Face to face with a new me – 5 positive changes freediving has brought into my life

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.

Descending in Thassos (2016)

Photo by Jani Lehtola

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.

One of my first static apnea dives

The final moments of my third ever static apnea dive (3 min 14 s). I’m certainly not feeling as peaceful as I look! Photo by Riku Vuorenmaa.

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.

Static apnea in Thailand

Photo by Riku Vuorenmaa

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.

Grass in Luohua, Finland

I have started paying more attention on small things that I didn’t even notice before

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.

Cetus freedivers

Cetus freedivers (me in the center). Photo by Tero Ruutuvaara.

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.

Diving with bifins in Thassos (2016)

Diving in Thassos. Photo by Jani Lehtola.

Free immersion descent in Malta (2015)

Descending to the wreck of Tug 2 in Malta. Photo by David Watson from One Breath Freediving.

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.

Meditating in Xemxija, Malta (2015)

Photo by David Watson from One Breath Freediving

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.

Concentrating before a DYN dive in Malta

Concentrating before a dynamic apnea dive. Photo by David Watson from One Breath Freediving.

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?

5 kommenttia artikkeliin ”Face to face with a new me – 5 positive changes freediving has brought into my life

  1. Freediving is a bit of a love and hate story for me. I’m so wanting to advance, but time and circumstances (don’t ask) keep me from it. Sometimes frustration really gets the upperhand. I lack time (really – no way for now to make time) and there is no buddy. I got AIDA 2* certified in a club, but they changed to PADI and they charge 250 Euro for a crossover course, which I don’t want to pay. Anyway… I would LOVE to read how you got past the 50m in dynamic with fins. I can’t seem to even turn at 50m. My body and brain simply refuse. Contractions start around 25-30 m already (EVERY time, even with very long relaxation before or mild hyperventilation, which is – I know – not done) and they get so hard from the start I can only stand them until I reach 50m. By that time, I feel like I’ve had all the walls I could possibly have… And then I run (swim) into pure concrete… So, yes, I’m rather… frustrated. (I’m in Belgium, by the way.)

    Tykkää

    • Hi Jo and thank you for your comment.

      I’m not an instructor (so not exactly qualified to coach anyone), but at least for me, relaxation is the main thing. I’m wondering if you are diving too fast (I still do that myself occasionally)? You should concentrate on how you could feel as relaxed as possible, and the pace should be quite slow. Measure the time of your dive and compare it with the times of other divers. It can also be that you are simply putting too much pressure on yourself for going past that 50 m, and it has become more like a mental barrier than a physical one. What if you try holding your breath and walking, do contractions start as early as in water? Do you have a possibility to measure your heart rate during a dive, to see how relaxed you actually are?

      I did a 60 m dive already during the AIDA2 Pool course, which was a pleasant surprise for me. I really wasn’t a confident diver before the course. A great instructor (Pete Botman) probably played an important part in the success, Pete just knew how to help people feel more relaxed. In addition, I think it was static apnea that gave me the confidence to keep diving in dynamic apnea after the contractions started, because I had already developed some kind of an idea of what the state of my dive was. The rest of it was just tolerating discomfort. Many people say that stretching your diaphragm helps with contractions, but I have no personal experience of that. I never hyperventilate nor pack. (And just to mention, I have small lungs, it doesn’t seem to be an issue.)

      I think it is very important that you find people to dive with, one way or another. You can learn so much faster from more experienced divers. For example, without my freediver friends, I never would have realised that I was diving too fast. They can help you with your technique, they can shoot videos and analyse them, they give you excellent tips. Sadly, it’s not possible to find a training group everywhere in the world. 😦 I guess I’ve been very lucky.

      I’m not sure if this helped you at all, I hope so. I can’t stress it enough that you should just focus on how you feel instead of the length of the dive.

      And remember not to dive without a buddy. I hope you can find one. 🙂

      Tykkää

      • Hi, Tea,

        Thanks for your reply, even though I knew already everything you say. As you say: not everyone has the possibility to find a training club. As said, the club I did the AIA 2* with changed to PADI and demands I do a crossover to be able to train with them. But I have found a CMAS club who is willing to let me train with them. I hope I can get there from time to time, as I’m so freaking busy…
        Cheers,
        Jo

        Tykkää

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