The Breathe-up; HOW DO I BREATHE?!

Before we go for a freedive, or even attempt to hold our breath in the pool for a static arena session, freedivers always practice something called a breathe-up, a series of breaths that are aimed at relaxing the body and mind, and preparing them for the hold. Many new freedivers always wonder about the “perfect” breathe-up, and asking what techniques and strategies are used to be the best. 

The truth is, thinking that there is such thing as a perfect breathe-up is in fact the main thing that will prevent you from having it! There is NO such thing as a “perfect breath”. Your brain will always find a way to tell you that the last breath you have taken, or are taking, is too short, is too long- is too full or tastes weird. The REAL point in a good breath-up is to relax the mind so that it's thinking about nothing, so that when you take that final breath, you are left with silence, and a normal taste. 


So how long should my breathe-up be?

Funny you should ask. Isn’t this just another question to be thinking about? There is no answer that will satisfy this question, but physiologically speaking, our body is close to 100% saturated with oxygen after only a couple or normal breaths. For some students, telling them to take a breath when they are ready works wonders- it allows them to get in the zone, focus on their technique for relaxing, and have a successful breath-hold. For others, they just think about how long their breathe-up is, get stressed that others are watching or waiting for them, and psych themselves out hard before they even begin. Don’t worry about how long or how short the breathe-up is, and if you are someone who finds yourself thinking about it too much, have your buddy give you a countdown so you aren’t left with the choice. HOLD IN 30 SECONDS!

Should I breathe in for 6 seconds, hold for 30 seconds, and out for 12 seconds? 

Don’t do that. Don’t overcomplicate your body patterns, just trust them. After all, if you are sitting there reading this, your body has done a pretty good job of keeping you alive so far! The secret to a perfect breathe-up is actually just to breathe normally, and not think about it. How many times have you thought about your breath in the last 5 minutes? For most of us, probably only once, since I JUST mentioned it. Let your body do what it wants to do, and focus on relaxing the body. 

There is a saying in the Neverland that,every time you breathe, a grown-up dies.
— J.M Barrie

What is hyperventilating? 

Hyperventilating refers to an excessive rate of respiration leading to a loss of CO2 in the blood. In other words, it means exhaling more then you need to. SO if you are sitting on a beanbag panting like a dog, is this hyperventilation? If you haven’t done any strenuous exercise beforehand to warrant this breathing, then yes it is. On the flip side, if you are sitting on a beanbag inhaling deeply and exhaling fully and exaggeratively, then YES this is ALSO hyperventilation. What is the best way to avoid hyperventilation, which in turn sets us up for a safe dive within our limits? Breath as much as your body wants to breathe, not what your mind is telling you to do. 

I know its hard sometimes to get advice saying, “just stop thinking about it”. I myself get frustrated when this is all someone has to offer. However in freediving it is important to be reminded that its the thinking brain which causes us to have these questions in the first place, so drawing awareness to this thinking brain will help you to practice techniques to stop it. Slow progress is the way to go, and before you know it, you will be holding your breath for much longer then you ever thought possible, and enjoying it!

Cam is a PADI Freedive Instructor, PADI Staff Instructor and Manager of Blue Corner Freedive on Nusa Lembongan, Bali, Indonesia.