How freediving changed my life
by Dr. Andrea Sibylle Claussen
“Freediving is not a sport, it is a lifestyle”. This is a statement I heard many times when I began my freedive journey. And after becoming deeply acquainted with the nuances of learning to freedive, this statement rang significantly true.
Freediving in its entirety is so much more than a sport, and once you experience the pure joy of being in water, developing the natural capability of every human being able to hold their breath for periods of time much like dolphins and whales, you begin to love it. Freediving is my greatest passion, and I would say, the “healthiest” addiction I can think of.
Freediving encourages a healthy life-style. In the water, be it in the pool, be it in the ocean, our body will give us immediate feedback about our current state of relaxation. Stress and tension in the water does not function well together. The more relaxed, the longer the breath hold. There is an easy correlation here.
I started freediving after my first experience of snorkeling with wild dolphins in Mozambique. The first encounter, eye to eye with a curious and playful bottlenose dolphin changed my life. When he disappeared into the depths of the Indian ocean, I thought: I want to learn to hold my breath and dive as deep as possible to discover the incredible wildlife of our marine ecosystems across the globe. To explore these spaces free of heavy equipment such as scuba gear that unfortunately come with an array of disturbing bubbles, and noise production that can irritate fish and cetaceans was my goal. To explore with just me, my breath hold capability, and my body wisdom giving me precious quality time with ocean species was a deeply important dream to fulfill.
Back in Frankfurt/M. Germany, I found a freediving club and started training in the pool. It was December 2017, I was 52 years old, in the middle of menopause and not in great shape, including weight gain and phases of sleeplessness.
The first training sessions were difficult. Holding my breath for 25 meters was very challenging. I saw others doing 50 m, elegantly diving at the bottom of the pool. One lady streamlined beautifully gliding with her monofin, and I asked myself: will I ever be able to do this? Am I too old?
Many of my friends asked me (for good reason), why I would feel pleasure and joy holding my breath and challenging myself. Fighting with the urge to breathe to reach the other side of a 25 m pool in one breath? I remember that there were very few moments, and even seconds in the beginning, that I felt completely free and calm in the water.
I felt myself gliding. Kick glide, kick glide. No more thinking, just being. Later I would explain to my friends that freediving for me, was like a full body meditation. An altered state of being. Deeply connected with my body, my lungs holding the oxygen of my last in-breath, my heart going naturally into bradycardia, my glottis closed, jaws relaxed, eyes semi-closed, my legs kicking and burning, my spleen releasing blood at a certain level of increased CO2 in my body to support my body to stay well and strong, and to be able to do one more kick. My mind negotiating with itself: when is the urge to breathe so strong, that I cannot bear with it anymore? What exactly gives me the “go” to surface and stop my dive? In the next 3 years of consistent training, I learned to read my body more and more. I found out that eating good quality food and having enough sleep, my ability to relax would increase and I was able to achieve a longer distance in the pool in one breath - and being able to stay in a state of peace and calm for longer and longer.
My next challenge is discovering depth. Slowly, with consistent training. I am 55 years old and my actual personal best PB depth is 23 m. I cannot tell how much I enjoy the process.