We approach the world of apnea through the instructor Yana Mira.
This thirty-two-year-old Ukrainian woman, apart from being a free-diving instructor, sport which she has been practising regularly for three years, is also a yoga instructor and a photographer, specially devoted to photography of divers. She got to Fuerteventura three years ago and she considers herself a person who is in love with the underwater world surrounding this wonderful island. She tells us today the secrets of this sport, considered by some people as extreme and risky.
What is apnea?
Diving underwater on a single breath. With no air tank, nor extra oxygen! There are different disciplines:
• Static apnea: holding your breath for as long as you can without moving.
• Dynamic apnea: swimming underwater for the longest distance.
• Depth apnea: going as deep as you can, my personal favourite!
But it’s much more than just holding your breath. It’s about complete relaxation, meditative state, slowing your mind down and living the moment. This is why it’s a trip to freedom. When you get immersed on just one breath you get rid of your thoughts, there is no past nor future, just you in the present moment, under the water. It’s a clear an important exercise of mental self control to overcome your fears, as you’re exploring your limits in an environment which is not the usual one. For me, practising apnea is one of the purest forms of connection with the ocean in which every second counts.
At a certain depth the human body loses its natural buoyancy and starts falling deeper and deeper. This experience, known as free fall, is similar to the feeling of free-falling from the sky. Many divers practise it only for the sake of feeling this thrill: «Gliding through the big blue». When you practise apnea your body and mind must work together, a task that requires stepping out of your comfort zone.
Is apnea an extreme and dangerous practice?
Like any other sport, and bearing in mind that you get immersed in an environment that could become hostile on a single breath, it can be extreme and dangerous, but if you do it right, with controlled training and respecting the safety rules, anyone can enjoy practising it with safety.
Actually, from my point of view, free-diving is probably one of the safest water sports, as you focus on relaxation.
Quite another thing is competitive apnea, which consists of bringing the body to the limit with the aim of winning. It would be the same as watching big wave surfers and asking if surfing is dangerous. The only extreme side of apnea is relaxation.
What happens to our body when we practise apnea?
Our body is a beautiful and intelligent machine that suffers a series of changes under the water. We can slow down our heart rate up to 50%, our spleen contracts helping to bring more red blood cells to our system, so we can hold our breath longer. Our vital organs get protected. The more you practice, the stronger and quicker your reflexes, which means your dives become longer, safer and more enjoyable.
Benefits of apnea
There are a lot of health benefits but generally it also changes your entire outlook on life. You become calm; apnea reduces stress and it brings you self-confidence as you learn to trust your body and your skills. It also increases your lung capacity, you breathe more efficiently, which is helpful for any sport and beneficial for general health. Your diet will change, you get more flexible and fit, greater body awareness and better concentration. You get Increased confidence in the water, safety and connection with nature.
Who is the potential apnea target?
Anyone who enjoys being in the water. In my courses people come from a lot of different backgrounds: Spear fishermen who have always been diving but want to take it to another level, people who practise yoga and want to enjoy a different meditative state, mental strength and physical flexibility, surfers who want to improve their breath-hold for wipe-outs, underwater photographers, swimmers who want to gain greater breath control. Apnea can be targeted to anyone who enjoys underwater life.
Any advice to start practising apnea.
Don’t ever free-dive on your own! Always have someone with you on the surface, watching you. It’s also important to make sure that you don’t have any health problems. Even a half- a- day course could give you the basic tools to train safely, in and outside the water, preventing you from making any serious mistakes.