Welcome to my short Breath Work Series discussing breathing practices and how they apply to multiple aspects of diving and our everyday life.
Today’s article is focused on Freediving and a common question for newer Freedivers or anyone looking to get into freediving - How to relax and improve your freediving.
When I was first getting into freediving and improve my breath holds, everything I read online said the same thing - relax. Today, I understand what that means but back then I didn’t know how to relax or how that would improve my freediving.
Back then I was only able to dive to 30 feet and maybe stay underwater for barely a minute. I was pushing myself harder to get to 40 or 45 feet and I never felt comfortable underwater. All my freediving friends also kept telling me to relax, but no one could explain how you’re supposed to do that.
But now, for anyone looking to get deeper underwater or stay down longer I’m going to share some freediving secrets with you. Well, they aren’t really secrets, but they are things included in most freediving textbooks.
This is called relaxation breathing. So just relax. 😜 Hahaha!
What I mean is I want you to start with closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and as you exhale let your body slump down; release the tension in your muscles, and take a second or two to yourself. It should almost be like falling asleep. That same feeling when you let go and let all your muscles relax just before you drift off to dream land. Repeat this a few times and every time you exhale, I want you to try and release more of the tension in your body.
NRP & Box Breathing:
Next, we need to modify how we breathe. First, we are going to extend our natural respiratory pause (NRP). This is the brief period of relaxation in the natural respiratory cycle between our inhale and exhale. This is when our diaphragm and chest muscles are their most relaxed.
This technique is typically used by the US Military and marksman to improve the accuracy of their shots. Where the rise and fall of your chest would cause the sights of your rifle to sway or move off target, the natural respiratory pause is extended to allow the marksman to keep his sights on the target while squeezing the trigger.
To help extend our natural respiratory pause we are going to incorporate this into box breathing. Box breathing is a breathing technique that is used in yoga, by the US Navy Seals, and by top athletes to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the body’s relaxation response and helps to regulate digestion, heart rate, and breathing.
To begin we are going to inhale deeply through our diaphragm for 2-3 seconds, followed by another 2-3 second pause. Slowly exhale through your teeth counting down from 10. Don’t fight the exhale and try not to stress if can’t control how quickly you breathe out. Just let your body relax as you exhale out. Your goal here is to let go of the tension in your muscles and allow yourself to relax mentally and physically. At the end of your exhale, pause again for 2-3 seconds before starting the breath over again.
Remember, you don’t need to keep exactly to this rhythm. As you become more relaxed you may find that the pattern of your breath changes. The longer it takes you to complete one breath (in and out) the more relaxed you will become. Try this the next time you are out freediving and see if it helps.
Next time I’ll cover how to improve your diaphragmatic breathing and really maximize your breath hold.
As always, this Brian (owner of Bamboo Reef) your fearless leader. I’m always lost, but happy to share the journey with you.