I have always envy ice skating gymnasts. To my naive young dreamy child eyes, they represented the ultimate freedom. Ruthless, strong and mesmerizing humanoid forms who swiftly cut the ice and levitate with a grace that elevates them to some sort of godly state.
I could not have been further from this ideal… No levitation, no godly state, cutting only my fingers in clumsiness when trying to cook and reaching humanoid status by having some alien life logic. Regarding sports, let’s just say I was never the athletic type…
While growing up, gym classes were a sacrifice I had to endure. My poor classmates dreaded picking me for their teams as much as I did dribbling… or should I say tripping, a football into this square space. It made no sense to me, and I hated the competition. I stood alone on many occasions, stubbornly manifesting my disscontempt, or sharing the goals keeper net with another school gym striker, before magically disappearing into the school cafe. With time, I became an escape artist.
5 years ago I discovered freediving, and at the same time yoga came into my life. These are the perfect sports for my slightly introvert self. Both of them are personal mind games that literally make you jump head first. Here is why I love them:
1. Being under-pressure
In Freediving, self-sabotage is directly correlated with poor performance. Mind and body must become one. Trust is key! On the surface, breathing techniques calm your body and mind and help you slowly focus on something easy. You cannot start a dive tired or overthinking. Then the duck dive needs to be done in a single flow movement that gets you to 5 meters deep with the minimal effort. Afterwards, you synchronize the swim with your heart beat and ear decompression at a slow rhythm. No need to rush, rush wastes energy.
After 15 meters deep, your lungs are less than half the volume. No more natural positive buoyancy. Pressure takes over and you slide down motionless. At this point you feel your body transforming. At 20 meters, your lungs are 1\3 of the size and your stomach is glued to your back. You need to build reserve air to decompress your ears. At 30 meters, your lungs are at 1/4th of the size, you are close to your residual air lung volume. Instincts kick in. Then you feel the compressions. Your diaphragm is pressuring your lungs to recycle your air. Your body is triggering your brain to scream for air. Blood leaves your legs to protect your heart and brain. You need to control the impulse to panic, to control fear. . . you may feel living a sort of a dream and no it’s not the eternal one! Compressions are fine. They are the trigger to turn up slowly. They form a sort of a loop where mind triggers your body to make you believe you need air sooner than you actually need. Mind over body and time is extended. You are in total control at the same time you are letting go. Very paradoxical feeling in freediving.
(it is not me in that video… not yet!)
2. Balancing out:
Turning now to yoga and handstands in particular, I do not do it to find some soul enlightenment and mindfulness zen state. I do it because I love the challenge, and to observe how my thoughts affect my practice. Parallel to freediving, overthinking is an enemy of handstands and any yoga balance. My first handstand felt like a log. I was struggling to balance on my neck (should be on my shoulders), my face was in lobster mode, I could feel blood pounding in my eyes… I thought my head was going to explode. I lost balance and slowly fell to the side, in slow motion but brutal fall on the ground. Not very graceful… Yet, that feeling of being upside down was addictive, and I haven’t stopped since.
So what is so special about being upside-down? Is it the illusion of control, power and the humility that comes with it… Is it feeling unbalanced and learn how to remain whole or is it the growth pains felt when faced with adversity. Perhaps is about solving puzzles, celebrating small victories, having the freedom that comes with expanding your comfort zone. Whatever it is, all of the above or none of them, I’m addicted.
How I miss freediving and the being under pressure… for now, handstands have to do it. As I like to stay, 1 handstand a day, keeps the doctor away.