Ever since I learned how to breath underwater with SCUBA, freediving was almost immediately next on my bucket list. Despite almost three years of diving, I’ve never had the time, or perhaps courage, to try it properly.
Freediving might take place under water but it’s a completely different experience to SCUBA. At its core, it’s about learning how to breath effectively and conserve oxygen through efficient movement and relaxation. But, it’s also so much more. Freediving encompasses a variety of skills from simple breath holding to covering large distances horizontally or vertically on one breath. For a small but passionate group of people, the quest to understand and push the limits of the human body is what they live and breathe (pun intended). For those dedicated few who devote their lives to freediving, Dahab, Egypt is their Mecca and the best place in the world to learn.
If the idea of not breathing underwater for well over two minutes, or freediving down over twenty metres (66ft) on one breath, sounds terrifying – that’s because it is! However, as my instructor Renee used to say, “freediving is 90% mental” – understanding your natural responses to fear and how your body works is how you freedive.
If you hold your breath for an uncomfortable amount of time, the first thing you’ll notice is an unpleasant sensation – you want to breath. That’s the body telling you carbon dioxide levels are rising (but) you don’t actually need to breath…yet. The next thing you’ll experience are convulsions from your diaphragm. Again, this doesn’t mean you need to breath, the best freedivers can continue to hold their breath several minutes after this occurs. The signals your body is giving you are completely normal, rather conservative, and can essentially be ignored for a safe amount of time – given the proper training.
It’s amazing how much this small piece of physiological knowledge can help you overcome the fear and discomfort of freediving. Anticipating how the body will react when deprived of oxygen allows you to mentally prepare for, and theoretically disregard the unpleasant feelings.
One the first day, it would be wrong to say that I wasn’t afraid – I was terrified. Although, after Renee went over the physiology of breathing, I was at least ready to see how long I could ignore my bodies cries for oxygen.
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