Tricks of the Trade

Gavin told me about a freediver’s workshop. To be held on Sunday morning opposite the sea swimming pool in town. I’d also seen it posted on the Bonaire Cruiser’s page.

I didn’t seriously consider the workshop though, until Gavin suggested it. Mostly because it was on a Sunday morning. I do like mooching on a Sunday morning.

We’ve had quite a lot of breath-holding practice too. Working our way down the anchor chain is a pretty standard Quest activity. I do struggle sometimes when I’m down there though, with a rising sense of panic. Don’t drown. Drowning would be bad. That kind of thing. So being to cancel out those worrisome thoughts would be handy.

I joined the list. And here we were, lying on mats and towels in the park at 9:30am. Carlos the freediving instructor was taking us through breathing exercises. Freediving is mostly about breathing. Which is ironic I thought, sucking the air through my nose, since you’re mostly holding your breath.

Carlos explained that the process leading up to the breath hold, and the recovery afterward was key. He took us through the belly breathing routine. You breathe so that only your lower abdomen moves up and down. He guided us through the process. We learned to take one large breath this way, filling up our whole lungs. He got us to practise holding this huge breath.

He said, ‘You will feel some contractions. This is normal.’

I lay there. Contractions? What did he mean by contractions? It sounded suspiciously like we were going to give birth. Cause I did that before. And it was painful.

After we exhaled our huge breath, we kitted up and crossed the road to the sea swimming pool. Carlos got us into groups of four. We were to do timed breath holding, with a partner. It was called static apnea. Taking the big lungfuls of air he’d shown us before, this time we’d do it, then dip and keep our heads in the water. Our partner would monitor and time us.

I discovered it is unexpectedly easier to hold your breath in the water than out of it. This is because of the mammalian dive reflex. Carlos explained it. Nerve receptors on your face kick in when they detect water and begin a physiological process in our bodies. I suddenly remembered Lulu swimming around underwater like a hairless chipmunk at a few months old.

On my turn, I got to one minute, forty-five seconds underwater before I had to come up for air. Carlos stayed next to our group and talked us through it. We could hear him encouraging with our face submerged. And the craziest thing was the contractions.

I realised as I lay face down in the warm sea, that this sensation is your diaphragm contracting. This contraction is your body telling you to breathe. I’d always mistook it for panic. My bad.

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