Freediving can be a sport, an occupation, a quest or an obsession. The attempt to dive deeply under water with just one breath has cost some people their lives and crippled others with decompression sickness. The Aida International organization of freedivers says freediving harkens back to your time in the womb, "an aquatic environment very similar to seawater." Whether a freediver longs to return to the womb is merely speculation, but there's no question that freediving -- sometimes called apnea, a Greek word that means "without breathing" -- has a rich and colorful history. Aristotle was the first to note the most common effects of diving -- nosebleeds and ear pain. In modern times, Japanese and Korean women ride large rocks to the bottom of a sea or lake and search for pearls, lobsters and other treasures in frigid water.
To prepare your body and mind for a freediving adventure, the MatadorSports website recommends three exercises. The only equipment you need is a book and a chair. Sit down and take a deep breath. Flip to a random page and start reading while continuing to hold your breath. Keep reading as long as you can hold your breath, then mark that spot on the page. This exercise prepares you for the spasms you'll feel in your diaphragm, which might freak you out. However, they occur well before your body runs out of oxygen, so there is no reason to panic. Aim to read further the next time you do a page turner, as you continue to expand your lung capacity.
All you need for this exercise is a watch with a second hand and a place to walk. Hold your breath for one minute while standing still. After 60 seconds, walk at a steady but relaxed pace while continuing to hold your breath. Go as far as you can. The purpose of the apnea walk is to acclimate your body to moving in an anaerobic state -- when it is using oxygen faster than replenishing it -- without weakening or cramping.
The blind swim exercise is a frightful but important way to mimic the stress you might feel during a freedive. At a minimum, you'll need a pool, mask and duct tape. Fins are optional, but a safety buddy is not. Never attempt a blind swim without a safety buddy or lifeguard who can pull you out of the pool if things get hairy. Cover your mask completely with duct tape, get into the pool, take a deep breath, submerge yourself and swim underwater around the side of the pool until you run out of breath. This exercise helps prepare you for unexpected situations under the water, such as a mask that fogs up. Stress is the enemy of a freediver. It has physiological effects, such as raising your heart rate, as well as psychological effects that can cause you to make mistakes and perhaps even panic.
An Air Restricting Device enables you to calibrate and restrict the amount of air you're taking into your body in order to build up your lung capacity. Specifically, you are building your diaphragm muscle. The BlueWaterHunter website encourages you to do these breathing exercises twice per day, once in the morning and once at night. Be sure you do these exercises when you're sitting down; otherwise you might pass out and fall.
Freediving is a risky business. A research study published in 2009 in the "Journal of Sports Science" found that a series of modest freedives to a depth of 30 or 40 meters, or a single dive to over 200 meters, can result in symptoms of decompression sickness, a serious neurological condition. If you want to explore the world of freediving, stay safe by working with a freediving club or trainer who can show you the ropes.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.