Beyond The Veil (Learning The Hands Free Equalization Technique)

Beance Tubaire Volontaire (BTV), french for Voluntary Tubal Opening (VTO) is a middle ear equalization technique considered the holy grail of equalization techniques. Commonly known as hands free equalization, it involves equalizing the ears without having to pinch the nose by voluntarily opening the Eustachian tube.

Out of the few rare freedivers you will meet who can do the hands free equalization technique, most will tell you that they were born with the ability to do it instinctively. Because of that, for many years there was a belief that BTV/VTO was out of reach for other freedivers like myself who were not born with any predisposition.

As time passed by though, more freedivers started to give themselves time to learn and master the hands free equalization. And as more freedivers became able to do the BTV/VTO, the belief around the technique started shifting from being a gift from birth to becoming a technique that is just difficult but not impossible to learn.

What made it even more difficult to learn is the lack of educational content and resources available regarding the hands free equalization technique. Besides a few pdfs online that are not very well structured, and a couple of videos on youtube teaching pretty much the same things, BTV/VTO is also a technique that is not taught in any freediving course material from diving organizations like PADI, SSI, and AIDA.

It is often very hard to learn the hands free equalization from someone who has always been able to do it from birth since they haven’t gone through the learning process needed to understand the mechanics of this technique. It’s like asking someone who can wiggle his ears from birth to teach you how to do it. So when it comes to learning the BTV/VTO, you either got to learn it on your own or be lucky enough to meet one of the rare freedivers who had learned the technique and was not born with it.

One year ago I decided to start learning the hands free equalization on my own and this is the chronicle of my journey to mastering it.

Freediver Unmasked.

Let’s start with a personal disclaimer. I hate freediving with a mask. I find a mask to be uncomfortable to wear and a waste of air from having to equalize it at depth. If like me, you also have a mustache (which you don’t intend to shave), you will often find yourself with a leaking mask.

Unless I am doing safety for someone else or underwater photography, I do all my freediving training with a nose clip. For me, freediving with a nose clip is way more beneficial than doing the hands free equalization with a mask on, and I would never have gone to learn the BTV/VTO if I had not learned how to freedive with a nose clip first.

Priorities First.

For the first couple of years of training freediving, I was never really interested in learning the BTV/VTO. The reason why was that there were other aspects of my freediving that I deemed more important to improve than being able to equalize without pinching my nose.

Before I started learning hands free equalization, I had made sure to spend much time polishing my freediving fundamentals and other aspects of my technique. I mastered both the Fattah Frenzel (Mouthfill) equalization technique and the deep equalization technique taught by Aaron Solomons (which he refers to as the Cheekfill).

Right now I have no immediate intention of freediving to crazy depth (I’m more of a static apnea guy) but if one day life and circumstances allow for it, the Cheekfill equalization technique will be more than enough for me to reach my goals. I have done a lot of residual volume training (reaching depths up to 15 m) with the Cheekfill that makes it more than sufficient for freediving to respectable depths. 

The reasons why I wanted to learn the hands free equalization technique had more to do in wanting to understand the mechanics behind it so I could teach the BTV/VTO to my students.

On a personal level being able to hands free equalize did not make me a better freediver, but turned me into a more relaxed freediver.

The Learning Process.

Debunking The Myths

In my life of practicing different kinds of breath related practices from pranayama, didgeridoo to freediving, I have came across all kind of weird technique that I had to learn. When I compare hands free equalization to other techniques like the circular breathing (a technique used on wind instrument to be able to play continuously), I find the BTV/VTO to be relatively easier to learn once you know what you need to do. After that, it is just a matter of practice and being very patient. 

Unless you were unlucky to be born with some ear defect, everybody who can pop their ears while taking the plane or an elevator can learn the hands free equalization technique. Babies have the ability to equalize their ears using the BTV/VTO, and we probably all did it as babies too.

You don’t need to be able to wiggle your ears nor being able to do it is going to give you any advantage in learning the hands free equalization. I’ve had students who could wiggle their ears but still had to put the same amount of work into learning the technique compared to someone like myself who cannot wiggle his ears.

Equalizing while swallowing or moving the jaws is not the BTV/VTO. While these two techniques will also equalize your ears without having to pinch your nose, the actual BTV/VTO is a technique that involves no movement of the mouth, tongue, or jaws. The name speaks for itself, BTV/VTO is a voluntary opening of the Eustachian tube. It is not an opening of the Eustachian tube by swallowing or moving the jaws.

Personal Conviction And Failure

If you asked me what is the most important part of learning the hands free equalization, I would say that it is the mental aspect of it. It starts with you having total faith that you will be able to learn it. By that, I mean having no single doubt at all, even when you are stuck at 1 or 2 m of water.

Because it takes this kind of dedication and patience, most people give up quickly on learning the hands free equalization. Since they can already freedive deep with the Frenzel or other techniques, they often cannot deal with the frustration of having to be stuck at 1-2 m of water to learn the BTV/VTO. They prefer to get back to their old habits.

For me, this learning process was what made it even more of a wonderful journey to attempt. Now that I can freedive to 15m doing the hands free equalization, and have developed my method of teaching it, the satisfaction it brought me is even more rewarding than what a dive to 100 m could ever bring me.

The Exercises

Besides the mental aspect, the physical aspect involved in learning the hands free equalization is divided into two parts. One is made up of a few exercises I was doing as regularly as possible on dry land. The second is in-water training with the line.

The dry exercises are made up of some yawning exercises, humming, and the actual opening of the Eustachian tubes. All very simple exercises and took me less than 10 minutes daily to practice.

The in-water training was made up of some free immersion dives followed by constant weight dives. In total, it took me around 100 descents to reach 15 m with the BTV/VTO, a feat I achieved in a span of a year with an average of only 3 depth training sessions per month in which only 2 of my descents were dedicated for learning the hands free equalization technique.

By the 70th descent, I was already freediving to 10 m and by the 100th descent, I was freediving smoothly to 15 m doing the BTV/VTO.

Time Will Promote You.

With only 9 descents per month, I had managed to learn the hands free equalization in less than 100 descents in a year. Maybe I could have achieved faster had I been in a position to do more depth training per month, this we’ll never know.

Looking back though I don’t think that the hands free equalization technique is any more difficult to learn than the Frenzel or the Mouthfill. All you’ve got to do is put in the work, be patient and consistent, and never give up until you succeed. 

This is what I did and this is also how the students I taught the BTV/VTO to managed to do it in just a few weeks.

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