A Look Into Holistic Freediving

A Look Into Holistic Freediving

Instructor course handout

Stella Abbas Rowland


The focus of being a holistic freediver, is to encompass all factors that influence how you dive. Through gathering information and examining yourself, you will be able to be more reliable and effective during dives and in your general well-being towards yourself and your environment.

What is the meaning of holistic?

  • The meaning of holistic is described by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and understood only by reference to the whole.

  • The treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of their problems.

Ways to access a holistic philosophy

Learn to observe engage and find connection within body, mind, spirit and environment. Each of these four substances behave individually yet are here to safeguard us. The goal is to pay attention and take all into consideration in order to find equanimity in your diving and life in general. Listed below are all contributing factors that you can examine carefully and use to your benefit.

Learn to observe your body

The body consists of a number of intricate biological systems that carry out specific functions necessary for survival and growth in your everyday life. Your body even responds to water creating the mammalian dive response.

Rarely much attention is paid to how your body functions, as it has the incredible ability to regulate itself according to your needs.

When you are hungry you eat, when you are tired you sleep, after you digest you defecate. These responses are triggered by your autonomous nervous system.

Your autonomous nervous system is divided into two systems; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Both systems will help you adapt and react to your surroundings.

The sympathetic nervous system

The sympathetic nervous system activates the fight or flight response which allow mammals including humans to react quickly to a life threatening situation.

When you feel threatened your heart rate will increase, your pupils dilate, your muscles contract, your production of saliva is reduced and glycogen is converted to glucose.

This response is activated in order for you to fight or run should you ever face danger. Unfortunately you react the same way in non life threatening situations that can be caused by stress, anxiety, public speaking or any other perceived threat. In the long-term this sensation can wear us down causing diseases or putting us in a sense of danger where there is none.

As a freediver the thought of holding your breath for an extended period of time or having to do a peak performance can easily trigger the fight or flight response.

The best way to help the brain realise that there is no need for it to be on high alert, is to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system “rest and digest”.

The parasympathetic nervous system

The parasympathetic nervous system helps you to rest and digest. It replenishes the body and keeps you in a relaxed and collected state.

The heart rate drops, the muscles relax, the pupils constrict, saliva is increased, digestive enzymes are released and the production of urine is increased.

These functions help you to conserve energy and keep a healthy balance.

For freedivers the rest and digest response is beneficial as it will help you conserve oxygen and give a sense of calm for your dives. Beneath are some techniques that you can apply to your dives and in general.

Nasal breathing

When you breathe through your nose you are able to take deeper breaths and activate the lower lungs where there are parasympathetic nerve receptors which give you a calming effect as opposed to shallow breathing from your mouth, which may lead you to breathe more from your chest making you hyperventilate.

Practice meditation

Meditation makes the mind relax, it reduces stress and helps you maintain focus during your diving or daily activities.

Repeat a word

Repeating a word that makes you feel calm or using mantras enables you to focus inward and be in the present moment without giving space for the mind to create a fight or flight response.

Gently touch your lips

Your lips have parasympathetic fibers. You can activate the parasympathetic nervous system by simply touching your lips gently with your fingers.

Be mindful

Be aware of your thoughts and try to do one thing at a time observing if you feel the need to rush or if you are able to stay conscious of what you are doing in the very moment.

Soak yourself in a bath tub and get a massage

Allow your muscles to relax and release all the tension that you feel has accumulated in your mind and body.

If you exercise these rituals on a daily basis your body will become familiar and adapt more easily.

What is the difference between mind and brain?

The brain is the most complex part of your body. It acts as your personal project manager as it communicates with each part of your body through the central nervous system. This is where sensing, perceiving, thinking and emotions take place. The brain is only 2% of your overall weight however uses up to 20% of your oxygen.

How you manage your thoughts and feelings has an effect on your well-being. This goes the same for how you prepare yourself in your dives.

A negative mind

Negative thoughts and feelings can bring your body’s hormones out of balance, which can lead you to feeling depressed, stressed and ill.

If you stay in a negative head-space during your dives, you could end up facing mental blocks, or putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

There are 4 typical reactions to stress or fear. Learn to identify how you respond to a demanding dive or in general situations.


You believe you can achieve your dive if you overpower the stress with a forceful and aggressive approach.


You don’t even try to do the dive because you are afraid of possible consequences.


When you can’t make up your mind whether you should dive or not.


Giving in to the threat as you see no other way.

Identify how you respond

If you are aware of how you respond to stress or threat you can asses if it is a rational or irrational response.

If it is an irrational response be aware of it. How does it arise? Is there a deeper source?

Once you recognise the source you will be able to calm yourself down and find a more positive approach in the same situation.

How can you change a negative pattern?

Confront your fears

The thought of something we fear can be much scarier than the reality itself. If there is no rational explanation to your fear. Perhaps it might actually make you feel better to confront it and finding out that your fear was actually just a manifestation that you created in your head.


During meditation you will experience how your thoughts start to wander. Learn to observe without judging or reacting. This method will help you find a sense of equanimity.

Positive affirmation

Fears can come from a place of feeling unworthy. Your mind believes what you tell it! Practice using “I AM” and tell yourself what you need to hear to achieve and overcome your fears.


Practising sports is not just healthy for your body it also boosts your brain decreasing depression and anxiety. This will also improve your self-esteem.

The positive mind

The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by changing his attitude [mind]”

~William James~ (January 11, 1842 – August 27, 1910) American philosopher and psychologist

If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it then I can achieve it.

~Muhammad Ali~

Does your mind manage you or do you manage your mind?

What information do you feed your mind. Your mind receives and processes information by sensing. This can either have a positive or negative affect. Senses also create memories.

The five main senses are.

  • Seeing. Do you watch negative news on TV or something that inspires you?

  • Hearing. Do you listen to loud aggressive noises or are you hearing the birds singing?

  • Smelling. Are you getting the smell of smoke in your nose or the scent of flowers in a green field?

  • Tasting. Does it taste fresh, does it taste rotten, does it taste bitter or sweet?

  • Touching. Shaking the hand of someone you don’t like or giving your best friend a hug.

Find your passion

People who have a passion are generally much happier in life. Having a purpose gives us more self confidence and inspires us to achieve great things. To progress in your passion, it is important to create structure and rules. Brain chatter or distractions may stop you from focusing. Create healthy habits and follow a routine!

  • Stretching

  • Diet

  • Visualisation

  • Sleep

What is Spirit

The Spirit is omnipresent. It is all present boundless and infinite. When you connect to spirit you connect to everything. You let go of all your inhibition and trust in the present.

When you are in spirit, your mind is in neutral. You don’t judge, you just are.


Freediving is an activity that brings people of all ages and backgrounds together. It gives us a great opportunity to unite with nature and with ourselves. It is my hope that freedivers never lose their passion to this beautiful activity. I believe that seeking a holistic approach will help us to grow in the right direction.

Ending this in the words of Natalia Molchanova and deeply inspired by Sara Campbell who teaches a holistic approach to freediving.

Freediving for me is a spiritual path. It is where we have the opportunity to observe ourselves in absolute truth. The ocean reflects back whether we are living in line with the pure nature of human beings: that of complete harmony with our surroundings, without the need to grasp, control or fear anything. It goes way beyond being a sport, as it relies on much more than just our physical prowess. Every freediver tell you that the perfect dive is all about emotions, not the depth achieved; it comes about when we are able to let go completely and surrender to the moment. It is utter bliss.”


https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/10/freeediving-natalia-molchanova- disappearance


https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/trauma/fight-flight-freeze-how-to-recognize-it-and-what-to- do-when-it-happens/




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