How to be a mermaid… for real
Exploring the ocean on a single breath with Rosie Underwood
I’ve been launching myself into the sea at any given opportunity since before I could even walk, and over the years I’ve developed a habit of putting myself on the other side of fear simply because it feels fantastic. I’ll try anything, Bungee jumps? Yes. Sky dives? Try and stop me. Surfing? Always. Free diving? *Stomach flips repeatedly, throat goes dry.
Free diving raises so many questions, the main one being how do you go about not drowning? Throw the words water, weights and breath hold into one sentence and already I can feel my palms sweating. Good start.
On the flip side, the ability to be able to hold the breath for at least three minutes has been a fantasy of mine since I developed an obsession for The Little Mermaid aged four. So the gut wrenching fear came with a side portion of intrigue, the intrigue got the better of me so as always, I was willing to take the hit to find out how I might feel on the other side. So I jumped on a flight to Ibiza for an Ocean Confidence retreat with Surf Sistas and Ocean Soul Adventures. Simple! (not quite.)
Free diving starts as a mental discipline, so my first oxygen free zone took place on a yoga mat. Ground breaking stuff. With risk of sounding massively Namaste, I feel at home on the mat so after careful instruction from the team, I could hold my breath for almost two minutes. TWO MINUTES.
I then launched myself face down in a pool with instructors (with Gills) Gary McGrath and Ruth Osborn either side of me for guidance. They taught me to totally surrender my body to the water. Sound a bit shanti shanti? Its not, it’s necessary. There’s always tension in the body, the more you release that tension the less oxygen the body consumes.
Side note, when you hold your breath for an extended period, your stomach will start contracting and you can feel a burning sensation in your throat. Delightful. The common misconception is that your body is gasping for oxygen, so naturally your instinct is to come up for air (sometimes in a rather frenzied fashion.) Those feelings are actually related to Co2 levels rising, so you still have plenty of oxygen in your blood to keep you going.
Ocean Soul training basically guides you into over coming these sensations, riding them out and learning not to fight them. With any challenge you have to get out of a comfort zone to climb (or descend in this case.) My way of over coming these feelings was to take my mind elsewhere. I’d do a body scan, meditate, start counting sheep, think about my lunch, and before I knew it two minutes had gone by quite comfortably.
So out we went into open water to combine a breath hold with descending deep. Weights strapped around my waist, buoyancy checks done, it was time to dive.
You’ll never experience a deeper silence than exploring the ocean on a single breath. Sometimes I could hear my heart thumping, maybe the odd pebble tapping the seabed, but other than that, deafening peace and quiet.
The irony is that on the other side of any human’s natural instinct to panic at the thought of no Oxygen, lies this world of calm, stillness and tranquility you wouldn’t ever know existed. Once you’ve mastered equalizing, the deeper you go, the easier it becomes to relax.
Your body feels as if it’s weightless, suspended, and dependent on nothing. When you surface and the rush of noise comes back and you take your first gulp of air, your instinct is to get your body ready to go straight back down again. Normality suddenly seems strangely alien.
Free diving has the ability to make you realize that you're part of something much bigger and stronger than your immediate surroundings. It's both humbling and empowering. It makes your heart race with adrenaline then slow down to a state of pure bliss. Being able to belong in another element stretches your mind to new dimensions, your lungs will move back to their natural state, but there’s no way of taking your consciousness back to where it was before you took that crucial step to the other side of fear. There’s nothing more magic.