Freediving and Pranayama

Earlier this year I had two exciting things in my mind for 2020. First one is this YTT, and I’m so grateful it is happening now. The other thing I was planning was to take AIDA Level 2, a freediving certificate. For those who never heard about freediving; in a nutshell it’s an extended version of snorkelling, but you hold breath underwater much longer (>1min) and also you often go deeper. Advanced freedivers can easily dive as long as 5 minutes and go deep as 50 meters or more, without an oxygen tank of course.  

Last year I took AIDA 1 (an entry level freediving course), and for the love of snorkelling in the ocean, continuing to AIDA 2 sounded a good holiday agenda to me. Because this course requires to be in open water with good visibility, I would travel to one of nearby countries with beautiful beaches and all of you know Covid had me drop this idea. What a bummer. I stopped thinking of the course once I learned that going out of Singapore is impossible this year. It was when I started YTT and started pranayama practice daily that it naturally came back to my mind because freediving and yoga actually have an inseparable relationship, especially with pranayama. I realised that some pranayama I learned during YTT can be used for freediving breath holding practice too.

Before linking them, I would like to explain freediving breathing practices individually. The freediving breathing method right before going under water or before holding breath is called “breath-up”, and has mainly two parts; 1) Relaxation breathing and 2) Final (full capacity) breath.

 

1) Relaxation Breathing

For a beginner diver like me, how long you can hold breaths highly depends on how much you can relax right before going under water. The Logic is simple. The more you relaxed, the lower your heartbeat gets. The lower the heartbeat gest, the slower the O2 consumption & CO2 generation get. So you can delay your urge to breathe. Here are tips to have safe “breathe up”, a relaxation breathing before diving.

– Sit in comfortable position, or lie down
– Have deep nostril breathing with Inhale:Exhale ratio of  1:2
Because our heart rate decreases by exhaling, keeping exhalation longer can calm our body and mind.
Never hyperventilate. Keep your breathing deep and slow. I usually start from Inhale:Exhale = 4 sec : 8 sec.
– Focus on breathing and relax all muscle tensions in your body.
– Repeat it around 15 times, or up to 2 minutes

 

2) Final Breath

After your body is completely relaxed, move on to “final breath”; one deep, full inhalation.

– Imagine that your torso is a balloon, and slowly expanding from bottom to top
– Start with belly breathing. Breathe into stomach, fill it up to maximum
– Continue inhaling, start storing air above the navel, expand ribcage and stretch diaphragm, and lower part of the lungs
– Finally, breathe into upper lungs, to collarbone, to the throat (do not tense shoulders!)
– Do not forget to stay relaxed; do not rush to fill up, or tense your muscles, or anything to turn off your relaxation.
– When you pack the air to the maximum, hold your breath.

 

If you’re not familiar with freediving might be wondering by now, “how can someone hold breaths for minutes!?”, but after following this simple practice, most people can hold breaths easily for up to 2 minutes! To make these practice more efficient, I decided to combine above two with pranayama I’ve learned during YTT. These pranayama are Anuloma Viloma, Bastrika, and Kapalabhati.

 

[1] Anuloma Viloma

This alternate nostril breathing is perfect to stabilise your energy and calming your mind. The ratio of the breathing is Inhale:Exhale = 1:2, so it is a very good practice to familiarise with the freediving relaxation breathing.

– Sit in comfortable position, spine upright.
– Make Vishnu Mudra with the right hand (index and middle finger folded), bring the hand to the nose. Make chin mudra with the left hand (make a ring with thumb and index finger) and place it on your left knee.
– Block the right nostril with the right thumb, inhale deeply through the left nostril for 3 seconds.
– Block the left nostril with the ring finger and release the thumb from the right nostril, exhale through the right nostril for 6 seconds.
– Keep right nostril open, and inhale through the right nostril for 3 seconds.
– Block the right nostril and release the left nostril, exhale for 6 seconds from the left nostril.

 

[2] Bastrika

The is a strong diaphragmic breathing to energise and warm up your body. This practice can strengthen diaphragm and upper abdomen muscles, which is used for the final breathing for freediving. Starting breathing practice with Bastrika is recommended by a lot of freedivers as it can warm up the body quickly so the muscles and respiratory system can be more flexible and expandable.

– Sit in comfortable position, spine upright.
– Take a few deep breaths, and exhale by strongly contracting upper abdominal muscles and diaphragm (you can put your hands around the lower ribcage to consciously move the area)
– Take an immediate short inhalation using diaphragm (try not to move abdominal muscles)
– Continue for 10-20 breathes, then slow down and rest.
– Repeat a few times

 

[3] Kapalabhati:

As well as Bastrika, Kapalabhati(or skull shining breath) is a great pranayama to improve the final breathing of freediving. Using and strengthening muscles around lower belly, you can learn to consciously activate muscles around the stomach. Practicing Kapalabhati can increase the inhalation capacity for the final breath.

– Sit in comfortable position, spine upright.
– Take a few deep breaths, and exhale from nostrils by strongly contracting lower belly and pelvic floor muscles, imagine to expel all the air from lower abdomen.
– Inhalation should be passive (do not activate your belly muscles at all, just naturally let the air comes in)
– Continue for 10-20 breathes, then slow down and rest.
– Repeat a few times

 

To sum up, my regular practice looks like this.

  1. Bastrika 5 minutes
  2. Kapalabhati 5-10 minutes
  3. Anuloma Viloma 5 minutes
  4. Freediving breathing. Relaxation breathing -> final breath -> Breath holding
    *Repeat 4 a few times.

Even though there are no little Nemos and sea turtles, doing this in the morning regularly makes me feel great. Body relaxed, mind clear, and I feel I can wait a bit longer till I get to jump into the crystal clear water (but really, I cannot wait!).