Freediving is not all about risks and extreme performances or even watching marine life. Freediving makes you happy, and that's all due to flow. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in what he is doing. Remember last time you arrived at the bottom plate without even noticing it, wondering how time flew by so fast?
Time perception is different, the dive feels effortless and the productivity is optimal. Well-being is instantaneous. Flow is reached mostly in activities and sports where risks are involved, requiring an intense focus to fulfill the action. Therefore, flow is inherent to extreme sports such as base-jumping, highline, rock climbing, but also to freediving.
Flow was first studied and named by a psychologist from Hungary, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to him, it is a way to reach happiness and that’s why those who experienced it just keep going. “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi may have been the first to describe this concept in Western psychology, he was most certainly not the first to quantify the concept of Flow. Eastern spiritual practitioners of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Sufism have developed a very thorough and holistic set of theories around overcoming the duality of self and objects which is very similar to what you experience while practicing extreme sports.
More recently, some studies were conducted on Slackline practice (this line you set up between two points to walk and jump on it) in the French Alps by two researchers from Nice University, Marion Fournier and Rémi Radel. This study, helped demonstrate the principles of flow. Flow is a kind of trance you enter, similar to the one the Buddhist monks experience. This quasi-meditative state, makes the surroundings and the worries fade, giving another perception of the time. One minute is only a moment that passes with no beginning and no end as we perform the action. Therefore, 10 minutes spent on the slackline can feel like an instant or one hour. Same with your dive, 30 seconds or more of freefall can feel like a heartbeat.
In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The focus is on the action. A feeling of transcendence takes over and you find your inner peace. Nothing matters anymore but the action, without particular awareness of this phenomenon. It is a kind of escape from reality (but in a positive way in opposition to a destructive escape that you can experience by taking some drugs). The Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, during qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, explained: “I was already on pole, […] and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my teammate with the same car. And suddenly I realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel”
Does that sound familiar to you? Did you ever experience what some refer to as a perfect dive, even on a PB attempt or a challenging dive which felt soooooo easy? You might have just experienced flow. To conclude, the “Flow sports” allow us to escape worries and concerns, to live fully but healthily, so just keep practicing freediving and other flow sports such as slackline and rock climbing. It is good, not only for your body but for your mind.