The peace you can find underwater
Head instructor at "Omakim" freediving school
I float effortlessly across the water, gently cradled by the waves, my eyes are closed, my limbs are loose, and my slow breathing is entirely in sync with the beating of my calm heart. Everything around me almost comes to a stop as I slowly gather into myself with nothing but my own heartbeat echoing inside.
As if asleep, I breathe in slowly through my mouth. The air flows down my throat, filling my lungs and – lo and behold, another second and my journey into the self has begun. My heart rate slows and tranquility spreads across my body. It doesn’t matter if you go 50 meters deep or stay close to the surface, this connection between mind and body, intentional and integrated, will accompany you for a long time.
For me, freediving is a kind of backbone that provides both inner strength and flexibility, as well as a connection between most of my significant life events in a continuum of water and development. From childhood as the country’s champion butterfly stroke swimmer, through my military service as a diver in the navy, later on as an amateur sport fisher and a marine biology student, to today a diving instructor in Israel or freediving vacations abroad.
If you think of freediving as an extreme sport that is only for fit athletes with large lungs and with an appetite for adventure, you are mistaken. It is a sport for everyone, at almost any age, and in which physical fitness is of very little importance. Freediving is perhaps the only sport where success comes from the quietest place you will find in your own depths. All it takes is peace and quiet, concentration, and leveling of pressures. In other words, freediving is actually meditation underwater.
In the past, freediving was used by humans only for practical purposes such as gathering pearls, foraging for sponges, and of course, fishing. Today it is a type of sport and leisure activity, with competitions and impressive world records – the record today is over 200 meters deep in a single breath. One of the secrets that allows us to hold our breath for so long and to descend to such depths is the Mammalian Dive Reflex (MDR) shared by humans and marine mammals. This physiological mechanism puts us in an oxygen efficient state where our heart rate drops significantly, as low as 15 beats per minute, and our blood flows from our limbs to the center of the body and the brain – a process called blood shift.
Depths that used seem impossible or an unachievable dream to the average person have become relatively simple, after an organized two to three day diving course. So what do we actually learn in such a course? Along with theoretical material, we learn safety rules and the physical laws that affect us while we hold our breath, as well as how to breathe properly and prepare to hold our breath. We will also learn how to calm down and relax ourselves both physically and mentally, using, for example, guided imagery; and how to deal positively, and even with a smile, with feelings that arise while holding our breaths – the same feelings we once phrased as “Oh my God! I’ve run out of air”.
Or in other words, we will learn the right approach.
Freediving is a tool that can be used for practical purposes in a variety of unconventional ways, for example as part of the training for marine rangers of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority who enforce fishing laws, and who must be capable of working safely and effectively at depths of 10-20 meters. Freediving can provide soldiers with confidence while working in the water, or train surfers who deal with falls from large waves and long underwater swirls in harsh sea conditions. Freediving can even help at-risk youth groups through workshops to increase awareness, with therapeutic dialogue, where, along with the simple fun of being in the marine environment with a mask and snorkel, they also gain tools to better deal with extreme situations, such as being underwater with the immediate need to take a breath – tools that can be useful in their daily lives.
So allow yourself to simply relax, put on a mask, snorkel and fins, take a deep breath and simply descend with a relaxed smile that grows with every second you hold your breath.