Caroline Wells, Yoga instructor, keen underwater photographer and a Scuba Travel regular explains how Yoga helped her to become a better diver and the benefits of practicing Yoga for scuba divers.
As divers we naturally spend time thinking about our fitness. Some may not be preoccupied about this but certainly for the weeks running up to a trip I’m keen to avoid catching colds or injuring myself at a critical time when I need to be “fit to dive”. Without really thinking about it when we signed up to our hobby, we signed up to something that helps us stay reasonably fit and we usually (although not always) return from a trip a few pounds lighter, a fair bit stronger and with more energy. There is also the benefit of been so focused on the diving that the stresses and strains that we felt before our trip have dissipated or at least reduced in magnitude. To my non-diving friends, I describe diving as “underwater meditation” and those who know me well remind me of just how hard I worked to conquer my fear of water in order to be able to dive, and of the times back in the late noughties when I said “never again”.
Many have asked why I continued when I had such fear, and also how I got over that constant fear and waves of panic that hit me every time I was about to enter the water. There was always the sheer support and encouragement of other divers, but in particular it was when I started to understand the power of breath in relation to the emotions.
Using Yoga to overcome anxiety
On the trip when I completed my PADI advanced I told my dive instructor that would be my last dive – I was just too petrified and didn’t feel safe! He said he could help me with this fear. He was a yogi and spent some time showing me breathing techniques and explaining that there is always a natural pause after the exhale, so breathing underwater should be as calm and effortless as it is out of water. It made me realise I was hyperventilating underwater, so my initial anxiety became worse and I was unable to think straight. I retired to my room, continued with those exercises and noticed my nerves reducing as the days went on. Although I yoga sporadically I returned home with a wish to learn more about what yoga really is.
Despite the decision that diving was not for me, I quickly booked another trip and with my interest in yoga re-ignited, found an excellent yoga teacher and developed my yoga practice. That next trip I realised my physical strength had improved with the yoga, that I could use the power of my breath to control the nerves and that my air consumption had improved. It took a good few years before I became comfortable, calm and focused enough that some dives feel like a moving meditation Now I always travel with a yoga mat and notice just how I feel when I can practice beside calm sea and under the shade of the palm trees. Yoga always helps me and even if there is little space to practice it doesn’t stop me doing the Pranayama (breath control) exercises that help with the diving. The benefits of Yoga for Scuba divers is undeniable.
One of last year’s trips was to Scuba Seraya in Bali and it was great to be able to work on yoga routines that helped ease the shoulders, neck and back, and to fit in some time for meditation (of the above water variety). My pre-trip yoga practices are always designed with my diving in mind and I know that I am a better and safer diver as a result.
Benefits of Yoga for divers in COVID-19 times
In this time of COVID 19, both as a yoga teacher and a diver, much of what I practice and teach is driven by a wish to keep the lymphatic and immune system as strong as possible and keep the muscles around the ribcage strong and flexible. It’s also about developing/maintaining coping strategies for remaining mentally as well as physically well. My next trip has had to move into next year and who knows when I’ll be in the water, but meanwhile the yoga is a constant that should keep me fit to dive.