To Learn to Freedive, You’ll Need to Trust in The Mammalian Dive Reflex, AKA, the Emergency Physiological Parachute You Never Knew You Had
WHAT: Learn to Freedive
Freediving images often portray a figure gliding motionless through a watery blue expanse in an almost trance-like state. In all likelihood, this image depicts either Variable Weight or No Limits freediving. These are the ultimate disciplines where divers use heavy weights to descend to inhuman depths.
Learning to Freedive isn’t Just For Superhumans
Such images contribute to the misconception that freediving is just an extreme sport. This is undoubtedly true for some. For many others, it’s the complete opposite. Learning to freedive is open to all comers. This includes meditators looking to up their mindfulness game, surfers looking to build confidence during wipeouts, and hardcore freediving fanatics penetrating aquatic depths that certain fish won’t even risk.
A Brave New World
Regardless of goals, learning to freedive offers a unique connection with a spectacular underwater wilderness that few get to experience. The skillset required to learn to freedive might seem superhuman. In fact, it just requires practice and a little courage.
Part of the appeal of freediving is that it requires zero equipment, at least in the beginning stages. At most, you’ll need a mask and swimming gear. Beyond that, all that’s needed is a body of water and the ability to swim in it. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete. Freediving is more about mindset and relaxation than it is physical strength. Nevertheless, before you learn to freedive, you’ll need to be in reasonably decent shape.
Learning to Freedive is Learning to Breathe
Learning to freedive usually begins with ‘static apnea’ (STA). Static Apnea involves timed breath holds performed just below the surface. This will give you a baseline average from which to record your progress. The next step consists of taking slow, deep breaths before you submerge.
To avoid hyperventilating, in-breaths should be shorter (around 5 seconds) and out-breaths longer (10-15 seconds). Start recording your pulse. When you begin learning to freedive, a confused cardiovascular system may result in a quicker than normal pulse. Soon enough, your body will settle into the rhythm, and your pulse will slow down. To begin freediving, you’ll need to record a pulse rate of 80 BPM or less while deep breathing.
Ignore the Voices in Your Head
Over time your pulse rate and lung capacity will adapt and expand, allowing you to dive deeper and longer with confidence.
From there, learning to freedive is about ignoring the mental voice screaming at you to either surface or drown. In fact, this voice is a liar. You are not going to drown, at least not yet. However, comprehending this requires a huge, counterintuitive, almost unnatural leap of faith in the emergency parachute you never knew you had. AKA the ‘mammalian dive reflex.’
The Mammalian Dive Reflex – The Freedivers Best Friend
Before the mammalian dive reflex was discovered, it was believed that diving deeper than 30m would result in crushed lungs. Then in the mid 20th century, freedivers began surpassing these depths. Consequently, research uncovered a mind-boggling series of physiological adaptations hard-wired into our genetic makeup. It was discovered that the Mammalian dive reflex:
- Slows the heart
- Redirects oxygen only to the vital organs we need to survive.
- Optimizes the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity.
- Enables divers to handle depth and pressure better.
- Essentially, it allows oxygen-deprived people to survive longer underwater than in a similar situation on dry land. The Mammalian dive reflex is what makes true freediving possible.
The mammalian dive reflex is entirely autonomous. It kicks in instinctively and automatically when we immerse our face in water. Although we can’t control it, with repetitive practice, we can develop and train it.
Finding The Right Freediving Teacher
Like all aspects of freediving, the mammalian dive reflex is not something you should attempt to discover or develop alone. Consider that many of the world’s best freedivers have a buddy, or even a professional team around them to assist if things go bad. Do your research and look for a freediving teacher who can introduce you to basic freediving elements, step by step, in a way that will safely allow you to discover and then push the body’s capabilities.
When learning to freedive, the basics can be studied and practiced in any body of water. After that, if you wish to push yourself, then the freediving bucket list includes some of the following locations:
- Gili Islands – Indonesia
- Lombok – Indonesia
- Sri Lanka
- Bahamas – Deans Blue Hole
- Koh Tao – Thailand
- Kona -Hawaii
- Grand Cayman Islands
- Cenotes of Mayan Riviera – Mexico
- Cebu – Philippines
What are your reasons for learning to freedive? The risks depend on your ambitions. Exploring a 15-meter deep ocean floor and using a weight to descend hundreds of feet are two very different things. While the former is not without some risks, the latter requires practice and commitment. Besides drowning, hazards include:
- Environmental hazards
- Marine life
- Internal organ pressure
- Equalization problems
- Nitrogen narcosis
- shallow water blackouts
Any way you slice it, freediving can be a dangerous activity. This is precisely why doctors and safety divers closely monitor events. It also underscores the importance of having a dive buddy to keep an eye out for you.
- Unlike scuba divers who look outside, freedivers look inside. Here, they enter the hyperfocused flow state necessary to push their limits and survive in an environment where fear and panic are mortal enemies.
- If practiced with care and attention to safety protocols, freediving offers physical and mental health benefits that apply far beyond the ocean. Learning to freedive makes people more confident swimmers, surfers, scuba divers, civilian lifeguards, and more.
- Freediving offers unparalleled insight into how the human mind can be neurotic, worrisome, and over-protective to the point of deceit. While this mental voice has your best interests at heart, it will also use every trick in the book, including lies, to prevent you from overstepping your comfort zone. This realization brings stress-management skills and mind-control capabilities that meditators spend years trying to achieve. Like meditation, freediving catalyzes an inner peace that, once found, allows practitioners to enter a complete calm, even when their surroundings are anything but.