The diver submerges and disappears underneath blue liquid. Out of sight. Out of breath. The world waits patiently until she reappears again, a drop in the ocean becoming human once more as she gracefully ascends to recapture her breath. Welcome to the silent world of the freediver.
A lot of people ask me why on earth I would want to freedive. What would possess me? What is wrong with me?
I guess I don’t really understand the questions a lot of the time… why would someone get so worked up, so upset, so vocal about something that doesn’t affect them… about something so pure and free… about something so *different*
I suppose that is the answer. People don’t like different. People like same same. It’s easier to compare when we are all wearing the same colour, eating the same food and running on the same treadmill.
I spent so long in my youth trying so hard to fit in… to be accepted and to be liked.
I was a good girl. I didn’t cause problems. I excelled. In many spheres. I tried to be liked and I tried to make people around me proud of me.
But it was never enough and I was never enough.
So instead… I went off the beaten track. And I searched.
It was many of years ago, when I stayed in an ashram in India, studying to become a yoga instructor that I was told of a moment called Kumbhaka. Technically, Kumbhaka is defined as breath retention, without any movement of lungs, muscles or any other part of the body. But the way it was described to me was far more mystical and tenuous. In a nutshell, it was “the perfect moment”. The moment of silence and peace, between your inhalation and your exhalation, where all of life hangs suspended in a moment. The time where all moments are endless and infinite and anything is possible.
We find the pose so that we may lose it.
We find the breath so that we may lose it.
The funny thing is… it took diving down to the bottom of the ocean, for me to find Kumbhaka. Suspended under the liquid, caught between two breaths, I found infinity hanging in the silent blue expanse of another world. As the moment hung, so too was I, between an inhalation and an exhalation, on the line, between the beginning and the end. And anything was possible.
And then I feel the contractions in my belly and I begin my ascent for the surface – silence roaring and becoming deafening as I crack the liquid surface with a gasp and reenter the atmosphere, savouring the precious breath of air fresh on my face. I pause and give the “I’m ok” sign and smile, knowing that just seconds ago, I was caught in a place between what is and what can be, so many possibilities and one certainty – that this is me. And always, again and again, that is enough. I am enough.
Freediving is an aquatic sport, considered an extreme one, in which divers attempt to reach great depths unassisted by breathing apparatus. Its simple really, dive as deep as you can, on one breath of air.
Jacques Mayol, the famous freediver from Luc Besson’s 1988 cult classic “The Big Blue”, very famously stated that the art of holding your breath is to become the act of non-breathing. To let this vital piece of information go (that you are no longer breathing), you may truly let go of your desire to control, and you become soft, and silent.
Jacques Mayol’s efforts enriched the world of freediving by including an entire philosophy, namely, Yoga. Using so many techniques from Yoga, freediving has actually been termed “Aquatic Yoga”. Yoga and freediving are integral and complementary. Techniques are applied to breathing and breath-hold and for training the diaphragm. And finally, the obvious techniques of achieving the yoga poses are used to increase the diver’s flexibility and strength training.
Yoga is also invaluable in mental training for breath hold diving, specifically in the areas of sensory withdrawal and meditation. You need to recognize the power of your mind, and then respect that power and not to become it. The Zen of freediving is the extreme shift of the consciousness of the freediver into the “now”. He exists purely in the moment in response to his sensations and achieves the goal of meditation in motion.
The freediver rests tenuously in the balance between awesome potential and the brink of obliteration. One of the most beautiful aspects about freediving is that the diver makes a conscious choice to take their deepest breath, hold it, and submerge as deep as they can below the surface of the water. With each propulsion, the diver turns away from the surface and her opportunity to breathe. And then she makes the conscious choice to turn. We choose to turn, and we choose to come back up to the surface, and to take that breath of air and live again. We choose to live again. Never, ever, underestimate the power of choice and intent, the power of symbolism, and the power of repetition. Again and again, we choose to live! It is the most empowering sentence that I think that I could ever write, or choose to do.
It sounds idyllic? And it is. Except when it isn’t. Because even in fairytales, there are monsters and evil step-mothers and witches with tempting treats. Life is as hard as it is easy. Nothing is perfect and I am not saying that freediving is perfect, although it is. And neither is yoga, although it is. It can show you perfection in a moment, stripping away everything and show you your soul. But it can also be difficult and frustrating and soul destroying. Every day is a new day. Recognizing this is the power. They say the scuba diver dives into the ocean, the freediver dives into herself. And that is where the truth lies. We dive deep into ourselves, and sometimes what we bring up comes from the scary, dark parts of ourselves. But we have the courage to go back and dive again, confronting the hidden depths, for that moment. To face it and to choose to let it go, or choose to let it weigh us down. For the dive. Suspended between two breaths, waiting for our dreams to become realities and choosing each time, to live.
I am enough.
And THAT is why I freedive.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
― Maya Angelou