By Lorna Hill & Rodrigo Manterola
During my Freedive training, one question became apparent to me; Why do we Freedive?
It seems that we all have different reasons, whether it be for the health benefits, fitness training, mental accomplishment, or to master the pressures of the watery blue depths.
It was, in fact, one of the first questions that I was asked by my trainer Maria Teresa Solomons, fondly known as MT.
We were sitting in her garden, sipping on kombucha and surrounded by her characterful dogs.
Tell me about your journey -she said, smiling as she listened to me tell her my diving history.
For me, an already trained scuba-diver coming out of lockdown was enough of an incentive to get back in the water -This time without the tanks and the cumbersome gear… just me, my breath, and the ocean.
In this article, I will write about my experiences of training with MT Solomons and the things I found most important when beginning your AIDA 1 Apnea course.
Health awareness is paramount when it comes to freediving. However, your level of fitness, or lack thereof, won’t necessarily limit or prevent you from beginning a freediving course.
The education you receive from instructors like MT encompasses not only freediving and the theory around it, but health, and nutrition as a whole.
And the best yoga practice in La Paz is a plus!
These were some of the main reasons I chose to begin my Freediving journey with MT Solomons in her Freediving Academy. Technique in Blue in La Paz, Baja, Mexico.
As I moved through my paces with MT, I realized that there was a whole lot more to the freediving world than just aiming to make your depths.
It favors mental clarity, and builds a level of fitness that comes through exercising just as much time on land as in the water; and most importantly, it allows a continued connection to not only the landscape around you but within yourself.
Yes, that means a strong holistic approach sidelined by more patience and being less self-critical.
MT always reminds me that it’s like coming to your yoga mat or a meditation practice every day – freediving is like that. Each day is different. Each practice session is different.
We learn to accept with less judgement each moment of every dive.
Day 1 FreedivingTheory and Diet Tips
If you were looking to do the AIDA 1 course and knew that you wanted to focus on something specific i.e. movement awareness or equalisation techniques, from the beginning, then it’s good to discuss this with MT previously.
It’s important to point out that this was an extended AIDA 1 course as there were students on the course who wanted more time specifically on equalization.
I also learned about the different types (and importance!) of equalization.
To know of the different types of competitive freediving, and watched videos of professional freedivers in their competitive environments was also of great help to understand what I was getting into.
From the very moment I met MT, I always remember feeling a sense of tranquility.
I noticed how she spoke with a soothing tone, not sweet or ingenuine, but more calming and reassuring.
This gave me a lot more confidence as we finished up our theory and planned for the following day. We were going to work on breathing exercises and static training on a nearby beach, close to her home in La Paz.
As we were staying in MTs home, I later asked her for her best diet tips, to complement the freediving, as we made dinner together.
MT is an avid gardener. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when she spoke mainly of a diet rich in vegetables for nutrients and fiber, getting her protein from greens, various nuts and seeds. The lovely thing about this was that it all felt so natural; a herb garden at her front door and a fridge full of all types of lots of homemade delights.
No processed, packaged food or sugary treats insight. It felt good and, best of all, easy to aspire to.
Day 2 Kombucha Mornings; Garden Yoga, Dry Static Training & Wet Static Training
That beautiful, untouched wilderness, the utopic atmosphere, that feeling of having stepped inside a work of art, a bit like how Mary Poppins stepped inside the chalk drawing on the sidewalk.
MT has a strong interest in indigenous cultures and their natural medicine traditions and the connections that they have with plants and the elements.
It was interesting to see how later in the course she brought in as part of her teaching style, to remember this as we entered into the aquatic environment.
So, gathering beneath a tree to learn of the different breathing techniques and practice yoga together was such a compliment to the already holistic nature of MT’s course training.
Reverting our minds back to yesterday’s theory on physiology and breathing. We moved through the various breathing exercises, whilst MT explained the effects these had on the body. Wim Hof, Uddiyana Bandha, Bhastrika …
We compared the effects of various breathing techniques to learn the relevance of normal ventilation, relaxed ventilation, in contrast to hyperventilation, the importance of the brain wave patterns and the health benefits relevant to all but which and which not to use when freediving
As we moved through these exercises, we were encouraged to explore, to feel, deeply, the effects that this was having on our bodies. The energies elevated at this point, resulting in the dogs joining us on the mats for some yoga movement, Downward Facing.
Dry Static Apnea Training
Now for the fun part. MT handed out yoga mats and instructed us to lay down. “Now”, she said, “first we start the breathing cycle, then we hold our breath for 30 seconds”.
As we lay on yoga mats in MT’s garden surrounded by dogs, you couldn’t help but wonder how this helps with freedive training.
Dry breath-hold training provides your mind and body with tools to deal with obstacles that come from breath-hold during freediving such as staying calm with high levels of CO2 in your blood (increasing CO2 tolerance), dealing with low oxygen levels (Hypoxia), also diaphragm contractions and the seemingly overwhelming urge to breathe.
It is well worth giving time to dry static apnea training to achieve all mentioned above plus mental strength and discipline, although, as much as people wish to believe, dry static apnea training does not adapt your body to the pressure of deeper freedives nor does it train your lungs.
However, dry static apnea training can serve as a good replacement for wet static apnea training, which is what we were about to do next.
A quick stop for lunch before a gear trying-on session in MT’s equipment room was a fun break from training. Then we piled into a truck and our campervan and headed for Coromuel beach, just on the outskirts of La Paz, along the famous picturesque Malecon.
We weren’t on the boat this day, as this was shallow water training.
We needed only just enough depth to put our faces in the water, yet enough to be able to float our bodies to emulate the open ocean.
This exercise was similar to the dry static apnea exercise but we lay facing up on the surface of the water, relaxing our bodies and breathing, first, as if we were trying to fall asleep, then drawing some good breaths, remembering the long exhales before turning ourselves over to facedown in the water, keeping our hands and knees on the sand.
I noticed how funny we looked, lying with our faces down in the water, whilst MT kept an eye and spoke soothingly to us as she notified us of our timings.
Then, we finally got our heads wet once we turned to duck dive training.
A good duck dive is one of the building blocks of a successful freedive, making sure it is as seamless as possible to ensure no energy is wasted.
Not as easy as it looks as you have to get yourself, all the neoprene, and your fins underwater, head down, in a vertical line.
It looks easy when someone as experienced as MT does it. However we went at it; flapping fins and somersaults ensued but eventually, after many tries, we started to get the hang of it. Or so we may have thought!
MT’s patience, attention to detail and thorough training made sure we had flapping to a minimum. “You don’t want to be wasting any energy out there”, she said.
“Out there” refers to the open ocean, which is where we were headed the following day.
Day 3 Open Ocean
Taking off in the panga was liberating, with the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces.
Once we hauled anchor, it was time to suit up. Not so liberating.
Water temperatures in Baja winter aren’t exactly Baltic but it certainly wasn’t the Caribbean. With my two patched up old suits and a hooded vest that MT had lent me, I was ready to go.
Tying knots, measuring line, and fixing buoys come with the job. We helped set up the necessary equipment and sent out the surface buoy attached to a 20-meter surface line behind the back of the panga, ready for us to get in.
Holding onto the buoy with one hand, heads face down in the water and breathing through our snorkels helps trigger the Mammalian Dive Reflex – the physiological reaction that occurs in mammals, including humans, in response to entering the water, which involves a lowering of the heartbeat (bradycardia), cessation of breathing (apnea) and diversion of the blood from the extremities to the thoracic cavity (peripheral vasoconstriction). We aren’t the only mammals to benefit from this.
Marine mammals such as sea lions, dolphins, and otters, all utilize the Mammalian Dive Reflex and to a greater extent, allowing them to dive deeper in search of food.
MT invited us to watch her dive first, then we had a go. We started with pulling down on the line, so we get used to being upside down and have something to hold onto as we work on our equalization. Then, we moved to “finning” which begins with the famous duck dive
It was fun to observe and help each other, as we began with the splashing and then started to refine it, with each go, traveling further and further down the line.
Squeaky ears and equalization problems can be normal, and all part of the learning curve. Best to always take it slow. And have fun with it, also. Most important.
Back to the question…
I came away from the diving day feeling not only woozy but very excited. Yes, I had learnt the Frenzel equalization, practiced Uddiyana bandha, figured out the best way to tie a 15lb bottom weight to a buoy, and dove down to 12 meters on one breath-hold. According to AIDA, I was now officially an AIDA 1 certified free-diver!
But what I was most impressed with was how I had opened up my mind to a world of possibilities, a plethora of new dive sites to discover, and a lifetime of learning.
So, next time someone asks me why I freedive? I freedive because of curiosity. I feel we could all do with learning to breathe better and learn to be confident with the pause between the breath and it’s because of this curiosity that freediving has become a beautiful extension of that for me.