About 2 years ago I made the more than necessary decision to quit university and do something else. Anything else! What, did not matter. Just anything which had nothing to do with hanging out in huge lecture halls, listening to mostly narcissistic professors praising themselves instead of the subject in front of hundreds of bored students who probably didn’t even want to be there, but felt forced to be there or just didn’t know what to do otherwise. I must say I never regretted the decision I made.
Now 24 months later I find myself sitting in front of my laptop in a beautiful garden surrounded by cats and sunlight shining down from a cloudless blue sky, writing about the one thing that changed my life since I decided to quit university. What I am talking about is freediving.
When I first came to Dahab in Egypt I was planning on staying three months with the goal to learn freediving and to get down to an incredibly deep 20 meters! What I did not know at that point is that after six days of freediving with Freedive International and proper instructions I would be able to make it to 26 meters without any problem.
The first thing I discovered about freediving is that it is way easier than one might actually think. There are so many small tricks that make it easy to stay underwater for a much longer time than expected. Simple breathing techniques, capability of relaxing in the water, the right way of swimming with long fins, safe and proper equalization methods, good control of your mind and just knowing about the changes that happen in your body while holding your breath is enough to be able to explore the underwater world in a whole new way. All of that is possible in two days.
I am now teaching freediving courses and have met so many people who did not even know that freediving exists. Two days later they were holding their breath for over 3 minutes in the classroom and diving 20 meters deep which is the maximum depth during a beginner course. And those were not athletes with years of hard training, excellent cardio and the shape of a bodybuilder. No, those were people just like everybody else: teachers, engineers, students, carpenters, businessmen etc.
Our body is incredible when it comes to surviving underwater without air. We share a reflex with all the mammals living on our planet called the Mammalian Dive Reflex which is induced by facial immersion in water and CO2 building up in your blood as you hold your breath. One of its effects is for example the slowing down of the heart rate, which can be quite useful if you want to conserve oxygen!
Back when I was working in Freedive International branch in Koh Tao (Thailand), we were running experiments with people walking by our office. We invited them for a short demonstration of the effects of the Dive Reflex. All they had to do was immerse their face into a bowl of water and hold their breath for about 30 seconds while we were measuring their heart rate with an oxymeter clipped to their index finger.
There was this one guy, who had no idea at all about freediving but was quite curious to try our small “experiment”. He sat down, we attached the oxymeter and after few seconds it gave us his current heart rate: 100 beats per minute. His instinctive reaction was: “Well, that’s not too good if I want to hold my breath.” Clearly he was not expecting what happened next. The moment he took his final breath and put his face into the water his heart rate started dropping rapidly. 90, 80, 75, 70, 60, 55 and finally down to only 50 beats per minute. The Mammalian Dive Reflex was slowing down his heart rate by an incredible amount of 50 percent! And he was not trained in freediving at all.
This proved to me that freediving is clearly for everybody…
And it improves your Scuba diving experience, too! The control that you get of your breathing, body and mind works wonders also when you are underwater with a tank and not actually holding your breath. Going Scuba diving after learning the basics of freediving changes a lot. Suddenly everything feels more natural, more relaxed and when you slowly come up after one hour of enjoying the reef or a wreck you are surprised that your tank is still half full.
Freediving had a lot of positive effects on my life. From all the nice people I met to the awareness I got about my body and my mind, to the challenges I mastered to all in all being more happy! It only took one dive and I got addicted…