Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s newsletter.
Maybe you’ve noticed that this month’s edition didn’t arrive in your mail at the start of the month. That’s because it’s taken me a while to put together what I hope you’ll find is a fun and interesting look at a sport that’s “outside of the box”.
It all started a few years ago when freediving came onto my radar screen. Basically freediving is any form of diving that doesn’t use a breathing apparatus. So, for instance, scuba diving is NOT considered freediving.
Though it’s been a water sport for generations, it has recently started gaining recognition. That recognition has not always been positive. Maybe you’ve read about possible oxygen blackouts while freediving or the occasional drownings while freediving and think of freediving as a sport for daredevils?
Well, I don’t consider myself a daredevil, so keep reading and you’ll hear more about what I’ve been up to lately with freediving.
Of course as a Yoga teacher, anything that involves breath work is interesting to me, and as an avid swimmer and “water girl”, the combined use of breath and diving was particularly intriguing. I wanted to experience freediving with someone who already had many dives under their belt. And I wanted them to be a regular person like me, not someone elite, but someone who had great freediving skills.
I kept waiting to meet someone who freedives, but for the past few years no one emerged on my radar screen. Until now!
Steven is 27. As a kid growing up in Florida he was always involved with water sports, and in school was a competitive swimmer. I swear he must have been a fish in a past life because he’s one of the most natural and comfortable people in the water I’ve ever seen. He describes freediving as the ART of diving on one breath instead of using a breathing device. And it’s usually done either to see what’s down there or to spear fish.
We talked and discussed when we’d meet so I could try freediving for myself. Of course while we were sitting outside the coffeehouse I asked him to hold his breath for 2 minutes. He smiled, did his preparatory breath work, and honored my request with no problem! The longer we talked the more I felt one part excited and two parts is this CRAZY or what?
What does Steven say you need in order to be a good freediver? General athleticism and comfort in the water. OK. That sounded enough like me to make me want to proceed.
He also assured me that the breath hold techniques can be learned. That’s what I was counting on! And I also felt a sense of trust in Steven because he isn’t a risk taker. He is an accomplished athlete and I felt comfortable putting my faith in him as my guide.
As you can imagine, freediving is both a mental and physical challenge. It’s essential to be able to create efficiency with your breath and have no wasted movements.
Freediving hinges on achieving a level of mental comfort in an often uncomfortable environment. Those of us who challenge ourselves in various athletic situations, which I’m guessing is a large percentage of you reading these JIM letters, understand this mental preparation very well.
However, in the world under water, most of us will feel an intense vulnerability.
Physically, freediving is based on slow, controlled movements, which require a calm mind. In the ocean, if fish or turtles swim up close to you, it’s a good sign you’re at ease. It makes sense, right? When we’re relaxed our comfort zone expands and it’s felt by humans and sea life!
So on a Friday afternoon I met Steven at the beach. We didn’t wear full wet suits, but he brought his special freediving fins, fins for me, mask and snorkel for us both and a weight belt. We got our gear on and off we went. We swam out well beyond where I swim when I’m ocean swimming, so immediately I was out of my usual comfort zone.
Steven taught me about some of the keys to freediving, like maneuvering your body with as little movement as possible. No wasted energy, remember?
And I immediately realized you can’t just tell yourself to relax. It’s a practice. So I began by practicing floating on the water’s surface, arms relaxed, not working, except to occasionally gently pedal my legs.
I learned and watched as he showed me how to drop down, and what to do with my arms and legs.
I practiced gathering myself mentally and not allowing the many possible distractions like the unfamiliar environment, the weight belt, or water in my snorkel drive my mind to utter distraction and discomfort.
Seconds feel like minutes when you’re holding your breath under water. When you are low on oxygen your chest begins to burn. If you remain calm, a few kicks from your long fins will lift you to the surface.
Relax and just breathe, you keep telling yourself, and feel your heart rate gradually slowing.
For me one of the greatest challenges was the pressure I felt as I dove down. Steven says the first 5-10 feet are the hardest and the muscles that clear your ears do get stronger with practice.
Below 50-60 feet is considered deep. Elite divers go hundreds of feet. Depths of 15-20 feet will be fine for me!
Steven and I were in water about 15 feet deep. I watched him over and over again as he dove down and explored the ocean floor for two minutes at a time. I lay above him on the surface, taking small short dives for probably about 20 seconds or so. It was truly amazing.
After we were done, we swam back to shore. I felt tired, rejuvenated, and somehow liberated. After Steven left I went for a relaxing swim and as I was getting out of the water a huge, beautiful sea turtle came swimming by me. Back in the water I went and swam along with him for a while. I took that as an omen to continue exploring freediving!
I’m spending my practice time learning how to create the conditions so I’ll be able to go 15-20 feet down for 2 minutes. The first step is getting my ears used to the pressure. I’ll keep going with this and let you know how I’m doing. If any of you have any freediving experience, be sure to let me know.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into my newest Joyinmovement!
PS– I’ve attached a few photos of Steven freediving so you can see what it looks like. None of me yet because we didn’t have a waterproof casing for our camera. Will send some of yours truly when I get some, I promise!