Thursday, April 19, 2012

Anatomy of a Breath Hold

Last time I spoke a bit on how I got into freediving as well as the consequences of freediving without proper training and saftey protocol. Now that I've stressed how much first hand training is essential to safe diving, I'll explain what it feels to do a 6 minute breath hold. Once more, do not try any technique explained in this blog without professional help.

Breathing holding is more than just what it sounds. Certainly anyone can simply not breathe and stick their face in the water. But as any child that's ever been in a bath tub can tell you, it's not long before our mental state, and then shortly there after, or bodies tell us we need to breathe. Without any kind of training, 30 seconds is a common amount of time for your average joe to thrust their head above water gasping. Even trained scuba diving professionals and boat crew who are in the water everyday will find some difficulty holding their breathes for more than a minute or two. If you can reach 3 minutes without any training, you are far beyond the curve, and may just have a chance at competition freediving. The following is an account of a friend's and my own attempt at personal static apnea records.

Upon reaching the water's edge, my dive buddy and I spend a while stretching and meditating before we get in the water. This can often help with certain physical changes like warming up the core body temperature and stretching the muscles surrounding the lungs. At the very least it relaxes us to a comfortable mindset. We then don our wetsuits and get in.

We start off by doing some warm up breathe holds to acclimate our body to our watery surrounds. His first one is just shy of one minute. My first one just shy of two. His second is 2:02 and his third warm up breathe hold is 2:45. My second is 3:53, and my third is 4:51. Finally we are ready for our target breathe holds. We have been alternating our attempts to allow eachother time to recover and reoxygenate between holds. As he sits readying himself, he closes his eyes, and breathes deeply and slowly. Eventually he brings his face close to the water, opens his eyes and nods. I bring my finger up to my watch and start the time just as his nose slips beneath the surface.

As he lies there, the boyancy of the wetsuit brings his feet up to the surface. He lays motionless, barely even a ripple emanating from around his body. "One minute" I call out, loudly enough for him to hear me though his ears are underwater. He continues to not move, if I didnt know better, I would think him a dead man floating face down in the water. "Two minutes" I call out to him. Still he doesnt move. We've now reached the time to began communicating to ensure his safety. At 2:15 I annouce the time and tap him in the shoulder. I watch his right hand for a tense moment until his thumb wiggles. Another 15 seconds goes by and again I annouce the time "2:30", and tap him on the shoulder, and again his thumb wiggles. This routine is repeated every 15 seconds, to be sure he is still awake, and alive. At 3:17 his contractions begin. No longer is he the placid looking deadman from moments before. His whole body shutters as he fights the urge to breathe. Again I tap his shoulder at 3:30, again he wiggles his thumb, faster and more ridgidly, not the calm wiggle of before. Again the body shudder. At 3:45 he bring his legs beneath him, face still in the water. Another body shutter. 4:00. Another shutter of the body. And slowly he begans to bring his face up. I stop the watch. 4:08 . He exhales loudly. And breathes in a quick deep breath, then again, and again. He looks at me as he removes he mask, flashes me an ok signal with his thumb and index finger and says "Im OK". I slap him on the back and congratulate him on a new personal best. He's ecstatic, but I soon have to curb my excitement for him, because I can feel my heart rate spiking already. "You're turn." he says to me as his hand reaches out for the watch.

Before the Dive

Soon I'm going through my breathe up. I inhale deeply and quickly then let it out in a long hiss between my teeth. My heart rate is probably around 60 beats per minute (BPM) right now, I need to lower it. I close my eyes, and inhale again, then exhale. 55 BPM. I wait a moment before taking another breath deeper this time. I hold it for 3 second then slowly exhale. 50 BPM. Another inhale, emphasizing my extended stomach, pulling from the diaphram. I hold it again, then exhale. 45 BPM. I barely feel the water around me anymore. I feel more like I'm floating in the air. I inhale once more and take a deep breathe then use my mouth to push even more air into my lungs, nearly beyond capacity then exhale again with a loud and nearly explosive hiss. I open my eyes to alert to my buddy that I'm almost ready. I quickly make 3 large inhales and exhales then one last deep pull before I sink down into the water and let my face submerge. I faintly hear the beep of the watch starting. It sounds like it's a million miles away.

0:0 seconds
I close my eyes, and start working on forgetting about what I'm doing, try to quiet any noises I can still hear. Trying to keep my mind blank.

0:30 seconds
At this point I've nearly quit thinking about anything. Still a few thoughts slip from brain as I fall into a near complete trance.

1:00 minute
At the one minute mark I'm completely calm. my heart rate is probably between 35 and 40 BPM. I have not even began to feel like I'm holding my breath yet.

2:00 minutes
Still nothing has entered my mind since I've began.

I began to realize I'm holding my breathe. It's still comfortable but I can feel it.

At 3 minutes I feel a tap on my shoulder. Not sure why, but it's there. 5 seconds later I feel it again accompanied with a muffled sound. Suddenly, I remember it's me dive buddy asking if i'm still awake. I extend my index finger and he quits tapping.

3:30 I get another tap, again I extend my finger. My lungs feel stiff. They want to get rid of the quickly building carbon dioxide in them.

I can feel a diaphragm contraction coming but I further relax my body and try to fight off the urge. I'm now very aware that I'm holding my breath.

I can no longer fight the urge. I give in to the contraction. My body shakes violently as my diaphragm attempts to pull oxygen into my lungs. It happens again, harder this time. My eyes pop open for a moment and see the sandy bottom. I shut them again in an attempt to relax.

More contractions, they are uncomfortable to say the least. Verging on painful. I can feel the water again. It feels cold. The urge to breathe is huge. I want nothing more than to rip my head up and gasp for air.

5:00 My contractions have began to slow. A fuzzy feeling sweeps over me and slowly the urge to breathe begins to fade away. Another tap. Again I extend my index finger.

5:30 The urge to breathe has left me. I feel as though I could hold my breathe forever now. Euphoria sets in and I smile for no real good reason. There's that tap again. Did I just extend me finger? I think I did.

I realize I'll need to breathe soon, but I no longer feel like I need to. I open my eyes and I see the sand. It doesn't look as bright as it normally does.

I bring my feet underneath me, staring at them as small fish swim around in the sand I've just kicked up. I don't want to look away but I do. Slowly I bring my head up.

My head breaks the surface and I stare at my dive buddy without exhaling. He seems very far away. "Breathe" he says. Suddenly I realize I'm not breathing. I exhale explosively. I gulp a lung full of air, then exhale again. Suddenly the dark tunnel I didn't even realize was framing my vision begins to fade. My dive buddy appears much nearer now. I take another deep breath letting this one out slowly as my hands reach up for my mask to remove it. They stuggle to grasp the frame, but eventually get the job done. I attempt to place my index and thumb together to signal OK, but instead find some difficulty doing it. The world continues to brighten around me, as though someone is changing the contrast on a tv set. And then suddenly sound come spilling into my ears. I hear my dive buddy asking "Are you ok?" Almost immediately I'm able to signal to him and say. "I'M OK"

we both burst out into histerical laughter as he starts to tell me that i looked like a vampire. I interrupt him and ask "whats my time?". He looks at the watch and says "6:26 personal best."

I've done it! My personal best.

Next week I'll be talking about depth. Breath holding at the surface is a very different feeling from doing it to depths in excess of 200ft.