Under water and into yourself: Freediving is not about numbers is about diving deeper into yourself

“Happiness is not a goal is a path.  Life is not a process; it is a battlefield. When you see little steps success you start to believe in yourself. Time makes me figure out what freediving is, not for a label and is not to become perfect. And the best feeling is when you can inspire people by what you do. I made the decision not to be afraid anymore, because fear can help you survive, but not to live.”

 (Tatiana Stelmahovich)

The first post of my blog gathered the experience Sara Molou while she was attending a competition at Vertical Blue. Recently, she published a new paper to communicate further the emotional experiences of freediving.

 “When you lie at the surface breathing my heart beats really fast: bum-bum-bum-bum. Okay, okay, relax. But once you are going down, I think my mind gets blank, like, I don’t think about anything. And I just relax. When I cam here I thought I was gonna be really scared. I have, my mind tries to chase peace, tranquillity, love and blue.”

Because of the obvious risk of drowning that arises when the human body is submerged into the aquatic world, freediving is often categorized as an extreme sport. However, in contrast to most other extreme sports that are defined by adrenaline rushes and acceleration of speed, freediving is about the opposite: avoiding adrenaline because it consumes oxygen, and instead of generating a calm, meditative, almost sleep-like state of being to able to perform. Freedivers describe their experiences as a movement into a blissful, stress-free state of mind, providing a sense of serenity and balance rarely experienced otherwise. It is suggested that the meditative experiences of freediving become intensified and can develop into spiritual oceanic feelings.

Recurrently, freedivers emphasize the mental aspect of their sport, by which they mean two different things: a mental meditative experience is the most pleasurable outcome of the activity, and mental control is the paramount requirement to perform well and diving safely.

This active meditation is considered as a “therapeutic landscape” that possesses healing qualities. At the moment we dive beneath the surface, we apply that which is defined as a ‘deep regression’, a capacity to return the psyche to a state of calm. In the water, we joyously reclaim that dimension of relief from tension, of comfortable security, of the peace that we knew in the womb.

Based on the observations that the fetus lives in liquid and newborn babies are capable of diving and comfortable in warm water, it is suggested that we experience an extraordinary calmness and feeling of security and relief from tensions underwater.

With breathing exercises, freediving instructors teach beginners to calm down and relax, using inspiration from pranayama yoga to breathe slowly and diaphragmatically. Once breathing is controlled and the body is relaxed, the diver is able to stay underwater much longer than if stressed and having shallow breathing. They experience harmony, spirituality, and euphoria while freediving but also haptic pleasures.

Pic (C) One ocean One breath

In a study of nudist beach culture, haptic pleasures were found to be more important than the visual: ‘Being naked on the beach is a matter of feeling rather than seeing”. It seems nudism composes a pursuit of making the world touch us as freedivers closing their eyes and turn their attention to body sensations.

Legendary freediver Natalia Molchanova described freediving along the lines of the concept of oceanic feeling, a sensation of being one with the universe, the source of religious feeling. With this emphasis on inner journeys and spiritual emotions in connections with haptic sensations, freediving may be considered an example of what sociologists of the sport have called ‘post-sport physical cultures’. In opposition to modernist sports practices where bodies are disciplined to obtain external goals, post-sport physical cultures value human spiritual, physical and emotional experiences.

On the other hand, the term edgework was originally used to portray certain kinds of drug use, but it is also employed to consider high-risk sports, making the point that theses activities produce intense sensual experiences and feelings of being in control of one’s life. Handling life-threatening challenges make the edgeworker feel exhilarated and omnipotent, stimulating a heightened sense of self and mental control.

Freedivers hold that the sport has changed their lives, talking about the healing qualities because in some cases it has helped to overcome severe illnesses (psoriasis, arthritis, and depression). In this way, the therapeutic landscape of the underwater not only provides divers with sensations of well-being but also sometimes experiences of radical changes: “You meet yourself in a different way”

Pic (C) One ocean One breath

In this state of being and alone in the deep, the free diver may experience an altered sense of self. On return to the surface, this experience becomes even more profound. Hence, deep freediving seems to provide divers with liminal experiences of being on a threshold where identities can change.

In a couple of studies of bungy jumping, the voluntary risk-seeking leisure activity of jumping into the abyss has been depicted as momentary and thrilling play with death that does not constitute a real life-changing experience, in fact quite the opposite. The studies suggest that bungy jumping and other forms of extreme sports, can be seen as an example of false consciousness, and can be best described as “limivoid’ activities: “a jump into the void – and that is it, then back to normality”. Instead of following the critical line of thinking, freediving may rather be understood along the lines of the edgework approach to actions sports. When freedivers suggest that diving into the abyss, emptying the mind and letting go, does not compose a void experience but an intense and life-changing encounter with oneself.

For detailed information, I truly recommend to read the paper of Sara Malou Strandvard, a colleague from Arts, Culture and Media, Faculty of Arts, now at the University of Groningen, in the Netherland.


Strandvad, Sara, (2018), Under water and into yourself: Emotional experiences of freediving contact information, Emotion, Space and Society, V 25, 5, pp 52-59

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