How to Hold Your Breath Like a Freediver
Morgan Bourc’his, the 2013 freediving world champion (constant-weight, no-fins category), believes freediving isn’t all depth readings and racing a stopwatch. It’s a way of accessing “another dimension” — a beautiful, sensory-overload world that puts your body and mind to the ultimate test. In principle, the sport is simple: divers gulp one final breath of air, dive as deep as they can go, and then rise to the surface. If you know what you’re doing, freediving can be a unique blend of competition and meditation. If you don’t, it can be a dangerous endeavor — even a fatal one. If you’d like to plunge into another dimension like Bourc’his, follow his tips below.
1Get your mind right. “Don’t go into the sea if you are tense, scared or uncomfortable. You have to relax your mind and enjoy the moment. The water will carry you,” Bourc’his says. Preparing for a dive isn’t all that different from preparing to walk onto a stage to deliver a speech for hundreds of people. If you think your speech is going to suck, then it likely will. With freediving, if you think the ocean will swallow you whole, you’ll panic and risk blacking out. Stay positive, and Bourc’his says everything will be okay: “You have to consider the sea not as a world of danger, but as a fabuliste world.”
2Give your lungs a warm-up. Before you enter the water, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Bourc’his says to breathe slowly, in deep belly-gulps, in a 1-2 cadence — for example, a 3-second inhale equals a 6-second exhale. Do this for around 2 minutes, and your heartbeat will slow, your cells will be delivered more oxygen and you’ll become noticeably more relaxed.
3Dive like a whale. You’ve taken one final gulp of oxygen — now it’s time to make the plunge. Bourc’his says it’s vital that your first move is efficient to create speed and allow you to start kicking with your fins right from the start. To do this, first duck your head and arms underwater, then curl up your legs and plunge your torso downward, like a whale.
4Swim down. Start with your hands outstretched in front of your head, one palm on the back of the other. Whether you’re using individual fins, a monofin or no fins at all, Bourc’his says it’s crucial to keep your kicks slow, long and graceful — anything more than that would risk wasting precious oxygen. Once you reach 15 meters, move your arms down to your body in a more relaxed state.
5Equalize your ears. Four feet deep, you may begin to feel pressure on your ears. If you don’t equalize, the pain will only get worse. Bourc’his says the basic equalizing technique is to pinch your nose and blow through it. This will push air into your middle ear and set your eardrums back to their normal position. And be sure to anticipate the pain, before it’s too late to equalize — past a certain point, pinching your nose and blowing won’t really help.
6Stay relaxed when surfacing. When it’s time to turn around, make a move similar to the duck-dive you made when you began the dive. This time, Bourc’his recommends keeping your arms at your sides the whole way up. Swim to the surface the same way you dove to the bottom — slowly and calmly. Remember to equalize your ears. Your lungs will likely be screaming for air, but if you panic and start swimming to the surface like a madman, it only makes the situation worse. Stay calm, and you’ll rise above the water to live and breathe another day.