In the ocean off the tropical island of Utila, Honduras; I rest my hands on a floating ring, anchored to the sea by a weighted rope that hangs 12 metres deep. As the waves rock me from side-to-side, I take a three-section (big) breath and release.
Breathe in, breathe out. As I repeat the pattern five times, my heart rate lowers and my thoughts slow down. I’m almost ready.
I take my final big breath, hold and turn upside down so that my head is facing the rope and my legs are suspended in the air. My hands finger the rope in front of me and I pull down, legs relaxed behind me. I pull again, and equalise my ears against the pressure.
Slowly, I move deeper into the the depths of the ocean. My mind panics “turn back, it’s too much, you can’t do this” and the urge to breathe becomes suffocating. I turn around, pulling up furiously to reach the air above.
That was my first attempt at open water freediving. I only made it to 6 metres.
By the end of that morning’s training session, I managed to reach the target depth of 12 metres. Later that week I was able to reach 30 metres easily and explore a shipwreck at 22 metres below sea level. I accomplished this because I learnt to trust my body and quiet my mind.
In short, I learnt to be mindful.
“Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.”
Freediving and mindfulness
Freediving is an extreme sport, rated the second most dangerous after base jumping . But the heart-racing rush of adrenaline doesn’t kick in as it does with other extreme sports.
It can’t. The minute your heart rate increases, it’s game over.
To freedive one must be completely zen; entering into a trance-like state in the water. The more relaxed the body, the less tension it holds, meaning the muscles require less oxygen – therefore theoretically increasing the length of time one can hold their breath underwater.
In that state of calmness, the diver is able to reach depths thought impossible by scientists. Belly breathing, body scanning, repeating mantras, visualisation – the techniques of mindfulness and meditation are used to achieve this.
A new zen mindset
I spent a week learning to freedive on Utila, where I achieved the Apnea Advanced Freedive Certification. Never before have I felt such peace.
It wasn’t just that I got to release my inner mermaid (a life-long ambition). It was because I’d finally learnt to be mindful. To switch off the judging voice, tune into my senses and be completely conscious of the present.
After a week of freediving and practising mindfulness, I felt like a new me! My usual everyday stresses didn’t seem so bad and I stopped worrying about the future and how to be the perfect version of myself.
It was liberating.
All from one week of active mindfulness through this beautifully meditative sport.
An interconnected experience
Some may say it’s extreme, but to me, freediving is the gateway to complete calmness and relaxation. In freediving, I find connection to the higher self and I’m reminded of the timeless bond between water and human consciousness.
We are as one.
I take a breath, dive in and I’m home.
Utila is situated in the Honduran Bay Islands, in the west Caribbean sea. There’s a ferry that runs twice a day from La Ceiba on mainland Honduras. Or, you can fly direct to neighbouring island Roatan and ferry across from there.
Roatan to Utila: ferry $40, flight $100 (approx.)
There’s only one freedive centre on Utila (amass heaps of scuba centres). Freedive Utila offers three progressive levels of freedive training, plus a Monofin Speciality Course:
Advanced Freediver $259(+tax)
Master Freediver $699(+tax)
From the minute I arrived at the centre, I was well looked after by Tex and Marie who made me feel very much at home. I spent two weeks living on site ($8+tax for a dorm room), with a week to complete the Apnea Freediver and Advanced Freediver courses.
The expert coaching and academic sessions provided by their knowledgeable and supportive instructors (shout out to Chris) make you feel relaxed and capable of achieving anything. I can’t recommend this place highly enough.
Level of difficulty:
None – go with an open mind, trust your body and have fun!