My husband, Ren, and I are avid freedivers. I have filled our blog posts with accounts of our spearfishing excursions. Ren has taken countless pictures and video of the underwater world. We have shared most of this media with you on our website, right down to how the fish.
However, I have failed, up until this point, to really describe what freediving is and what it has come to mean to us. I have taken for granted that you all understand, on the same level as we do, the healing and transformative characteristics of the deep blue. I have assumed that you already know that I am a competitive freediver, but one thing you must know about me is that I’m pretty serious about holding my breath.
But why? What’s the appeal in freediving? I will attempt to describe the sensation of freediving which, if you have never tried, will be a lot like trying to explain the colors red and blue to a blind person. I will do my best.
All day, we as people struggle to balance our thoughts. We multitask to the extreme. Lists of duties, groceries, bills constantly circle in our heads. We sit in traffic, seething over the jerk who has his music too loud, breathing as shallowly as possible to reduce the inhalation of exhaust, consequently get a headache, then get pissed at our spouse for requiring that we stop by the grocery store before heading home.
Very little about this every day scenario connects to us on the inside. We forget about the moment we are in because we want only to escape it.
But there is something missing. There’s is something liberating about focusing only on the moment. We miss that liberation daily. That’s not to say that you will begin to enjoy every moment you are stuck in traffic just because you are trying to live in the now, but what if being stuck in traffic wasn’t such a big deal anymore because you habitually engage in an activity that is so focusing and freeing that it actually makes you a happier, healthier person? What if, by practicing this new sport, you become stronger and learn to breathe deeper? What if the sport requires you to eat in a way that minimizes colds and any kind of sinus and chest congestion you battle? What if every time you practice the sport you’re rewarded with a very powerful new sense of self-confidence, having performed better and pushed your body further than the time before?
Through freediving, I have found focus and liberation from life.
There are four distinct elements of freediving that allow such a metamorphosis to occur. These elements help transform you from a sickly, stressed-out, shell of a person to a full-feeling, strong, confident person.
The most essential element is the only tangible element of the group, water. Although you may not freedive, you have probably experienced the calming nature of water at some point. You have watched the sun flash green on the red horizon with your mouth agape. You have spent time with your camera and dog at the beach in an attempt to immortalize the serenity you’re feeling through art. You have sat on the bow of your boat, rocking gently down the river, hook and line bobbing in the water, with the only sound being the movement of the water and the crack of your can as you pop open the first beer of the day.
Water. We spend nine months in the womb where we are immersed in fluid. Water constitutes 60-70% of our adult bodies. Our blood has a base of both salt and water, like the sea. It makes complete sense that there is an innate feeling of calm in water. We feel weightless in water. When we enter the water, our bodies undergo physiological changes allowing us to become water-like, whether you swim in the ocean every day or haven’t been in liquid since the womb. We are water mammals and our bodies know it.
Another element of freediving that helps to complete our transformation is the silence of the sport. Once we plunge into the deep, we can no longer communicate with our clumsy, complicated language. A language we use to relay misinformation to each other, causing misunderstandings. There is only one way to interpret the gaping mouth of the shark or the watchful eye of the barracuda. In the blue, there is no talking, none that we can understand anyway. We are our animal selves, relaying information to the surrounding fish, not with our tongues but with our behavior. Our surroundings sense our intentions (through electrical impulses) and we are either welcomed or shunned in their world. Through silence, we can communicate much more naturally and wholly than we are able to at any other time.
Transformative element number three, focus, is most apparent to me while competitively diving. Finding your focus is the only way to “fly” while down there. Freedom comes as your day washes away in the water and your thoughts and energy are focused entirely on the moment. Eli Manning could not be his best, could not throw a Superbowl-winning touchdown if his mind wandered to the past or future. He gets sacked if he finds himself wondering about the TV interview he has to do later or the Netflix movie he forgot to mail back. He thinks only of the ball in his hand and relies on his training. He “becomes” football and nothing else.
In a sport where you are willingly plunging to the deepest depths you can achieve, walking the tightrope between consciousness and unconsciousness and reserving just enough to bring yourself back up on one breath, you’ll find the liberation of intense concentration. Each part of the dive is broken down into its smallest parts in order to maintain focus. You’ve felt it before while driving too fast on a motorcycle, up at bat during a baseball game or shooting a free throw. Here, in the deep, you can be completely alone. With practice, you may even learn to enjoy the exercise in meditation.
The last element of the sport that facilitates and completes the metamorphosis is the physical pain. Along with the intense psychological pleasures associated with freediving comes pain. How can you have white without black? Part of the pleasure comes from defeating the pain. If you have ever hiccuped with your mouth closed, you have experienced a contraction, a self preservation mechanism your body has evolved to ensure that you continue breathing. While holding your breath for long enough the respiratory muscles team up against you. They push and pull with increasing force to get air into the lungs. The pain is not physically intolerable but takes a lot of mental fortitude (or stupidity as some people may call it) to ignore. In a freedive, you deny the body one of its most primal needs, to breathe, and the body will fight you to get the oxygen is strongly desires. It is a powerful feeling to be able to overcome pain with mental endurance. Learning to find a connection between the mind and body in order to push further and harder into the depths. The mind overcomes the physical pain the body feels. Now, you are water.