Static Apnea Contraction Training & Meditation
This post is also available in: French
Today is Day 5 of my freediving training program which meant Static Apnea was on the schedule:
I half fell, rolled, and slithered out of bed. It was like my brain was up and out but my body forgot to follow. It was so sore that it was stuck :)
I spend most the day catching-up on computer work, and letting my body recover. Come, 7:15pm, I head to Stade Nautique, my home away from home, to meet-up with the Saint Raphael Apnee Club. The 50+ member club is lead by Jean-Baptiste Savornin, static apnea record holder in France, and Anne Joncheray, a renown French diver and shipwreck explorer, the author of numerous books on the subject.
Once we're all suited up, Jean-Baptiste, gathers us around to go over the schedule for the evening, which is written on a white dry-erase board.
Static apnea schedule in detail:
1. (Max expiration > Stop at 1st-5th contraction > recuperation 1 min.) - Repeat 5X
2. (Passive expiration > Stop at 1st-5th contraction > recuperation 1 min.) - Repeat 5X
3. (Reg. inspiration> Stop at 1st-3rd contraction > recuperation 2 min.) - Repeat 3X
4. (Max inspiration> Stop at 1st-3rd contraction > recuperation 2:30 min.) - Repeat 3X
Note: for the first hold of each of the above, stop at the first contraction, second hold stop at the second contraction, and so on.
Training the Delay of Contractions
Jean-Baptiste confirmed (later in the evening in English) that this is an excellent table for training the delay of your contraction time. As many freedivers are aware, static apnea is divided into two phases; 1) relaxation time and 2) contraction time. In order to achieve a good breath-hold time, you should train both of these, but especially the relaxation time, because what freediver wants 1 minute of relaxation time and 3+ minutes of contractions? Umm, no one. This is a training that if done once per week (supervised of course), will train your mind and body to extend your relaxation time during static apnea, that way your contractions start later. Over time, if you can work-up to, for example, a 3+ minute relaxation time, with just 2+ minutes of contraction time, you're at a static hold 5+ minutes!
I have a friend who doesn't get contractions until after 4 minutes! Imagine being able to hold your breath for over four minutes without feeling a thing? Incredible.
After reviewing the schedule, my initial thought were, wow that's a lot of statics! I totaled it up, 18. Usually in static training, I'll do six to eight breath-holds max per session, this was more than double the amount. It's certainly going to be excellent training, after all, good things come to those who work :)
Getting Down to Business
Jean-Baptiste gives us 15 minutes to relax and get into position. I grab my noseclip, snorkel and underwater camera and slide myself into the pool directly in front of the white board, and next to my buddy Jean-Claude. There's a lot of commotion and talking around me, so I proceed with snorkel breathing, face-down in the water to help drown out the sounds around and try to focus my attention on my breath and relaxation.
An Intense Start
We're counted down to the first breath-hold, which is at 9:00pm on the dot. I breathe-up as usual. When when I hear "cinq, quatre, trois, deux, go" I inhale to the max, and exhale completely, putting my head in the water, holding onto the ledge of the pool with one hand so I don't drift into the person next to me.
I am going to be honest with you - the first round of statics I wanted to die. Even though I stopped at the contractions, it was five intense and uncomfortable minute and a half statics without nearly any air in the lungs and while still warming-up. The thought that came to mind was "fight to the death"
Then Slightly Less Hellish...
However, in rounds 2-4, even though the static holds were longer time-wise, they got a bit easier. I was warmed-up, mentally and physically, and with more air in the lungs and more recuperation time the statics were still challenging but slightly less hellish. Also, I should note that anything is easy after empty lung statics.
Because there were so many statics in the session, it was a good opportunity to experiment with different mental focus techniques. Fortunately, right before heading to the pool, I did a 15 minute Headspace guided meditation. The session was from their Focus pack, which is so far my personal favorite. It's where you are guided, with eyes closed, to gently place your focus on your feet, then you move your attention slowly and lightly to your naval, then your solar plexus, your chest, your throat, your brow and six inches above the head, then back down and up again. My favorite part is at the end where when you have your attention six inches above your head and you are instructed to let your mind go completely, and let it do whatever it wants to do. I'm always surprised at how present, clear and unthinking it is in that very moment.
So in efforts to delay the start of my contractions, I decided to try-out some of the mental exercises from my meditation which helped to pass the time, and make the session more interesting. Since I was using a noseclip and not a mask, my eyes were closed during the statics which forced me to keep my attention on my inner feelings and thoughts as well as on the sensations of the water. Having my eyes closed made it much easier to 're-create' my Headspace meditation and, surprisingly, I found 'meditation underwater while not breathing' actually quite enjoyable.
Variation 1: The Full Body Scan
I started every static apnea the same way, getting into a comfortable, relaxed position in the water. Then I did some variation of my 'underwater meditation'. One variation was the full focus exercise, putting my attention lightly on my feet, then naval, then solar plexus, then chest, then throat, then brow, then six inches above the head, then back down and up again, visualizing and relaxing each part of my body as I focused on it. When I got to the top of the head the second time, I'd let my mind go, bringing me fully present to experience the sensations of the water, the buoyancy it provided and the way the water felt on my face.
Sometimes, I'd get distracted by thoughts or worries and would forget which part of the body I was supposed to be focusing on, so I'd gently bring my attention back and resume the exercise from the last place I remembered.
Variation 2: Experiencing the Sensations
The full body scan was fun, but there was a lot of thinking involved, and my mind was kept super busy, maybe too busy, so I decided to do a variation of the meditation. As soon as I was relaxed and in a comfortable position in the water, I immediately put my attention on the point six inches above the head. Then as soon as my focus was there, I'd let my mind go completely, and spend the rest of the static experiencing the sensations and silence of the water. I really liked this variation for its simplicity and presentness. There were several other variations I did as well, but I cannot recall all of them.
When my contractions came, it was more difficult to focus, so I stopped the meditation exercise and did self talk instead. "Relax, make yourself nice and loose." In my previous static sessions in Dahab, my friend, Sol, used to say "make yourself nice and fluffy," so I said that one to myself as well, thinking of Sol and her fluffy little kittens. After each command, I'd practice relaxing my body as much as possible in order to delay the next contraction.
Static Holds Until Contractions with Regular Inhalation
Static Holds Until Contractions with Max Inhalation
Thank you, Anne, for helping film. I was so 'in the zone' that I had no idea you were filming me underwater haha
Overall the static apnea session was fantastic, an excellent training. Hats off to Jean-Baptiste. By the end, I was feeling pretty on-top-of-the-world, who wouldn't after 18 'underwater meditations'?
I cooled down with about 10 minutes of swimming and said au revoir to all of my new french freediving buddies. Nearly 20 minutes spent getting my wetsuit off, then home for a late, salad dinner with my frenchman.