Yoga and scuba diving do not make obvious bedfellows. One calls to mind lithe bodies in stretchy lycra, the other a clumsy vision in thick neoprene and dangling hoses. But freedivers are already in on the secret, Jacques Mayol was doing it back in the 60s, and many of the now familiar breathing exercises and stretches come straight from the ancient Indian art of bending.
So is it just about bending? Not at all but that is how we see it these days, and it’s a shame as it puts many of the less flexible among us off giving it a go. So I’m here to try and dispel some of the yoga myths and shed light on the benefits for divers of all types – tanks or none.
At its simplest yoga is about becoming more aware of your body. The easiest place to start is with the breath as it happens regularly and we can feel when it’s right and if it’s wrong. So once you’re aware of your breathing and you move in a way that compliments that breath, you’re doing yoga… so many of you are doing it already when you run, swim and quite possibly when you dive. You’ll know when you’re there as everything seems to flow and you feel at one with the ocean around you. That’s the ‘OM’ moment.
Add a dose of kindness towards yourself and others and you’re a step closer to yogic nirvana. And I still haven’t mentioned touching your toes! Stretching will encourage more flexibility for finning and moving efficiently in the water. And some forms of yoga build muscle strength for carrying equipment or pounding the lanes in your monofin.
The most important flexibility, however, is in the mind and your ability to rein in the ‘drunken monkey’ (as my teacher described it) that inhabits our headspace. You know that voice debating what to have for dinner when you’re diving amid hammerheads at Elphinstone, or the demon telling you to turn early before you reach your tag. And the one telling you to have one more down the pub when you know its time to go home. Yoga teaches us when to listen to that voice (as in when you’re cold and should come up from a dive) and when not to.
So what is a bit of ‘OM’ going to do to my diving, you ask? Being relaxed, more prepared, ease of movement, clearer judgements, going further and longer on one breath or one tank and if you’re really lucky getting the odd moment of bliss when all you want to do is somersault and hug the nearest turtle.
When Jacques Mayol taught a yogi to freedive, the elderly Indian gasped that he’d ‘found the short cut to Samadhi (paradise)’. I’m still on my journey to paradise through diving and yoga so join me, the OMdiver, as I share a little of what I’ve learnt so far…