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Training Tips: Better Breathing for Better Diving, Part II

That breathing and diving go hand in hand is unlikely to be news to anyone who has tried the sport. But that we can become better divers by training our breathing techniques is perhaps not universally known. Follow these tips to unlock the power of your breath.

Improve your breathing while diving

In this series, we’ll help divers who what to work on their breathing techniques while diving. In Part I, we covered breath awareness and breath control; in this installment, we’ll get more specific about some of the best ways to improve your breathing while diving. Our very first tip: Breathe deep, not big. New divers are often told to take deep breaths. As a result, they fill their lungs to the brink, trying to take in as much air as they possibly can. But this means they’re often just taking a big breath, not necessarily a deep one. When you take a very big breath, the large amount of air you’ve inhaled adds lots of buoyancy, making it difficult to stay level in the water. This often motivates new divers to add excessive weight to their systems, making them too heavy for optimal buoyancy. Instead, think back to the exercise in Part I where you alternated between breathing into your chest and into your stomach. A deep breath goes into your stomach — but it doesn’t have to be a big breath to do that. Try breathing with your stomach while inhaling a normal amount of air. The purpose is to direct the air into the bottom of your lungs, to replace as much air as possible. This will help keep your air consumption down, as well as helping with your buoyancy.

Breathe in, breathe out

Maintain a slow, steady rhythm while breathing in and out, and minimize the pause between inhalations and exhalations, like the exercise in Part I. Try to migrate your air intake seamlessly into your exhalation with minimal or no pause. Maintain a slow and controlled breathing pattern; the purpose here isn’t to hyperventilate, but to minimize the changes in air volume in your lungs, as well as give your body a steady supply of fresh oxygen while getting rid of expelled carbon dioxide.

Focus on the exhalation

An old trick to improve your breathing while diving is to focus more on the exhalation than on the inhalation, even though we have a tendency to do the opposite. But the truth is that our bodies will handle the inhalation quite naturally — nature always seeks to fill a vacuum. And while getting fresh oxygen is important, what often makes us feel like we’re starving for air is a buildup of carbon dioxide, the gas that’s created when our cells consume oxygen, and which needs to be expelled from the body with the breath. By ensuring that you have a good, thorough exhalation, you’re ridding your body of carbon dioxide, and thus will often find that your “oxygen starvation” goes away, leaving you with an easier, more natural breath.

Breathing for better photography

Good underwater photography has as much to do with breathing as with photography skills. Underwater critters are easily scared away by our bubbles, and poor buoyancy means we can’t place ourselves in the right position in relation to our subject. The trick is to approach your subject slowly and take the picture, all the while (if possibly) slowly inhaling to both avoid breath holding or exhalation bubbles. Slow breaths, with minimal air exchange, can also help you hover in the precise spot to take a specific picture. And pressing the shutter release on an exhalation, if this doesn’t scare away the subject, can help steady the shot. Being able to improve your breathing while diving will become second nature with these techniques. When working on your photography, and you’ll see your pictures improve, as easy as taking a breath.