Divers will know the feeling. You give your dive buddy a nod and let the air out of your vest as you slowly descend under the water’s surface.
The first few breaths are conscious as we gain the trust that the regulator in our mouth really means we can breathe underwater. We look around to see what was lurking beneath us when we were bobbing on the waves.
We drop gently and the pressure increases with a slight sting in our ears begging to be released. We equalize by squeezing our nose and blowing gently. We breathe a little too strong at first. The water pressure on our chest is still constricting and unusual.
Conscious that we have to slow our heart rate and breathing, so we don’t burn too quickly through the compressed air in our tank, we focus on inhaling slowly, filling our lungs completely. Our movements are slow and kept to a minimal, deliberate rhythm.
We then hold our breath for a second, or two, three, four, …, as we survey the different shades of blue around us – the fish and the coral still bright with sunlight.
And we gently exhale.
The only sounds we hear is the scraping of parrot fish gnawing on the reef, and maybe a distant boat engine, but mostly it is just our breath: slow, conscious and controlled.
It only takes a few minutes and we have the feeling that we are surrounded by a cocoon, as if we carry a shell of jelly around us, hovering and gliding through the water that is not really cold nor warm.
Suspended in space we look down and up as we follow the bubbles of our outbreath. The clicking of the regulator and the air of our breath rolling with a prickle up our face and neck sound calming, hypnotic almost.
Gradually, our focus is turning inwards, as we pace our breath.
Our concentration is focused on each inhale and each exhale and yes at times our mind may wander but we bring it back calmly without pressure or stress.
Many scuba divers think of diving as the time to forget their every-day life, a time to relax and just be. No cell phones will ring, no conversations necessary, no nagging friends or family members, no chores or appointments to rush to, no emails to check.
At this point, even non-divers familiar with meditation will recognize the similarities between the two. Diving is simply another form of mindful breathing.
During meditation, we first make ourselves comfortable and think of the all the sensations around us - the smells, the sounds, the light.
We then focus on the feeling of each part of our body, its weight and its tension.
And then we turn the attention to our breath, taking in the air through our nose and letting it fill our chest and abdomen.
We might change our breath and count as we inhale or count as we exhale, to emphasize one or the other and to sharpen our focus
If we want to feel invigorated, we might then concentrate for a few minutes on the point where the air enters our body, before bringing our consciousness back to the present day, to the feeling of our body and the space around us.
Outside of meditation, diving is one of the few times in life when we really focus on our breathing. Underwater our breath regulates our body position and buoyancy. It enables us to rise above coral or descend through a swim-through. When the air in our tank declines and we get lighter, it is our outbreath that keeps us submerged and prevents us from rising too fast to the surface.
So here are my seven reasons why diving is really just meditation underwater:
In both meditation and diving we breath consciously and deliberately.
Our breathing pattern leads to a calmer mind and body.
In either activity, our mind’s focus is gradually turning inwards and even if our mind wanders we will always bring it back to our breath.
The weightlessness of diving and the complete body relaxation during meditation puts us in a physical state of suspension, enabling us to …
Achieve a singular focus. In diving and meditation, we become one with our surroundings, our breath and our body.
Diving clears our minds from the pressure and routines of the day, the myriad activities that cause us anxiety and stress. It is our calm and quiet place, just like meditation.
And ultimately both scuba diving and meditation can help us lead calmer lives and achieve equanimity despite the stresses we may face.
PADI, the certifying organization for recreational scuba divers has also recognized the benefits of diving as a meditative practice. Some of the parallels between diving and meditation are mentioned in this article.
It also highlights some of the benefits of “underwater meditation” such as the physical effects of increased oxygen supply from deep breathing, and an increased consciousness and control over our mind and body.
With some experience in either diving or meditation, we may even be able to cope better with the stresses and challenges that life throws at us. So, go out and dive or meditate again. If you are not a diver and you have the opportunity to try it, you should. It is a magical world down there and you will be in tune with it.
In the meantime, check out our Meditation for Divers. Just use it to relax or if you are a diver just reminisce about the last time you were underwater.