of the pool. Any passerby who witnessed the fear in my eyes would think I was about to jump into a pool of piranhas or the blood Kim Kardashian uses for her age-defying facials, or something terrifying like that. But no. It’s just a pool of very salty water, five-feet deep, at South Philly’s Fitness Works. Nothing scary about it, really — except for the fact that I’m not allowed to hold my nose when I jump into it.

You see, I’m weird when it comes to my nose. If you’ve ever been in a movie theater during allergy season and wanted to punch the person sniffling nonstop behind you, that person was probably me — because I have literally never blown my nose in my life; and just the thought of jumping into a body of water without holding my nose is enough to send me into a full-blown panic. So for as long as I can remember, when jumping off of a diving board or a rock or the side of a pool, I’ve just always held my nose. It doesn’t look very cool in photos (mocking Instagram comments from friends are a given), but it does do the trick when it comes to keeping water from rushing through my nostrils, and that’s all I really care about anyway.

But cool, carefree, no-nose-holding Instagrams here I come! This past weekend, I set out to tackle this weird fear of jumping into the water without holding my nose with a lesson from swimming guru Holly Waters (yep, that’s her real name) of Fitness Alive, hence all the nervous cries for help mentioned above.

Before putting me on the edge of the pool, Holly — a genius when it comes to calming both rightfully nervous toddlers and irrationally anxious adults in the water — gave me a few visuals for how I should breathe through my nose and mouth to avoid a nose full of water and a feeling of pure defeat when I jumped off the side of the pool:

1. Imagine you’re a detective on Law & Order, she said, and you’re putting your finger below someone’s nose to see if they’re alive. Turns out they are alive (yay!), and you know by a subtle blow felt on your finger. That’s how you should be blowing through your nose — just enough to let someone know you’re alive — when you jump in the water, she explained.

2. For another nose-breathing visual, she told me to imagine I needed to blow my nose (again, I’ve never done that, but I can imagine) in front of, say, Ryan Gosling. In other words, imagine the daintiest nose-blow ever. That’s how you should blow out through your nose when you jump in the water, she told me.

3. When it came to breathing out of my mouth, Holly said to envision I was blowing out birthday candles but didn’t want to spit all over the cake.

Essentially, when I hit the water, the goal was to be breathing out of my nose and mouth at the same time without — and this is key  — overdoing it.

After explaining how I should breathe, she handed me a kickboard and had me kick back and forth across the pool practicing dipping my face in and out of the water and breathing out of my nose and mouth at the same time as my face it the water. That was the easy part. After two laps, it was time to get out of the pool and jump in. No nose-holding.

After a very long bout of whining, I finally did it. But I forgot to open my mouth. I came out of the water, turned to Holly and just shook my head. I couldn’t really speak because I was busy swallowing water that had made its way through my nose and down to my throat. (Gross, I agree.) I tried again. No dice. Holly told me to get back in the pool and do more laps. Again, the laps were easy. Then it was time to hop out of the pool and jump in again. But I was trying too hard, focusing too much — and getting so much freakin’ water up my nose. Holly told me to have fun. I tried my best and did a star jump into the water — and I did it! I blew out of my mouth like there was a very precious cake in front of me, I breathed out of my nose like Ryan Gosling was in the room, and not a drop of water went up my nostrils. (I have plenty of video evidence, because the lovely Holly filmed just about all my attempts. She’s a saint.) But a good gulp of water went into my mouth. Then Holly broke this news to me: When you jump into the water without holding your nose, you pretty much always get water in your mouth. But then you just spit it right out. Who knew? Not this nose-holding gal.

I kept doing laps, then getting out and jumping, repeating this pattern over and over again. Yep: Holly was conditioning me with routine to not hold my nose. Like one does with a dog and, say, not peeing inside. And it worked! About 45 minutes into the lesson, I could jump into the pool with zero hesitation and not get water up my nose. It was a Labor Day Weekend miracle!

And what’s funny is, when I told people that I was going to take a lesson to learn how to jump into the water without holding my nose, I expected them to say, “Wait, you can’t already do that? Um, aren’t you, like, 25?” But a good amount of people were on the same nose-holding boat — and they weren’t all four-year-olds, swear. So, if you’re looking to master the no-nose-holding technique, take note of those breathing techniques mentioned above, and if you can’t muster the courage to go it alone, book a swim lesson with Holly. If she can help this water-hating weirdo, she can help anyone.

Now, next up, mastering blowing my nose. Anyone know any experts?

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