“As I am getting ready for my next dive, I am slowing down my breath, relaxing my body and mind as much as I possibly can…and off we go, into the deep blue.”
Breath /breTH/, noun:
the air taken into or expelled from the lungs.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to breathe and how important our breath is in our daily lives. Well, pretty obvious you might say since breathing equals life. A little bit of math: On average, a person at rest takes about 15 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 900 breaths an hour, 21,600 breaths a day, 7,884,000 a year. Unless we get a lot of exercise. A person who lives to 80 will take about 630,720,000 breaths in a lifetime. Even though this sounds like an awfully big number, just the fact to put a number to it makes our breath somewhat limited and all of a sudden each breath might become that much more important.
And yet, we take breathing for granted and often don’t pay it very much attention. Breathing is something the body does automatically. But did you know that the way we breathe changes depending on our state of mind and how we feel? Have you noticed how your breathing pattern changes with your emotions or in certain situations? When we are stressed or fearful we tend to take fast and shallow breaths, whereas when we are relaxed and at ease, we breathe gently and more steadily.
The science behind it:
As we inhale, our main breathing muscle, the diaphragm flattens and the air travels all the way from our nose to the bronchi, which are tiny little passageways into our lungs. Once in our lungs, the air reaches the alveoli, which serve as the marketplace for gas exchange: Oxygen (O2, the food our cells need to produce energy) is traded for carbon dioxide (CO2, the waste produced by energy production in cells) into and out of the bloodstream.
For every action in the body oxygen (O2) is needed. Bodily functions are fueled from stored forms of energy, but it takes oxygen to replenish these energy reservoirs. With every inhalation we allow fresh air to enter our lungs, carrying a good amount of oxygen. Almost every action in the body creates carbon dioxide (CO2) as a waste product. Every muscle we move, every thought we think, every image we create, everything we hear, see, taste or touch creates activity in the brain, which in turn creates CO2. With every exhalation, we get rid of a certain amount of excess carbon dioxide accumulated in our body.
The urge to breathe is mainly information about your CO2 levels in your body. When holding your breath longer, the body actually needs to exhale the rising levels of CO2 more than to replenish it with O2 right away. You’d be surprised about the percentage of oxygen that’s still left in your body at this time which allows you to hold your breath even a little bit longer.
Stress buster – a short breathing exercise:
The best way of calming down instantly is to actually notice your breath. We go about our day taking breathing for granted and when we are stressed, we often do not realize that our breath becomes shallow.
• Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
• Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
• Hold your breath, and silently count to 7.
• Breathe out completely as you silently count to 8.
• Repeat a few times and notice how you feel
Apnea derived from the Greek word “apnoia” and literally translated stands for “without breathing”. Now that we have established the importance of breath, you might ask why freediving and holding my breath has become such a passion of mine.
I began freediving a few years ago because I wanted to become more comfortable in the ocean. Moving from a landlocked country all the way to Maui, Hawaii exposed me to a whole new element and its immense power – the open ocean. Even though I was growing up on a lake and hence swimming and playing in the water a lot as a girl, the deep blue sea with its sheer power was a whole other ballgame. Picking up surfing was the logical first step and the rather gentle waves of Maui’s South and West shores provided a perfect playground. Once the North swells started rolling in, getting pounded by big(ger) waves was for sure interesting yet at the same time intimidating.
I picked up freediving mainly to get more comfortable in and underwater when being held down by a set of waves. Being tumbled by waves sometimes feels like a lifetime underwater when usually it is a mere 15 seconds. Having the confidence and knowing that I am able to hold my breath underwater while being tossed around for quite a few minutes makes all the difference.
Freediving taught me a whole lot about the breath and how holding it extends to relaxation. Despite popular belief, freediving is not merely about holding your breath but much rather about staying calm in discomfort – a very useful trait in so many aspects of our life. Relaxation is probably the most important word in freediving and it also is the key to longer breath holds.
To me, freediving is underwater meditation, it frees my mind from all unnecessary thoughts. When the world comes crashing down on me on the surface, there is nothing more peaceful than being submerged in the big blue where there is no noise and no need to overthink. Just watching the fish go about their day and picking up the occasional whale song.
And once I head back to the surface and take my first big inhale, I certainly appreciate the new oxygen streaming into my lungs, maybe adding on to the daily count of breaths taken by holding it for a bit underwater.
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Sabine is a creator and curator, manifold in her field of expertise. As a consultant and with more than 15 years of experience in the field of marketing and management, she guides companies and people towards developing impactful brand strategies, executing projects, and cultivating long-lasting partnerships. Her vast global network allows her to connect like-minded individuals and companies with just the right resources. Her passion to deliver extraordinary experiences for people, companies & brands manifests itself in her creative approach, effective leadership, and operational skillfulness. She is a certified Reiki Master, trained in CranioSacral Therapy I as well as attuned to Axiatonal Alignment. Her energy healing work combines all disciplines and she gives treatments to perfectly balance body, mind, and spirit to successfully conquer personal and business challenges. *Photo by Patrick Langwallner