The counter-cultural social movements of lifestyle sports

Sara Malou Strandvad and Tracy C. Davis published a few years ago a sociological research during their visit to Vertical Blue:

In 2015, Performance Studies international’s Fluid States distributed global conference sponsored a concurrent event -Deep Anatomy – that brought a small number of artists and scholars to the site to observe, interact and interpret Vertical Blue.

Free-divers compete primarily against their own records, and competitors visibly support one another. Contestants turn attention to their own capacities and potentials for development. In sociological terms, these characteristics of a friendly, laid back, supportive community where participants challenge themselves make free-diving comparable to other lifestyle sports and serious leisure pursuits. In the sociology of sport, “lifestyle sports” designates new forms of sports that have grown out of counter-cultural social movements in the 1960s and 1970s and have different characteristics from traditional competitive, masculinized, Western sports cultures. In contrast to traditional sports, lifestyle sports are non-aggressive, mostly without bodily contact, and individual-centered on personal goals and challenges rather than competition against others. Surfing is another typical example of “lifestyle sport”. Participants seek and value experiences of self-actualization, losing oneself in the transcendence of the self, becoming one with the environment and the moment: in other words, composing an aesthetic manner of pursuing meaningful experiences.

Pic (C) One ocean One breath

Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow constitutes the most frequently used theoretical framing to describe the pleasurable states associated with these sports; free-divers invoke flow to account for the rewarding moments in their practices. There is a competitive world of diving for numbers, and on the other hand, there is the play of diving underwater for fun and enjoyment.

Whereas a typical extreme sports athlete pushes through a challenge on adrenaline, the apneist, must avoid an adrenalin rush at all costs. She mains remains supremely relaxed, efficient in muscular expenditure and focused on the basic tasks. Like yogis, and sometimes yogic practitioners, free-divers focus on placement and duration of the breath, utilizing visualization then executing a highly controlled inward-focused state.

Moreover, many free-divers today train for flexibility, particularly in the chest, by stretching and doing yoga. In particular, they practice pranayama (breath regulation) with antar-kumbhaka (inner retention of breath), which encourages mental and physical relaxation through repeated breath control and uddyiana banha (upwards diaphragmatic lift and abdominal lock), which stretches and tones the area affected by lung suppression at depth.

Free-divers rationalize themselves as being in harmony with the sea. The majority rated the importance of the mental over the physical in free-diving (75 percent mental; 25 percent physical).

Pic (C) One ocean One breath


S. Malou et al. (2016), The Disappearing Act: Geometries of free-diving, Performance Research 21.2, pp 125-137

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