As I plunge deeper and deeper into the water, the pressure builds up, the water gets colder and darker, and my lunges begin to scream for a breath of air.
I am freediving in the Gulf of Thailand on the island of Koh Tao which is a little island off the eastern coast of mainland Thailand.
I have always wanted to take a course in freediving.
As a kid, I grew up snorkeling almost every weekend along the coral reefs of South Florida but I wanted to be professionally trained.
There is something so primal and pure about freediving. It is just you and the water. It brings you back to the old days when you had to hunt for food with nothing but your body and a spear.
I love the purity of it. I love how it involves a strong mental and physical aspect. I love that it forces you to be present and live in the “now.”
Every random thought, unintentional body movement or contraction, mental stress, anxious moment, or inefficient movement, uses oxygen and deprives your brain and body of this essential nutrient.
There is very little room for error. There is a real chance of losing motor control or even blacking out in the water. If you follow your training, it can be very safe, but you don’t want to deviate from the plan.
My Personality is BAD For Optimal Freediving Performance
As a Type A person, my engine is usually running on all cylinders. My mind is always racing. My body is always running. I have a tenancy to live in the future. I tend to sway in the direction of anxiety and the most common word people have used to describe me is intense.
These are not great qualities for an effective freediver.
In freediving you must live in the moment. You must breath to a point of deep relaxation before you dive down and maintain that relaxation throughout the dive. You must not stress or think too much because brain metabolism requires the use of oxygen, and when you are diving down into the depths of the ocean on a single breath, every bit of oxygen counts.
It was such a challenging and rewarding experience to be able to devote 6 consecutive days to pursuing my level 1 and 2 freediving certification. It forced me to confront my fears of deep diving and fighting the strong urge to breath. It forced me to push pass my limits of what I though was possible. It forced me to relax and live in the moment.
The Big Realization
There was one pivotal moment I remember vividly while I was in the water.
I was really getting stressed out and anxious about diving deeper. I was putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to perform. I could feel my heart racing and my head pounding.
Out of nowhere I heard my mind say silently to myself: “Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Enjoy the process.”
At the thought of these words, a smile appeared on my face and I decided to just have fun and enjoy the process.
I realized it’s important to challenge ourselves and do things on a regular basis that scare us. It is the only way we grow. But it is equally important to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and just enjoy the process.
It is interesting what happened when I relaxed and decided to have fun.
My performance increased. I ended up finishing the course with an 87.5 feet (27m) free dive and a 3:15 breath hold.
This never would have happened if I let my stress, anxiety, and fear get the better of me.
So what is the final lesson from this experience?
Challenge myself. Do something every day that scares me. Stop putting so much pressure on myself and always remember to have fun.