In the previous installment of this 3-part series, we explored how mindfulness intersects with scuba diving, and how being more mindful can help you become a better diver. In this final installment, we’ll explore how diving can actually increase your mindfulness, in the water and on dry land.
Go Down to Slow Down
Diving is a natural fit as an activity that allows you to disconnect from everyday stressors. Cell phones can’t (yet) make calls at 60 feet; there’s no email, no texting and no talking (unless you opt for a full-face mask, which is precisely why I don’t, unless I’m part of a search and recovery team). Also, while meditation has proven to be a great tool for increasing your sense of presence and reducing stress, some people struggle to maintain focus while sitting completely still in a quiet room. For Type A people in particular, who are used to operating at high levels of activity, sitting quietly for extended periods of time can actually cause stress. The mind races, and people are gripped by restlessness. Diving gives people the chance to be present in the moment in an active situation. As an added bonus, water, especially the ocean, has a relaxing effect on many people.
Breathing is often used as a mindfulness technique. Deep, deliberate breaths have been proven to reduce stress hormones in the system, and focusing your attention on your breathing helps quiet your mind of thoughts and anxiety.
Few activities are as focused on breathing as scuba diving. Dive students are continuously reminded to breathe calmly and deeply, and the audible and visual markers of breathing underwater — the sound of the regulator flowing and the burst of exhaled bubbles in the water — are constant reminders of our breathing rate.
The faster and shallower you breathe, the more air you’ll consume. So simply by looking at your pressure gauge and comparing your consumed air to similar dives (or by calculating your SAC — more on this in a later article), you can get a pretty good snapshot of your stress levels. Lessening your air consumption can be seen as an indicator of progress, provided other factors stay much the same. So focus on keeping your breaths slow, deliberate, deep and calm while diving.
Diving is an activity that requires our total focus. This also makes it a great opportunity to practice single-tasking, or monotasking. The opposite of multitasking, single-tasking is designed to focus our scattered attention on one job at a time, and to keep our minds on this task. So while you’re diving, work on keeping to one task at a time and finishing it before moving to the next. When putting your gear together, do so step-by-step; don’t jump between steps or tasks, but give your full focus to each in turn. This is really the only way to ensure that you’re completing each step properly, which is of the utmost importance in scuba diving. Extend this philosophy to the dive itself. Focus on the dive; tune your attention to the present, and try not to let your mind wander. Not only will this help you become a more mindful person, it will also help you spot interesting marine life before your dive buddy, and will give you a much richer diving experience.
Leave the World Behind
Finally, take a page out of the freedivers’ book. A lot of freedivers will take a little time before a dive or dive session to focus their minds and essentially leave the rest of the world behind. Some do this by performing yoga, others meditate, and others simply perform a little ritual that lets their brains know that now is not the time to dwell on what happened yesterday or worry about what will happen tomorrow; now is the time to focus on the dive and leave everything else behind. If it’s important, it will still be there when you get out of the water. Rituals can include putting together your gear in a set, deliberate way, taking a few moments to observe the ocean and let your mind quiet down, or taking a few really deep breaths before entering the water. Find what works for you, and stick to it.
Hopefully, this little 3-part series will inspire you to experience scuba diving not just as an adventure and an activity you love, but also as a way of becoming a more present, calm, mindful person.