Over the last couple of years, lots of people have asked me what the benefits of freediving are, and why I do it. Isn’t it just sustained torture / snorkelling / a deathwish / falling asleep in water? So, whilst stuck at home in isolation, I decided to write down the ways that my life has changed since I started freediving.
I’m going to start by painting a picture of my life as it was before.
It’s the start of 2017, probably about 1am. I’m sitting up in my London apartment, halfway through the deck I’m presenting at 6am. My chest is tight and my eyes are dark but I don’t know about it – it’s been like this for months. My hobbies include sleeping more than 4 hours a night and exercising when I can in a dark, thumping gym. Yay for career.
It was time for a change. I wanted warmth, and a little more balance, so packed up my life and moved to Sydney, with dreams of becoming a cool-outdoor-Aussie-surfer-thing. I hadn’t really thought about the problems I’d come across in Sydney – waves, currents, jellyfish, and the fear of sharks lurking around.
Riding on the surface of the ocean wasn’t turning out to be very effective for me. A couple of close friends dragged me out to check out what life is like underneath the waves. This was my introduction to freediving, and it changed my life.
Within a few weeks of embarassing snorkelling I’d learnt to control my breath, relax and smooth my technique. I’d learnt what barnacles do to bare skin… I started to break down some fears I’d built up around open water. I discovered new things, like what the surface looks like from the sea bed, what the pressure feels like, and what it is to hear nothing but the sounds of life on a coral reef.
Now it’s 2020, and I can’t imagine what life would be if I hadn’t discovered freediving. I would be older – mentally and physically. I would be richer, maybe, but I’d have missed out on some important moments, experiences and people. There were other factors at play, but I can’t deny that freediving has changed my life. It will probably change yours too.
1. Freediving will teach you to listen to your body.
In freediving we ask our bodies to do a whole load of stuff they don’t normally deal with. We want our muscles to perform without oxygen, our organs to cope with massive pressure, and to manage our airspaces with tiny, precise movements.
It’s exhausting. And risky.
If you ignore warning signs you risk injuries and blackouts. We aren’t waiting for an obvious muscle pull or bone fracture. We are scanning for subtle signs of stress, counting contractions. Progress is slow, and you need to be patient and kind with your own body. The more you dive, the more you recognise what’s going on inside your body: when you need rest, when you’re ready for depth, when you’re ready to sack it off and go get coffee. You actually need to understand your own limits and build on them safely.
Freediving is not only sport, it’s a way to understand who we are,Natalia Molchanova
2. You will learn to calm your mind
I don’t have much experience in the way of meditation. For me, dropping into the blue, watching light flicker on the surface, is the closest thing to mental stillness that I know. It’s hard to be too concerned about your next deadline when you’re in that state.
People often say to me that freediving is a mental sport, and I absolutely back that. One of the most important skills you will learn is how to bring yourself to a calm and relaxed mental state. Relaxation techniques help you dive more efficiently for longer, and enjoy it so much more.
These techniques are pretty incredible once you start applying them on land, too. I find myself falling into breathing rituals, body scanning and visualisation whenever I start to feel anxious or irritated, and imagine that stillness underwater.
Here are a few of my favourite relaxation techniques from the PADI Blog.
3. Your Travel Bucketlist will become a Freediving Bucketlist
Say goodbye to all the city breaks and overland adventures on your To-Do list. Freediving will send you on the never-ending search for deep, blue, clear water and insane wildlife experiences. Start a piggy bank. Freediving is not free once this list starts.
4. You’ll build a new relationship with the natural world.
When I was putting this post together, I asked my partner “how did freediving change your life?” He told me that freediving was the way that he had come into contact with another world altogether; one that that he wouldn’t have accidentally stumbled across. Freediving is a tool for him to explore a natural environment that we are otherwise pretty excluded from. We have to work with the terms of that environment, and nothing feels more natural than stripping your body back to its most simple form to take part in that world for a moment.
It’s a beautiful experience, but also a humbling one. Once you enter that world you start to notice how incredible and fragile it is all at once. You dive down to the seabed and watch wildlife all around you . There are no other humans in sight. But you notice plastic wrappers, bottles, and other human in this place where humans are welcome only as visitors. It’s pretty confronting to imagine that in this environment where we are so vulnerable and new, we are already spreading our shitty byproducts.
You can’t just take a wrong left and accidentally end up in the ocean. You go there as a visitor, and you have to abide by different rules in that world.
5. You’ll start to get freediving withdrawal symptoms.
Blue, weightlessness, the sound of being underwater, seeing creatures you never thought you’d see in the wild. Once you’ve experienced these things, you’ll struggle to stay away from the water for long. And, if nothing else, the hot shower after a cold dive is worth diving for.
And there you have it – a little snippet of all the ways that freediving will change your life. If you have other experiences of how freediving changed your life, or the benefits of freediving, please leave a comment!