Pacing Like Prince: Wisdom and Freediving
By Guest Writer Owen Costello – Ocean Deep Yoga, PFI Freediver Instructor, 500hr Yoga Teacher
Editor’s Note: PFI encourages freedivers to stay within the limits of their training and certification when diving, and to seek further training with a qualified instructor to expand those limits.
“If you go too slow you never get it. If you go too fast, you never get to get it good.” – Ryan Montbleau, Pacing Like Prince.
I love this line, and I love this song. As a yoga teacher, I’ve delved into, been taught, discovered, and shared wisdom from ancient texts, psychology, Buddhism, Hinduism, the Bible, anatomy, etc. As a freediving instructor, I’m inclined to explore sports psychology, technique, training methods for freediving and other sports, and understanding the relevant physics and physiology. However, I think there is something to be said for the wisdom and timeless truths captured in music, and this song, in particular, resonates with me… dare I say it… strikes a chord… But I digress.
Proper Training Requires Proper Timing
This line directly applies to freediving, yoga, and really anything you want to get better at, but for specificity, let’s keep it to freediving. “If you move too fast, you never get it.” How true is that? Freediving has taught me, among other things, the value of slowing down. However, there is a fine line because moving too slowly is hardly different from stagnation. I’ve heard many freedivers, especially when faced with an obstacle (like equalization issues or poor relaxation on a given day), say things like “I need more practice. Maybe it’ll be better in a few months after the right dry training,” as a catch-all reason to stay out of the water for months. I’ve done this too. Looking back on it, it was due to my own ignorance of what to do about it and doubt that I could easily and quickly move past a mental block or sticky ears. This led me to pause freediving for a longer period than necessary. (Side note: Ignorance leads to fear. Doubt arises from fear. Fear perpetuates ignorance as it often cripples us from trying to understand.) The antidote here is SELF-TRUST.
As we develop as freedivers, we learn to trust our body’s intelligence and develop a dialogue so we can accurately interpret the body’s messages. Now, I should add here that having the right coach and buddies is a crucial ingredient for significant progress. There is no substitute for deliberate training: time in the water, exercises, stretching, dry equalization practice, pool training, setting clear and specific goals, measuring your results, etc. However, at times we may fail to give ourselves credit where credit is due. We may overlook the opportunity to acknowledge our strengths and accomplishments, which may take away from our confidence when diving. If we do not feel confident, of course, our performance will suffer.
Coaching Helps Perfect Our Freedive Training
While it may be true that we could benefit from professional coaching, don’t immediately throw in the towel and let the mind start inventing “reasons” to stay dry for months or deprive ourselves of our love for the deep, suspended between breaths. We may find that we don’t need as much “work” as we think we do. Have faith in yourself, trust your body. Move forward and dive with confidence. Don’t stagnate. I hear Montbleau’s voice in my head singing “If you go too slow, you never get it.” If every setback causes us to stop altogether for longer than needed, we never make any progress. But that doesn’t mean we should move fast.
The second part is “If you go too fast, you never get to get it good.” This is also true in freediving, and I can speak to this firsthand. Due to my eagerness to pursue depth, I’ve suffered barotrauma several times in both my trachea and lungs. I was moving so fast that I never got “to get it good.” I was making dives, and my watch read a bigger and bigger number, but there wasn’t much satisfaction in spitting blood into my hand moments after a dive that, let’s face it, didn’t feel right long before any injury took place.
To use Montbleau’s phrasing, “getting it good” on a dive means not only reaching your desired depth but doing it in a way that feels amazing. Every meter can be pure bliss if we progress at the right pace with the right instruction. Moving too fast can also manifest as being rushed and tense on the line itself during a training session. This could come from peer pressure, an encroaching deadline or time constraint, or something as simple as cold water. All of these and more have affected my relaxation during training, but then it just becomes part of the training. I get the opportunity to practice managing my mind and emotions using just my breath and my environment. As for peer pressure, I now handle it by realizing that it was all in my head. My buddies and instructors over the years have been very patient and supportive, as I am for them.
Good Freediving Buddies Are Vital
If you’re diving with people who egg you on, are impatient, and/or make you feel unsafe or uneasy, it’s time to find new dive buddies. Another trick I use is simply setting the timer on my watch for three minutes. This is a perfectly reasonable time for a breath-up, even for dives as deep as 60m! With the timer running, I know that anything that comes up before the chime goes off is grounds for dismissal, just for the next few minutes while I do my dive. During my breath-up, I often perform a condensed yoga nidra body scan. This, combined with a 3:00 timer, is great at helping me forget about how much time my brain thinks has passed versus the actual reality. At the end of the time, I calmly turn off the chime and make my final preparations before beginning my descent.
If you struggle with anxiety during your dives, give the timer a try. Notice how many times your body attempts or wants to dive within a 3:00 window of time. I’ve seen it happen many times where divers sabotage themselves simply by imagining that more time has gone by than it actually has. You may find that 3:00 feels like much more time than you think. As for dealing with the cold water, I’ve been facing this challenge over the past few months with winter here in Hawaii. Historically, I wouldn’t last long once the shivers set in. Lately, they’ve started during my warm-up dive. However, this has been a blessing in disguise as it has forced me to become more decisive and confident in my dives.
How I Have Implemented These Freediving Concepts
My winter sessions have looked something like this:
Warm-up: Hang at around 18m until the first urge to surface. Maybe two warm-up dives if the first one was awful. ONE target dive (last session was 55m). THREE technique dives if I’m not too cold for quality. I pull the line to 30m. Finished.
I used to do the opposite—building up to the target dive, but by then, I was often too cold to perform well. I would either not attempt the dive at all or “send it” and, in the past, suffer an injury. A huge boost to my confidence was also working with the equalization tool. I was able to fix my issues with the Frenzel technique, became much more proficient at mouthfill management, and, consequently have since stopped experiencing consistent squeezes. In hindsight, the key was slowing down.
To bring this whole concept full circle, I “never got to get it good” because I was moving too fast. Moving too fast during training led to poor-quality dives. Moving too fast in my overall progression resulted in repeated squeezes in the 30s and 40s. On the other extreme, I’ve moved too slowly in response to injury or circumstances, almost to the point of stagnation. Things were progressing too slowly to truly grasp it. So, whether it’s in our dives or in our lives, we should remember: “If you move too slow, you never get it. If you move too fast, you never get to get it good.”
Thank you for reading. If you would like to work together, I am available for coaching, entry-level courses, and private yoga sessions. Coaching and yoga can be conducted via Zoom as well as in-person.