Descending into the abyss on one breath to enter a state of awareness and unity with the ocean (Photo by Pepe Arcos)

YOU MIGHT THINK that diving on a single breath sounds unnatural and weird but, in practice, the experience is actually the opposite. Freedivers will tell you that it is the most natural way to be in the ocean. Sometimes they even talk about it creating a deeper connection with the natural world, as well as with our own human nature.

It is quite often that scuba divers see freedivers as a bunch of crazies that can hold their breath forever and go deeper than you can with a tank. But freedivers know that it’s simply about physical and mental preparation, and that everybody can learn to do it without being some sort of gifted superhero.

Freedivers tell us about freefalling, gliding, blending with the sea. Their movements follow a graceful rhythm, through which the freedom they so often describe becomes visible to the observers around them.

Before a dive on a single breath, the mind has to calm down, allowing thoughts to pass by, to focus only on the slow, deep breath up. This technique also slows down the heart rate, making you feel like you are entering a meditative state.

Movements are slow and the world around, the noises of your buddies, the sounds of the ocean, the birds, the wind, all become just echoes in your mind while all attention is focused on relaxation. At this stage, the body feels absolutely relaxed with no tension in any part of it; everything is just breathing and rhythm.

After a big final breath, the dive starts. Descending through the water column, other bodily adaptations kick in automatically to compensate for the changing pressure, and prepare the body to enter an “economical mode” in order to waste the minimum amount of energy and consume as little O2 as possible.

It is well established that the brain uses more energy than any other human organ, accounting for up to 20 percent of the body’s total usage, and this is the reason why relaxation is so important. No thoughts, just feelings, and a focus on becoming one with the ocean – that is the freediver’s mantra.

When freedivers aim for depth, they train extremely hard to prepare their bodies to go as deep as 128 metres; a very long trip into the wild and unknown ocean, a kingdom of darkness and extreme conditions. Only a few freedivers in the world can even think about crossing the 100-metre barrier and entering that solo journey, freefalling into the abyss. The pressure down there is enormous and equalising is complicated.

Some freedivers tell stories of dives that totally change their lives. There are almost no bigger challenges on land that expose us to such extremely radical conditions in less than a minute and a half. And then the way back from the depths is even more difficult – for it is that moment when the body seeks oxygen that defines the whole challenge.

There is always an aura of mysticism around this sport. It has been described as an addictive activity but without adrenaline, and a peaceful way to get to know ourselves and overcome our mental and physical barriers.

But the most rewarding part comes when exploration overtakes the pursuit of athletic performance. As ocean-lovers (like other water enthusiasts), freedivers talk about the incredibly exciting interactions they have with wild animals: Freediving into schools of fish with total liberation of movement, surrounded by hundreds or thousands of creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Read the rest of this article in 2016 Issue 3 Volume 142 of Asian Diver magazine by subscribing here or check out all of our publications here.

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