Monday, October 03, 2016

Personal Journey (Nic)

Our lives are path dependent. It is easy to fit a story to them afterwards, but there is a lot of noise which we have no control over. I started Yoga in 2009, mostly because there was a Yoga place 400 metres down the road from me. There was also a Martial Arts place, but I happened to be single at the time, so the motives of my choice weren't completely pure. That choice had a massive impact on the direction of my life

When someone is in a bit of a rut, the prescription from Yoga starts basically. Are you exercising? Are you eating properly? Are you relaxing properly? Are you in control of your thoughts, or are they controlling you? Even more simply... are you breathing properly? When catching up with an old school friend Nic, we got onto the importance of breathing because of his 'path dependent' passion. His twist had led him to freediving...

Nic is back row fourth from right (1997 school pic)

Personal Journey

The ocean is the life force of earth and covers over 70% of the planet's surface, yet 95% of this realm remains unexplored, unseen and untouched by humans.

Having grown up on the east coast of South Africa, swimming and surfing in the warm Indian Ocean, I have always been fascinated with the ocean and have always had a burning desire to explore its depths. My journey into the ocean depths began about nine years ago, when I was introduced to the concept of breath hold diving by my then scuba diving instructor, who was trying to sell me a second hand speargun. Since this time my life has been a whirlwind of learning and adventure. Freediving has become a lifestyle which has me constantly looking at weather and ocean conditions and finding every excuse to spend time in the deep.

So what is freediving exactly?

According to Wikipedia, freediving is “a form of underwater diving that relies on divers' ability to hold their breath until resurfacing rather than on the use of a breathing apparatus such as scuba gear”. However, if you ask any true freediver, this definition barely touches on the true meaning of being freediver. Rather, a freediver will tell you that freediving equates to freedom and liberation, focusing only on the moment, while pushing your body to depths unimaginable to the average person. Freediving has become a lot more scientific in recent times, with an increased focus on freediving physiology. It is no longer a matter of simply holding your breath and swimming under water. Understanding how your body works underwater is one of the most fundamental aspects of freediving and is essential if one wants to avoid injuries or death. In addition, understanding why you get the urge to breathe while holding your breathe is essential to diving deeper, longer and safer. The simple understanding of these concepts allows one to push beyond their preconceived limits.

Every mammal (including humans) have a diving reflex known as the Mammalian Dive Reflex, which consists of a set of responses that are activated when our face is cooled (as it is when submerged in water) or when we hold our breath. The Mammalian Dive Reflex allows the body to manage and withstand much lower levels of oxygen. When the Mammalian Dive Reflex kicks in, a number of things happen to the human body, such as the slowing of the heart rate (up to 20 beats per minute for trained freedivers) and the narrowing of blood vessels in the limbs. The narrowing of blood vessels ensures that oxygenated blood is directed away from the limbs and moved to vital organs like the brain and heart.

When asking the question, “Why do you get the urge to breathe when holding your breath”, the answer seems obvious … because you are running out of oxygen! In fact, this is not correct!

Rather, it is the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream that brings on the desire to breathe, and not, contrary to popular belief, the lack of oxygen available in your lungs. When holding your breath oxygen in the lungs is metabolized, which in turn increases the level of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream. The higher the level of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream, the stronger your urge to breath.

The urge to breathe manifests itself in a number of ways, such as swallowing, contractions through the diaphragm and burning sensations. The key to freediving and long breath holds is to train yourself to push through these sensations while continuing to hold your breath. As a freediver, you can use these sensations of discomfort as a warning that it is time to head calmly to the surface.

Having a clear understanding of the above is the key difference between a 1 minute breath hold and a 5 minute breath hold, a 5m dive and 30m dive, and blacking out under water or making it to the surface alive.

Since discovering freediving I have managed to dive to depths previously unimaginable to me and hold my breath for longer than I ever thought possible. I have discovered freedom in an unexplored and wild environment where the only limits are those set by me. Freediving is a personal journey which is different for everyone, where learning and limits can never end. 

Current standing world freediving records
Longest breath hold underwater (breathe up on pure oxygen) – 24 min 03 sec
Longest breath hold underwater (breathe up without pure oxygen) – 11 min 54 sec
Deepest dive without fins or weights – 102 meters
Deepest dive with weight – 253.20 meters

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