Nick Pelios Freediver, Creator
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Talk with any deep freediver and you will be assured that freediving is 20% physical and 80% mental. If that's the case, then relaxation plays a significant role in the outcome of a dive. So, let's explore what relaxation is, its importance for freediving, and go through a few techniques, such as yoga breathing exercises, meditation, and visualization. These techniques can help you decrease muscle tension, lower blood pressure, and slow heart and breath rates, among other essential health benefits for freediving. Rafael Nolasco explains.

The Meaning And Importance Of Relaxation

In recent years, we have been introduced to many tools used for communication, such as smartphones and social media. Unfortunately, these tools constantly invade our mental space and demand our attention, making it difficult to disconnect from the world around us. Relaxation techniques offer a way around this problem. Relaxation is an essential topic for freedivers and a powerful tool for relaxing three critical components of our body: the muscles, the breath and the mind. We know relaxation is beneficial for freediving and our daily lives. It is a physiological process triggered by the mind and profoundly affects all biological systems in our body. Relaxation technique is a method, process, procedure, or activity that helps a person relax and reach an increased level of calmness. Relaxation can potentially use it to medicate: pain, anxiety, anger, stress, and depression.

It is vital to consciously increase your calmness before any activity to achieve optimum focus and, therefore, performance. Your mind is the same as any muscle in your body; you need to learn how to train it if you want to use it. Every tense muscle uses significantly more oxygen and energy than a relaxed one. Our body has 640 skeletal muscles, which are fuelled by oxygen. Therefore relaxation is more complicated than simply dropping the shoulders, softening the belly, and relaxing the neck, as commonly advised between freediving colleagues. To achieve a higher level of relaxation is necessary to take a more detailed approach. This method involves three key areas: relaxing your muscles, relaxing your breath, relaxing your mind. Relaxation is essential at all freediving levels, and I believe in life. It does not matter if you are a beginner, an intermediate, or an advanced world record-holder; you will need to relax for better performance.

Why Is Relaxation So Important For Freedivers?

As everyone knows, freediving is a mental sport. There are several factors involved in freediving that could cause stress to the freediver, the most common of which include: being in open water without boundaries around you, such as the walls of a swimming pool, holding your breath, as this is an unnatural state for a human being, feeling your diaphragm contract, which is uncomfortable. Your body can see and react to the above as a risk, raising the heartbeat and stress hormone levels in the bloodstream, which results in the muscles tensing and, therefore, an increase in oxygen consumption. The more oxygen they require and use if these muscles are engaged, so as a result, you may feel in feeling the urge to breathe sooner. A relaxed body acts more efficiently than a stressed body and consumes less oxygen. Keeping the mind relaxed and breath controlled enables the body to relax, therefore conserving oxygen during apnea activities. Without a doubt, it allows freedivers to dive deeper and hold their breath for a more extended time. Relaxation will help you react calmly to the physical signals your body sends while you hold your breath. For example, when you've been holding your breath for a long time, your body gives you "messages" like swallowing and diaphragmatic spasms. If not relaxed, a person's natural reaction to these physical signs is to feel stressed. However, if you're relaxed, you can avoid these feelings.

When I mention relaxing your muscles, mind, and breath, I do not mean losing your focus. A person needs to relax but keep their mind focused. A good example is when a freediver relaxes their body entirely and loses focus while freefalling. This action results in the freediver losing the appropriate posture for freefall. Being relaxed and not focused, you might find some difficulties in progress. Many people confuse focus with tension, but they are not the same. It may be more appropriate to refer to 'focus' as 'awareness'. It is possible to achieve relaxation whilst remaining highly aware of your surroundings and sensations in your own body. Relaxation is the key for our body; that's why in many circumstances. It is recognized that a person who can reach the front lobe is considered to have better answers and reactions to something unexpected. Just think, our cerebral works better relaxed than stressed.

Common Problems For Not Being Relaxed

When we first start learning to freedive, relaxation is one of the hardest things to learn, everything is so new, and there is so much to integrate. Similarly, experienced freedivers attempting deeper dives can lose their mouth fill or experience thoracic or lung barotrauma due to not being sufficiently relaxed. Relaxation is a process that decreases the effects of stress on the mind and body. This, in turn, reduces the chances of injury and improves performance on dives. Without effective relaxation techniques, it is impossible to progress no matter what level. The most common problems for beginners are:

The stress of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems - some freedivers have anxious and negative thoughts about the fact that they are holding their breath or diving to depth, therefore negatively visualizing their dive. This way of thinking increases stress hormones in the body makes the heartbeat faster. It also increases artery pressure and causes rapid breathing, which leads to hyperventilation. All of the above increase oxygen consumption and, therefore, are detrimental to the freediver's ability to perform safely.

The stress of the muscles - when the body is under pressure, the muscles tense up to protect themselves from an injury. Muscle tension increases oxygen consumption, making apnea dives unpleasant and short. Other common problems include strong contractions, inability to equalize, lungs not being able to compress safely at the depth, using oxygen quickly.

How To Prepare Your Relaxation

We know that freediving is understood as a mental sport, so relaxation is the first way to approach it. There are several techniques to achieve this. The first technique to discuss is meditation, which is known to de-excite the nervous system to give the body deep rest. This rest helps the body for many reasons, including physical ailments, but mainly relieves stress. Two helpful forms of meditation for freediving are as follows:

Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point and refocussing your awareness on a chosen attention.

Mindfulness mediation focuses awareness on each part of your body in turn.

A further helpful technique is visualization, which differs from meditation. It is an active rather than passive practice because you must focus on something specific. Visualization involves guiding the breath and mind to the desired result, such as a mindset, a feeling, or a body sensation. Visualization can be used as a tool to prepare our physical, mental, and emotional state for high performance. Arnold Schwarzenegger used this tool to accomplish his goals. Arnold said, "I had this fixed idea of growing a body like Reg Park's. The model was there in my mind; I only had to grow enough to fill it. The more I focused on this image and worked and grew, the more I saw it was real and possible for me to be like him." Visualization is helpful for freediving because we can visualize a dive before it takes place, so it helps prevent negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions, which all contribute to increased stress and muscle tension.

Various Effective Breathing Techniques Improve Relaxation

Abdominal and Thoracic Breathing
- abdominal breathing helps us become aware of the tension held in our belly and relax the muscles surrounding it. The thoracic breathing aims to prove your breathing consciousness and simulate the intercostal muscles by training the elasticity and flexibility of the rib cage.

Triangular Breathing - this exercise will help you control the rhythm of your breathing and help relax your muscles.

Square Breathing - this exercise adds two phases on breath-holding to the inspiration and expiration phases.

Yoga breathing - these exercises are also known as pranayama.

Nadi Sohdahan - the most well-known exercise of pranayama. It will benefit your body's oxygenation and relaxation.

Kapalabhati - this exercise will benefit your body oxygenation, blood circulation, and relaxation. However, it's a type of hyperventilation and should not be practiced before a freediving performance.

In conclusion, relaxation can be achieved by anyone. The relaxation technique can manage any stress encountered in daily life through work, relationships, or other situations. However, this technique cannot accomplish without effort and practice. Freedivers can reach specific goals and improve their performance without mastering relaxation. However, it is undeniable that regular practice of the techniques. A role model freediver should understand how relaxation can affect physiology and mental state. This enhanced clarity allows them to dive deeper, further, and for longer and develops a more responsible, pragmatic, and accomplished athlete.

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