Where are you right now? What are you feeling? What sounds do you hear? How fast are you breathing? These are all things that are happening in the present moment, yet rarely do we pay them any attention. Mindfulness is a key element to experiencing the present moment, and is a tool that freedivers can utilize to enhance their performance.
Freediving in combination with mindfulness will help you dive deeper, feel better, and provide benefits that extend beyond the water. According to mindfulness.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Essentially, mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, your body, and your surroundings without passing judgement.
There is a misconception that to be mindful or to meditate takes monk-like dedication and form. In fact, it is something everyone can do, any time, all the time, and is perfect for freediving. Four mindfulness techniques that freedivers can focus on are the body scan, being present, visualization, and not passing judgement.
The purpose of a body scan is to notice the body just as it is. A body scan works by bringing awareness to different parts of the body. It can be done in any comfortable position. Start by noticing the muscles in your face and neck. Noticing any tension, and then releasing it. This can be done throughout the entire body, starting at the head and moving all the way down to the feet. The following video can be used as a guide and example of how to do a body scan.
In freediving, it is very important to be in tune with one’s body. Divers need to know their physical limits as well as their mental ones, as tension at depth can result in dangerous injuries like a lung or trachea squeeze. For this reason, freedivers must be very aware of whether their muscles are relaxed or not, and a body scan will keep divers mindful of this.
A body scan can also be used during static apnea to keep the muscles relaxed and slack during the breath hold. Tense muscles use much more oxygen than relaxed ones do. It can also be useful during the breath up when diving for depth. Divers need to be totally at ease on the surface, and a body scan will ensure that this happens.
Focusing on the Present Moment
Many people are always focusing on future problems. What is my next dive? What if I don’t hit a certain depth? How much farther is the end of the line? If you are thinking about your next dive, then you are not focusing on this one! Being present might sound like a very simple concept, but it is actually one of the most difficult to master.
Hold your attention to this dive, this breathhold, this moment. Taking your thoughts away from the current dive means you are not focusing on whether your muscles are tense, your form is good, or if you are equalizing enough.
Tips for being present:
- Ask yourself: “Am I here?” Are you concentrating on what you are doing right now, or are you thinking about something else?
- Body scan. Bring yourself back to the present moment by checking in with your body. Are you tightening certain muscles? Are you tensing up?
- Sound. Tune in to the sounds that you hear all around you and what is happening right now. If you are underwater, maybe you notice a lack of sound.
- Breath. In a general sense of mindfulness, the breath can be used as an anchor for the present moment. In freediving, breath is absent during the actual dive, but can be a central focus point during the breath up or recovery.
Sometimes trying something new for a dive, whether it’s a new personal best or technique, can be intimidating. It helps to mentally walk ourselves through what the dive is like with visualization. That way, when we actually do the dive, we know exactly what to expect and it will feel like we’ve done it loads of times already.
To do a dive visualization, simply close your eyes and walk yourself through the dive step by step. Imagine that you are actually doing it! After you have gone over the dive multiple times in your head, it will feel like you’ve already done it when the time comes to do the actual dive.
To get started, try visualizing these steps for a constant weight dive:
- Focusing on relaxed breathing
- Letting go of any tension in your body
- Preparing mentally and physically for your dive
- Taking your final breaths, removing your snorkel, and pre-equalizing
- Duck dive, focusing on good form and use of energy
- Strong initial kicks to fight positive buoyancy
- Checking line orientation
- Slowing down kicks during neutral buoyancy, then freefalling when negative
- Focusing on freefall form – head looking straight, relaxed body, line orientation
- Turning – using momentum to change your direction
- Strong initial kicks to fight negative buoyancy
- Relaxing the body through contractions
- Looking straight ahead, not towards the surface
- Slowing down kicks at neutral and positive buoyancy
- Recovery breaths!
- Surface protocol: remove mask/nose clip, ‘OK’ sign, and say “I am okay”
This can be a tough one, not just for diving, but in life as well. Mindfulness is about being aware without judging. We can be hard on ourselves when we’re diving and don’t do as well as we want to, or are putting too much pressure on ourselves chasing numbers. When we judge ourselves, and others, we are distilling negative energy that will impact how we feel and how we dive. It’s important to not judge so we can stay relaxed and focus on our dive, instead of our expectations.
Overall, mindfulness is one of the many tools which can help enhance your diving skills. Focusing on the body, visualization, and present moment can help us dive deeper and feel better.