Call of the depths
CORALIE IMBERT shares her love of both meditation and freediving, and how both have helped her to interiorize and live an inner journey, as well as manage her emotions.
FREE DIVING , MEDITATION AND PERFORMANCE
IN CONVERSATION WITH CORALIE IMBERT
Q: What attracted you to breath-holding diving, and what led you to attain great depths?
CI: I was born by the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France, and was practically brought up on the beach, but the reasons for that call of the depths is difficult to explain. I think it has always been within me, since nobody ever steered me in that direction. When I was a teenager, in class I used to watch the palm trees swaying and I thought only about going back to the sea and the surf, kitesurfing, in order to be still closer to the water.
Actually, the relationship I have with the sea has developed in the same direction as my approach to life. To start with, I tried more extreme sports, such as free high jumping and skimming the surface of the water. Over time, it calmed down and I would rather swim, until I decided to try diving deeper. And that is how I attempted to hold my breath while I dived. In the adventure of my life, when I was younger I was very impulsive, with an explosive temper. As time passed, I started interiorizing, and I learnt how to live an inner journey, through meditation in particular.
In deep water, I can look for sensations, for experiences, but I can also surpass myself since I keep trying to go further down, deeper down. But what really attracts me is that feeling of peace, of wellbeing and the state of total relaxation I can attain while I am diving.
When I sit down, I close my eyes,
I turn inward and I enter another universe.
It is a very vast universe,
which I will discover every day,
whether it be during
meditation or freediving.
Q: What do you feel when you are in deep water?
CI: What I feel is very similar to what I feel while meditating: being absorbed into myself. I am no longer either awake or asleep. Sports people who have that sort of experience call it being in
‘the zone’ or in a state of ‘flow’. It means that we are totally absorbed in our activity, keeping all our senses alert, though at the same time we remain in a hyper-focused state of mind. It is very difficult to describe, and I think that state is different for each and every freediver. The best way to understand it is probably to try it.
Q How would you compare freediving and meditation?
CI For me, both practices are very close, as far as inner sensations are concerned, since they both bring about a calm, deeply relaxed state, relating to a profound discovery of the self. When you are free diving, you are cut from all external stimuli and you can see practically nothing. Personally, when I dive I use a nose clip and I close my eyes, so that I cannot see anything. Then, sensations are completely different from what you can feel in the open air.
In a marine environment, I enter a fantastic world, a world that is entirely different. It is the same with meditation: when I sit down, I close my eyes, I turn inward and I enter another universe. It is a very vast universe, which I will discover every day, whether it be during meditation or freediving.
Holding my breath, I am often confronted with emotions I was not aware of, and then I may experience tensions throughout my head or body. I must cross all these barriers in order to go deeper down and bathe in that peaceful and tranquil state I am looking for – but I can’t be sure that it will be there. In meditation, too, my mind is not always free and thoughts may come and go, just like waves.
Q: Does meditation help you progress in freediving and vice versa?
CI: I think both practices reflect one another. I have gone through periods when I could not dive for several months, which was very hard for me. Meditation allowed me to recover some calm and an inner peace; it would also lift my spirits and help me keep my balance. Meditation also helps me better understand what prevents me from going deeper, so I can progress. Thanks to meditation, I can put into perspective what happens when I am out of the water. Finally, it helps me recover my strength: a 10-minute meditation is as beneficial as a 2-hour nap. I must say that meditation has greatly improved my ability to concentrate, making it easier for me to channel my thoughts, so that I can now focus on only one thing.
Q: How can holding your breath help you manage your emotions?
CI: For some people it may even be a therapy. For many years, that‘s what it was for me, even more than meditation. Breathhold diving was like a breath of fresh air, which gave me peace and calm. If ever I felt bad, I would go in the water. Many people I observed have had the same experience.
My family has noticed it too. They say I am much calmer and more serene when I freedive, compared to moments when I do not. It has pacified me. It is somewhat like the agitated surface of the ocean in which I previously floated. By diving into the depths I found that an enduring stillness prevails there.
Q: Is the heart dimension important in breath-hold diving and why?
CI: I think that the quality of one’s heart is important in freediving, first of all physically. When we dive, we develop an instinctive reaction to immersion, a physiological adaptation that sort of trains the heart. We have what is called bradycardia, a slow heart rate, which develops when we dive. Meditation develops the same slowing down in our usual heart rate; therefore, meditating before going into the water allows me to be one step ahead of this instinctive reaction to immersion.
Furthermore, the heart dimension is essential in terms of emotions; the heart is where emotions reside. If I am not in a peaceful condition, my dive cannot possibly go well. So, I have to put all my heart in this activity, which for me has always been what matters most. So sometimes, when getting ready for a dive, I recall memories of love.
Meditation allowed me to recover
some calm and an inner peace;
it would also life my spirits and
help me keep my balance.
Meditation also helps me better understand
what prevents me from going deeper,
so I can progress. Thanks to meditation,
I can put into perspective what happens
when I am out of water.
Q: Can you tell us about the way a high-level apneaist trains?
CI: The training varies from one athlete to another, but we all require a minimum of physical training, fitness and cardiovascular exercises. We often add a lot of breathing exercises, because before any breath-hold training, we must learn how to breathe, become aware of our breathing, and pay attention to it. We train in order to breathe better and thus optimize the body’s resources. Then we have dry training exercises, since we can’t possibly spend our time in the water, which would be quite exhausting. Deep freedives have to be done once or twice a day, but not at first, as it would be too high a demand for the body. Finally, some stretching and yoga exercises help in that preparation, notably some specific stretching exercises for strengthening the chest cavity and lungs, in order to favour a deep compensatory activation. That is necessary preparation due to the high pressure we have to endure when we are deep freediving; the body has to be prepared for these changes.
Then an important part is up to the mind, which is quite a deal for me, so I integrate meditation with some positive imaging exercises. They are very efficient, as their influence on the brain compares practically with physical exercises. As often as I can, I include meditation in my preparatory training. I meditate first thing in the morning, to start my day in the best possible way, and then before I go to the sea I always try to meditate at least for a few minutes, which allows me to be well-centered, keep that necessary heart dimension and being well entrenched in my self. I also include the Heartfulness cleaning practice every evening, which frees me of all the emotions accumulated during the day, so I can eel fresh at every moment.
Q: Does meditation help increase performance?
CI: I have been a high-level kite-surf athlete for many years, first without meditation and then with meditation. I can tell you that it really changed my world. I started meditation after realizing that something essential was missing in my approach. During competitions I had to face stress, pressure and emotions I did not know how to manage at the time.
By evolving through meditation and asking myself questions, I was in a position to channel and regulate my mind, and to much better manage stress and pressure. Today my approach is totally different: I now live it as a competition with myself. I am not here to walk on anybody’s head. Whenever I compete in free diving, I consider it as an opportunity to surpass myself, and also to share everything I’ve discovered. I share the techniques I use for training with everyone who is interested, and particularly with the girls who are going to take part with me in a freediving competition. We never walk alone, do we?
That, too, has come after many years of meditation, together with the philosophy that goes with it.
Q: Do you have you a specific healthy lifestyle?
CI: My lifestyle also came naturally from within. Little by little, I realized that it was much better for me to rise early in the morning and go to bed earlier in the evening, rather than go to parties at night. That is something I don’t need or fancy anymore. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, and I am a vegetarian. I live very well with such choices; they make me feel good and fit, and ready to face challenges and records. These choices do not cost me a lot, because they have come gradually, and are my way to be in harmony with myself. Every morning, as soon as I get up, I meditate, and at the end of the day I do my cleaning – in the same way I take a shower, I clean my head and my heart. It helps me sleep well and recover more easily. Such a practice has to be regular, my idea being to develop a meditative inner condition, and to maintain the peace and balance I find during meditation all day long. Eventually, I have seen that other people and the environment also benefit from it.
By evolving through meditation and asking myself
questions, I was in a position to channel and
regulate my mind, and to much better manage
stress and pressure. Today my approach is totally
different: I now live it as a competition with myself.
Q: What did the members of the French freediving team think of Heartfulness meditation?
CI: They were all well motivated. I think they appreciated it. It has not always been very easy for all of them. Many freedivers practice Yoga and are used to positive imaging and other techniques of meditation. Heartfulness meditation, therefore, was quite welcome and I am sure some of them will continue after having tried it here.
Q: What are your plans concerning freediving and meditation?
CI: My objective is to make full use of the resources meditation offers in order to go as far as possible into free diving. I also use other classical training techniques, for the body can’t be forgotten; it makes the whole. I cannot say that meditation alone will help me reach a depth of 100 meters, but I think it plays its part in it. And obviously, the objective is to have other people, other freedivers benefit from it. And it could also be to have other people discover freediving through the practice of meditation, through a more spiritual approach, by involving the sporting world.
We often speak of the two wings a bird needs to fly; we have to balance our two wings, the material and the spiritual, and that is the approach I’d like to propose to people.
Q: And what is your advice to those who would like to discover freediving?
CI: Go and do it, but be careful you never do it alone. There are teams and clubs everywhere. You may come here to the Philippines, to the Freedive Headquarters, but all over the world there are schools with qualified instructors who are passionate and motivated. They will give you the technical basics for progressing safely while rapidly enjoying the discovery of that wonderful world.
Q: Can you tell us something about the physiological effects of freediving?
CI: Freediving has many benefits in terms of health and wellbeing. Freedivers generally take things easy and are very peaceful, just as you can feel after a deep meditation. Being immersed into the sea helps the body relax. In a weightless environment your muscles will relax; then it triggers the ‘mammalian diving reflex’: your heart rate slows down, peripheral capillaries get constricted, forcing the oxygenated blood back toward the vital organs of the body, and the spleen delivers extra oxygen-rich blood. That range of adjustments optimizes metabolism, the objective being minimal input for a maximal output.
The activities and stress responses of the sympathetic nervous system subside to the benefit of the parasympathetic system, promoting rest, energy-conservation and relaxation. Modern life often alters the balance of the nervous system, because it over-activates the sympathetic system, due to a cumulating stress and a lack of rest. This can sometimes go as far as burnout. The practice of freediving will allow you to restore that precious balance, in the same manner meditation does!
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