When I started training freediving, my main goal was to become a better and more confident snorkeler. Having observed freediving for quite some time from a distance, I had started dreaming of being able to dive a bit longer and deeper, so that I could better enjoy the beauty of the underwater world without feeling an instant urge to rush back to the surface. But what happened when I started training was quite mind blowing and unexpected. It felt as if something clicked in my brain, as if a few missing puzzle pieces of my life finally found their correct places.
Below I have listed and opened up five major changes that have taken place in my life since I started training freediving. These are my personal experiences and I don’t want to generalise too much or claim that the same would automatically apply to everyone else. However, I have heard of similar stories from fellow freedivers, so I guess I’m not completely alone with these thoughts.
1. I can better deal with mental and physical discomfort
Freediving is a mental sport. For me, it is in a way similar to yoga – it is partly the same, but yet totally different, like the opposite side of the same coin. During a breathe up (when you prepare for a dive), it feels very much alike. But when you put your face in the water and start your dive, the coin is turned around. Imagine yoga that requires complete peace of mind, full awareness and total relaxation, but you have to manage it all in ultimate discomfort – and without breathing. In yoga, you can always return to breathing when you lose your focus, but in freediving you have to find another method to concentrate.
It was very difficult for me at first. Especially static apnea was challenging because I had to stay still. I could not move or redirect my discomfort anywhere. Unable to rush around like a maniac at max speed (which I was used to doing in physical training), I was now supposed to float in silence, ease the tension in my muscles, slow my heartbeat down, close my mind down. Slow my life down. Quit hassling. Just stay still, holding my breath, my focus turned inwards, feeling the discomfort grow, inevitably, little by little. The key to success was in relaxation and mind control, not in force and speed. Discomfort had been easy for me to tolerate during a physical exercise or when I could breathe, but this was something else. I was totally overwhelmed.
When you float face in the water and hold your breath, you have all the time in the world to think. Think, think, think. Those minutes can really feel like forever. You will often end up having an argument with yourself on whether you should quit or keep diving. Sometimes your mind confuses you with unexpected, weird flashbacks from your past. During this endless internal mind game you’ll learn so much new about yourself – who you truly are and what your fears are – and by facing those fears you’ll eventually learn how to keep yourself calm in a difficult and uncomfortable situation. When you keep practicing, it will become easier and you’ll manage longer breath holds, and eventually diving will become a joy. But it will never feel actually comfortable. Comfortable is definitely not the right word to describe it.
By training freediving, it has become easier for me to cope with both physical pain and mental stress in everyday life. In addition, I have become more open minded, finding myself voluntarily stepping into my discomfort zone, trying out new things that I don’t necessarily feel so confident about.
2. I have learned to live in the moment
When you freedive, you are literally living in the now. You have to concentrate on how you feel and what kind of different sensations and signals your body sends you. The point is not to focus on how nasty the sensations are, but instead to observe them neutrally, listening to the wisdom of your body, and to become aware of the state of your dive and when it is time to go back to the surface.
Since I started freediving, my awareness has increased and I have begun to focus more on what’s happening right here, right now. I pay more attention on different kinds of small and beautiful things around me that I didn’t even notice before. Whenever I’m walking outside, I don’t just rush from one place to another anymore. Instead, I look around curiously, I feel the wind on my face, I hear people talking and laughing and birds singing.
I have also practically stopped wasting a major part of my time on waiting for something that is in the future, like weekend or vacation. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t look forward to for example travelling at all (because I do, I love travelling), but I don’t want to waste my life and time on being unhappy where I am right now. After all, nothing else is certain in life except this very moment, so you should enjoy it the best you can. As a result, I have noticed that years don’t go by as fast as they used to. Time feels to have slowed down.
3. I have experienced a new level of trust
As a freediver, you are responsible for yourself and you should never take stupid risks, but you also have your diving buddy to back you up. At least for me, the relationships that I have built with my freediving friends are something very unique and special. It’s actually quite an emotional moment when you understand that you are literally guarding someone else’s life and that other people are guarding yours. When you keep training with the same people, you’ll learn to trust each other, read each other, support each other and respect each other, and the bond between you will become unlike anything else you have experienced before.
4. I have become more confident in water
It was not that long ago when I was a lousy swimmer and didn’t feel comfortable in open water. When I started snorkeling a few years ago, I slowly begun to enjoy being in the sea, but it was freediving training that really made the difference. By training with experienced freedivers, I have gained so much knowledge and confidence that I can finally feel the same joy of being in the sea as I used to when I was a child.
5. Everyday problems have started feeling smaller
Last but not least, freediving training has given me clarity and peace of mind that reflects into my whole life. I don’t lose my nerves that easily anymore and can better tolerate setbacks. Instead of making a scene of small issues, I try to view the situation from a distance and make a plan how to deal with it – or just let it be if it’s not important. Whenever something doesn’t go as I have planned, I can quite easily drag myself out of the situation by thinking: “Is this really such a big issue? Is it worth losing my nerves? Is it worth spending my time on?” – I can quite easily dismiss many everyday problems and calm myself down by using exactly the same methods that I train in freediving. Slowing my heart down, slowing my mind down.
As a conclusion, freediving has really been a life changing experience for me. I have become so much more than a better snorkeler. I feel more at peace in my own mind and body, I have learned to know awesome people (including myself), and I have become happier in my everyday life.
However, it seems that if you don’t freedive regularly, you may slowly start forgetting what you have learned. Having had a few months break from training, I have already become slightly more impatient and nervous. So, it seems that at least for me, a regular training routine is the key to better wellbeing and peace of mind.
If you happen to be a freediver, it would be really interesting to hear of your experiences. Does this sound familiar to you at all? What good has freediving brought into your life?