One of my most beloved and inspiring teachers, Veronkia Pena, used to talk about her love of scuba diving and the way your ability to control your breath underwater, and to keep calm, was beneficial if not crucial to diving.
Years later I took up diving myself, completing my divemaster qualification on my previous year of traveling and so I would now consider myself to be a relatively experienced diver, even if I haven’t done very much diving in recent years.
One of the things that you learn as a diver is that awareness of breath is really important. When you are underwater your body is under pressure and the molecules of air change size at different depths. This plays a part in why you mustn’t ascend from a dive too quickly (air bubbles can develop in your blood which can cause problems and even be fatal). You also have to exhale mostly always when ascending rather than inhaling.
You also learn that it is best not to hold your breath (either in or out) as the subtle changes in water pressure as you move up and down in the water can play havoc with your body.
In fact, when you learn about the anatomy of diving it is a wonder we do it at all!
We learn that the best way to breath is slow and long. Of course, being well versed in yoga breathing can really help with this.
Strangely on dry land, when you breathe long and slow for prolonged periods, you can actually get quite light-headed. In a yoga practice, you need to find a good rate that feels right for you.
Ironically, underwater, you don’t get out of breath in the same way and so achieving that long slow regular breathing pattern is much easier to attain.
Diving has its own sort of mindfulness. You have vastly reduced hearing (mainly the crackle of the coral, and the sounds of your fellow divers), your vision is restricted to the view in your mask. You need to take breaths slow and long in order to help use up less air (which means more time on the bottom) and it also keeps you calm.
Panicking underwater is not helpful in any scenario. You are at the mercy of your equipment, and the air in your tank and you need to keep constant checks on this to ensure all is good.
Once you get down, once you get used to the sensations of being underwater, once you have checked your equipment, then is the time to work on the breath. You can hear every breath distinctively, much like Darth Vader. Like a really loud Ujayi breath!
The breath is so loud and so distinctive, that you can’t help but be acutely aware of it. Being able to slow it down and control it becomes much simpler than on dry land – there really is very little to distract you from it. Conversely, as soon as you stop paying attention to the breath, you immediately hear the sound of it changing.
It brings you constantly back to your breath, to your awareness of yourself in your body. It is kinda weird. But as a yogi, and all that breathing malarkey, it then all starts to make sense.