Alexey Molchanov : "Living without breathing" (TEDxNovosibirsk)
That's not me))
Indeed the previous speech put us in the right mood for a breath hold, so if we'd want, everyone in
the audience would do 3 or 4 minutes, for sure. But we won't do it, let us talk about freediving.
Freediving is a very old occupation, ancient people were spearfishing and diving for shellfish and
pearls and treasure hunting at shipwreck sites and other attractive goodies underwater. Today all
this is done by more technical means, so we freedive mostly for pleasure, looking at little fish and
practicing relaxation, listening to self while holding on the rope, like this (picture). We like
freediving on reefs, into caves, arches, etc.
And still there are people who are testing their limits, testing how strong the body is.
The world record today happens to be mine for the moment (128 m, picture). To illustrate it, we
imagined five 9-stories buildings, one on top of another, and the idea is to dive all the way down,
and back up, on a single breath.
Let me say a few words of caution, for you not to go breath holding into bathtubs and basins
immediately after this conference.
When we dive, there's a number of important laws and rules to know. We better learn it all before
any attempt to freedive.
For example (cartoon) here's a freediver going to only 20 m depth. The lungs at this depth are
squeezed to 1/3 of their initial size, because the pressure is 3 times bigger at 20 m, compared to the
surface. When I dove to 128 m, the pressure was 14 times bigger, so the lungs squeezed to a size of
an apple or an orange, you can imagine it this way. There's a smart mechanism built-in to the body,
to preserve our lungs from damage: from the skin and some organs, unsolicited by the dive, blood is
drained into the blood-vessels of the lungs, thus protecting them from being crashed, as well as
protecting the chest.
But if one goes through unnecessary efforts underwater, induced by panic, muscular contractions,
etc., that can cause trauma. Blood vessels overstretched with all the blood in them, may be
traumatized. In fact this once happened even to me, despite all the training.
(picture with safety divers).
This photo by-the-way, depicts another precaution: safety divers. A professional team is looking
after me here, one guy with an underwater scooter, another with fins. This is multi-level safety
system, one dives deeper to meet me there, the other one is watching me at a shallower depth.
The story unfolded like this: once during a 128 m dive I completely lost orientation, not knowing
where's up or down. It is pitch-dark there, so surface can not be detected by it's light, and I don't
know where's up or down. Somehow I manage to ascend to 40 meters, and there my
friends safety divers helped me to the surface. But with all the confusion and unnecessary efforts, I
traumatized my lungs pretty badly. Luckily and miraculously I could heal emotionally and
physically in 6 days and win the world championship with a new world record. (applause) Thank
(next slide fliped back)
o.k. Next slide is a secret for the moment. Does someone knows, why we want to breathe during a
dive? Why? Right, because of carbon dioxide. We breathe not because going low on oxygen, but
because of a rising level of carbon dioxide in our system (cartoon). You can see this freediver
swimming underwater, his oxygen reserves are depleting and carbon dioxide is rising, and
signaling his brain of the need to breathe, and thus we want to surface.
It is important to know: the more we are tense, the more CO2 is produced by the body. Thus the
most important thing in freediving is relaxation. Not just some relaxation, but indeed a total, most
deep, most complete relaxation. It starts with relaxing the mind and emotions, and in turn it yields
the body relaxation as well. So the approach (cartoon) of this guy on the left is not good, you see,
this guy with the kettlebell and his "no pain, no gain" motto, as we know it from the gym. This
approach is the very contrary of what we need in freediving.
Here's another example (cartoon) - before a dive we learn to relax and to set our mind into the right
diving way. This reddish freediver uses a wrong approach: psyching up competitively, with a strong
will to dive towards a predetermined goal. In freediving it is important to set the mind to feel the
process, not to strive towards a predetermined aim or goal. When we dive, we stay in the moment,
the mind is looking for the most complete relaxation possible. At the beginning we learn to relax
different body parts one at a time, since it is difficult to do so all at once: face, eyes, neck, we learn
relax it all. Afterwards, after we'd learn it, we can just relax everything at once without much
thinking, just entering the water we go in the dive mode, into a perfect and total relaxation.
So on the cartoon you can see the wrong reddish freediver going a little further underwater, than
the good sunny freediver. But the reddish dive somehow turns badly: the tongue falls out and the
coach has to motivate the little guy as hard as he can. The sunny freediver, on the contrary, will not
go that far, but he or she dives with pleasure. And great results will come after a while to this one,
the one who practice relaxed. You can see, our method of practicing and of diving is somehow
counter-intuitive. We do not strive for results to better achieve results, we do it with pleasure
without toil. It is imperative to dive with pleasure because if we don't, our tension will yield more
counterproductive CO2, among other things.
So relaxation is the most important skill to learn in freediving. Here's an example: this is a shot just
before a deep dive, say 5 seconds before. The dive will be a 4 minutes breath hold. It is important to
set the mind to the dive with the most complete relaxation.
One amazing and important thing in freediving: the skill of mental and emotional and physical
relaxation, - it is very useful in every day's life situations. Once you have learned it, you relax
against the pace of modern city life, job overloads and stresses, against any sort of anxiety. You
really can cope better. Because we go without air a much shorter time, than without water or food,
so if you learn to cope with fear of breathlessness underwater, along with a fearful crushing
sensation on your chest, - if you can stay calm in such circumstances, so you will be able to stay
calm in everyday life, with all it's stresses and worries.
(photo, the Arch)
Another most amazing feature of freediving : age is not such a big limitation to performance. Here's
my mum diving thru the Arch. She is over 50 years old, I took this picture a few days ago, 4 or 5
days, in Egypt, Dahab.
This is a dive through the famous Arch in Dahab, it is 60 m deep. The Arch is on the right on this
picture. In the world, it is one of the most dangerous places to dive. Many scuba divers attempt to
dive thru the Arch, many failed to do it. Less than a dozen freedivers in the world made it on a
single breath. Mum is 50 years old and she is still improving her more than 40 world records.
(applause). Why age is not such a bad thing in freediving? Because people learn to relax better with
age. Possibly it is a skill linked to life experience: the more we live, the more we learn to take it easy
on life problems, to better cope with stressful situations. Among freediving world record holders,
there are no very young people, most records are set age 30 to 50. And records in freediving are
rising steeply (slide). During the past half-century, they went from 40 m to 128 m, and who knows
where is the limit. Despite science was telling us the 40 m would be the limit, today almost any
beginner after a week or two of learning, can dive to 40 meters, and to hold breath for 3 or 4
minutes. Any beginner with not much health problems. For example we are teaching freediving,
and beginners try their first breath holds during their first week, after only an explanation of how
to warm-up, how to breathe, how to relax. After understanding the technique, without any training
or practice, they routinely achieve 3 or 4 minutes breath holds, while before our explanations they
do at best one or one-and-a-half minute.
So, yes, this cartoon shows the quick progress in freediving records. There must be something in
freediving, something that makes it special, some cause to this steep progress. The sport of
freediving is relatively young, despite a long history of underwater hunting and gathering. You see,
in 1995 not much people in freediving even used a monofin, which was known mostly among
finswimmers. You know, this big thing on our feet, like a dolphin tail, it was on pictures. And today,
only 20 years later, so many people are coming to freediving, would it be across the world or in
That's what I wanted to share with you today. Thank you))

Alexey Molchanov : "Living without breathing" (TEDxNovosibirsk