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Breath-holding techniques are being used by free divers, surfers, spear fishers…and yogis!

Words by Jana Toepfer, Ocean & Yoga

Did you know that free divers can hold their breath up to 10 minutes on land? Underwater, humans can hold their breath even longer. This is what they call static apnea – and the current world record for holding one’s breath this way is more than 20 minutes. Common spear fishers manage to hold their breath for about two minutes on average as they dive and move. We also know that big-wave surfers use certain techniques to be able to hold their breath for an extended amount of time during massive wipeouts.

These feats seem incredibly impressive. But how are they possible, and how do people who can hold their breath for time periods far longer than most of us mere mortals do it?

These questions have been on my mind since surfer friends of mine first started to add free diving to their training routine or list of “fun things to do when surf is flat.” But I never started to investigate it further until I came across this topic during my yoga trainings and, more specifically, during my extended pranayama studies.

Pranayama means “extension of the life force,” and sometimes is even translated to “trance induced by stopping all breathing.” In any case, pranayama traditionally has been an integral part of yoga. While studying different traditions and techniques, I kept coming across exercises that teach you how to slow down or even hold your breath. The effect that I felt was super-calming for the active thinking mind and somehow diffused the concept of time, really centering me into the sublime space of “here and now.” I was hooked!

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Breath slows down = mind slows down

If you are an athlete or practice yoga, the relationship between body, mind and breath is quite obvious. The way we breathe has an effect on the body. It’s a bit like a channel of communication. When we focus our attention on the exhalation, our body quickly calms down. Once the body relaxes, our mind quiets as well and we can focus better. When holding your breath in meditation, you can learn to change your brain activity and go into a state of flow. You let go.

I started experimenting with these techniques when I am out surfing and it has drastically changed the way I feel in the water. I remember how my fear kicked in way earlier once bigger sets and the collateral chance of long holddowns rolled in. I used to miss out on natural phenomena right around me (fish jumping out of the water, the texture of the water, currents and even my own intuition) when my mind went too busy with “doing things right.”

But I found that when I applied meditation and breathing techniques in the ocean, something changed. I felt part of the bigger picture and realized my connection to nature and to life itself. And that felt completely amazing.

Of course, this also goes for situations outside of the waves. Once you start to feel this way in the ocean, any intense situation that you encounter on land can be met with more energy, calmness, mental stability, a greater focus on priorities and goals, a closer connection to the body and more attention to the moment.

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You can easily learn it, too!

When I met Chris, a free dive and surf instructor from Austria who resides in Bali, during a yoga training there last year, the idea of guiding breathwork- and meditation-oriented surf trips together was born instantly! We call our project “The Art of Breath and Meditation for Surfers” and we’ll run it for the first time in April 2016, in Southern Portugal. The idea of the retreat is not only to enjoy a surf trip with fun and like-minded people (like you probably always do) but also learn something new that will change your perspective and deepen your passion for the sport and this lifestyle.

We will start each day with a centering meditation at a beautiful surf spot overlooking the ocean before we head out for an early morning/sunrise surf to try out the new techniques that we learn throughout the week. A big healthy brunch is ready for us when we come back. Then you’re free to hang out, get lost in conversations, make friends with the farm dog, collect eggs from the chicken or pick veggies, fruits and herbs from the garden.

In the afternoon or evening (depending on wave conditions) we get together for a strength-building yoga class and the breath-hold and meditation workshop. On most days, there will be time for a second free surf, in which case the yoga session is more gentle and restorative. Evenings are spent around the big table on the terrace or at the camp fire, and sometimes we cook together – but most of the time we enjoy the farm owner’s homemade and super-yummy vegan food. Since we have access to fresh seafood, it is also possible to arrange for BBQs.

Sound enticing? Want to learn to use holding your breath to enhance your yoga practice, surfing and even your life? Let’s get an amazing crew together for this breathtaking journey!

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Jana Toepfer, Ocean & Yoga

Jana is a yoga teacher and surfer who lives in Southern Portugal where she runs Ocean & Yoga Retreats, which are designed for guests to enjoy a relaxing and inspiring week with as much time out in nature as possible. Some retreats have a focus on personal development, or on yoga asana practice, some on sacred spiritual work and others on surf and breath.

The art of breath and meditation for surfers takes place in Southern Portugal (closest airports Faro or Lisbon) April 17-22. Rates from 970UR include double or single accommodation in a beautifully refurbished farmhouse, home-made biological meals, breath-hold workshop, daily yoga. Basic surf knowledge required to go free surfing, otherwise it is possible to book an additional beginner’s course and participate in the breath-hold workshop and yoga sessions. Registration and further info: www.oceanandyoga.com


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