Mindfulness Freediving, A Safer and More Informed Approach To Breathwork and meditation

Disclaimer: Readers are encouraged to seek multiple perspectives and conduct their research before forming conclusions about the effectiveness of any breathwork training method. The article below is the author’s perspective on most (not all) modern breathwork methods, based on his over 15 years of combined real-life experience practicing and teaching pranayama, yoga, and freediving, and as a witness to the never ending cultural appropriation from working in the Wellness industry.

The Rise Of Breathwork

During the past years since the pandemic, breathwork has witnessed a surge in popularity, offering all kinds of promises of trauma healing and holistic well-being. However, within this burgeoning landscape, we also saw the rise of all kinds of breathwork methods, often founded by very unexperienced people who after spending barely just a few weeks with a real pranayama master in India, returned to the West and started posing themselves as breathwork masters.

As it has happened in the past with Yoga, instead of giving themselves the necessary time to practice and understand the intricacies of the breath (since their focus is more on getting rich quickly than actually teaching), these self-proclaimed breathwork experts started mixing in their new age pseudo beliefs with their newly found breathwork practice, developed breathing techniques that are quite perilous and put together a rapid breathwork facilitator training program under the format of a nice marketing pyramid scheme, to train even more clueless breathwork faciliators in even shorter time to popularize their breathwork training method.

The lucky students attending the guided breathwork sessions of these under trained breathwork facilitators will leave their sessions experiencing hysterical emotional outbursts, loss of motor control, or at times even a blackout under the false pretext of trauma release. A few unlucky ones will have drowned from shallow water blackout, from practicing these breathwork methods near or in a body of water alone, since their favorite breathwork facilitator or YouTube facilitator rarely mention the dangers associated with practicing their hyperventilation based breathwork method.

Tired of the cultural appropriation of yogic knowledge (breathwork is after all a broken form of pranayama), and realizing the incoherence (about the benefits of hyperventilation and blackout) these breathwork methods are preaching, which is now leading to an increased amount of breathwork exposed people transitioning to freediving with strong beliefs that it is alright to practice hyperventilation and blacking out, has prompted my journey towards systematizing Mindfulness Freediving— a safer and more informed approach in breathwork training.

What Is Mindfulness Freediving?

Mindfulness Freediving is a practice combining pranayama, and yoga philosophy with freediving techniques. Mindfulness Freediving is not another new-age breathwork method or pseudo-science claiming to bring to its practitioners all kinds of out-of-this-world experiences. Nothing new has been invented here. The exercises and techniques that comprise Mindfulness Freediving have been developed and practiced by yogis for millennia and freedivers for decades. Mindfulness Freediving is just a systematization of these different techniques and exercises to create a framework for practice.

The term “mindfulness” used in mindfulness freediving refers to a mental state of absorption. While some of the teachings or techniques might seem similar, Mindfulness Freediving is neither related to mindfulness meditation nor does it contain any of its influence.

Mindfulness Freediving is not meant to be a replacement for a classic meditation or yoga practice, but instead should be viewed more as complementary to these practices. While practicing mindfulness freediving does come with its fair share of physical and mental benefits, the amount of endorphins, dopamine, or adrenaline released during its practice is not going to be a quick fix to your life dilemmas. You will still have to put on your work, off the mat, and out of the water.

The Limitations Of Current Breathwork Methods.

The breath cannot be quantified. Everybody breathes at different rhythms and every breath a person takes is different. Factors like how well you have slept, what food you have eaten, and how relaxed or stressed you are, are going to affect your breathing rhythm.

Most breathwork methods are either taught breathwork in groups where everybody is following the lead of a facilitator (as they are called since they are not properly trained to teach) or through prerecorded lessons where the length of the breath is kept uniform. Video and audio recordings are not going to take into consideration your breathing rhythm and personal abilities. This is like consulting a doctor who is prescribing the same treatment for ten different persons who suffer from ten different diseases.

Many of these breathwork methods also function too much on a sensorial level, relying primarily on the use of external stimulations like music or cold water for progress. It is not uncommon to see practitioners of these methods struggle to reach the same mental state on their own, when devoid of music or cold water. Truth is you will rarely come across a breathwork facilitator both online and offline who is guiding breathwork sessions without the use of music. These external aids often turn into dependencies in the long run and keep a person from reaching what yogis call, Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, which is an important step towards achieving meditation. To quote the Hatha Yoga Prapidika, “The mind is the king of the senses, but the breath is the king of the mind. Control the breath and you also control the mind.”

Simply put if you have to rely on your senses being stimulated, you are not fully exploring the potential of your breath. In short these breathwork sessions are to pranayama what yoga classes are to yoga today. Just an hour session of something that you would do once a week to get some kind of “release” or entertainment, the same way you would go for a Friday night movie.

If you are looking for more than just an hour of fun, you better looking somewhere. You won’t find much personal development or spiritual growth in modern breathwork methods, and that is not what their intentions are. Unlike yoga or classical meditation, there is no real framework involving ethics, philosophy or psychology to help you with these.

The Dangers Of Current Breathwork Training Methods.

Freediving has also a longer history with pranayama than most breathwork methods. Jacques Mayol, the legendary freediver portrayed in the movie “The Big Blue” was among the first Westerners who went to India to study pranayama in the 1960s, and brought it outside of India to integrate it into freediving, at a time when most of these breathwork training methods did not even exist and without posing himself as a breathwork master (otherwise we would already have heard of a Mayol method by now).

Today most freedivers have moved away from techniques like hyperventilation because of the dangers associated with it, replacing it with relaxation and mental techniques. However hyperventilation is common practice in many breathwork methods, often used as a trick to make beginners hold their breath for a long time and impress themselves. When they get closed to hypoxia, its symptoms like dizziness, convulsions, and fainting are being passed as some kind of spiritual occurrence to keep the students engaged.

Because these breathwork methods often completely ignore the safety part when it comes to doing breathing and breath-holding exercises, more than a dozen people have already died from drowning after using hyperventilation to extend their breath-holds and blacking out in water.

Compared to these breathwork training methods, Mindfulness Freediving is a method that is taught face to face, respecting every person’s breathing rhythm and personal abilities. Not only are you going to be taught in a way that will make you be able to progress without having to rely on a teacher, a recording, or any external sensorial aid to achieve a state of meditation, you will also be trained in safety protocols and rescue techniques so as you do not end up losing your life over a breath-hold.

Why Not Just Do A Conventional Freediving Course Then?

I’m sure you must already have heard of freediving being called some form of meditation, often having the term mindfulness assocaited with it. However, it is important to recognize that while freediving shares some similarities with meditation, it should neither be considered real meditation, nor a replacement for a classic meditation practice.

Typical freediving courses, offered by esteemed organizations like AIDA, PADI, SSI, or Molchanovs, focus primarily on underwater activities for recreational or competitive purposes. These courses center around performance-based criteria, demanding specific breath-holding durations or diving depths for certification.

Mindfulness Freediving diverges from the conventional, encapsulating a wider spectrum of knowledge. While it incorporates core teachings from standard freediving courses, it extends its purview to encompass yogic breathing techniques (pranayama), concentration practices, meditation, philosophy, and psychology. This holistic approach seeks to unravel the profound connection between breath and mind, offering a deeper insight into the breath’s capabilities both in and out of water.

A Safer and More Informed Approach.

In essence, what I wanted to bring with Mindfulness Freediving is a safer, more enlightened, and more comprehensive approach to breathwork and meditation. Rooted in the classical teachings of pranayama and yoga, supported by the safety and modern expertise of freediving, my hope is for Mindfulness Freediving to serve as a gateway to unlocking the profound capabilities of the breath, fostering inner peace, and acting as a support towards personal growth.

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