Year of the Lotus
As you limber up for the new season and wish you felt stronger and more supple, consider an approach to diver fitness and improved breath-control that taps into traditional Eastern wisdom. Diver Jacquie Cozens swears by yoga - and power-yoga

AIR CONSUMPTION IS ONE OF THE MOST TALKED-ABOUT aspects of scuba diving. The two major factors involved are the ability to relax, combined with good breathing technique. The art of deep, slow breathing has dozens of benefits both under water and in everyday life and this is one of the keys ways in which practising yoga can benefit divers.
     I started my yoga practice about five years ago, having previously participated only in more competitive sports such as hockey, tennis and softball. Yoga seemed like a good way to stretch out those muscles that were prone to strains and aches.
     Like a lot of other people, I went to the classes with all sorts of misconceptions. How often have I heard from other people (particularly men) that yoga is just about lying on a mat, stretching and chanting!
     In fact I was amazed to find that yoga is physically and mentally demanding, and can be an excellent form of aerobic exercise. After only a couple of months I had lost weight, changed shape, become more supple, could run further and had developed a new outlook on life.
     Add to this the fact that I have been entirely injury-free since I started, and you can begin to appreciate the benefits.
     I have been diving for more than 20 years, but it didnt immediately occur to me how complementary the two activities are.
     Yoga means union of mind and body and has been practised in various forms for centuries. The key concept is stilling the mind and using the breath to make a connection between body and mind.
     Yoga aims to balance the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual sides of our lives. Asanas, the physical postures, stretch and strengthen the body, releasing toxins. As the body grows stronger, so does the mind and will.
     Pranayama are the techniques for correct breathing. Through learning to breathe fully, our energy levels increase. All postures are designed to prepare you for one thing - to be able to sit comfortably and still, and to be able to meditate with a calm and clear mind.
     Compare that with diving - all our training is designed to make us comfortable in the water, to reach that underwater nirvana of weightlessness, neutrally buoyant and relaxed, ready to appreciate and deal with anything that comes our way.
     Like scuba diving, yoga places an emphasis on correct breathing - fast, shallow breathing under water will soon deplete the air in your cylinder, leaving you exhausted and stressed.
     Likewise, in yoga, it will mean an inability to practise the asanas. The deeper your breathing becomes, the deeper you will be able to go in an asana. And the more relaxed you will be under water, able to enjoy your dive to the full.
     If you need any more convincing of the similarities, you might be surprised to know that the number one rule in yoga is exactly the same as in diving - never hold your breath.
     Improving your fitness should also be a goal for any diving, and yoga stretches and tones all your muscles, increasing stamina and flexibility as well as cardio-vascular strength. If you dont believe me, try an asthanga (power yoga) class and tell me it wasnt challenging!
     Wouldnt it be great to lift that twin-set effortlessly and to float with ease into the RIB, sitting on the side and elegantly bringing your legs over, rather than that clumsy nose-dive and belly-flop on top of everyone elses gear
     Slower breathing improves your concentration and focus, which is helpful if you need to perform complicated tasks under water, or if you are suddenly confronted by that sea monster you thought was a myth! You will also be better able to deal with any emergency situation, or to help your buddy should he or she need you.
     Yoga can help you to deal with any physically or mentally challenging situations. Just as in diving, you must stop, breathe, think.
     Most of us use only a small fraction of our lungs, so deep, steady breathing is a much more efficient way of delivering oxygen to your muscles, leaving you feeling less tired and sore following a strenuous dive. And those headaches due to skip-breathing and poor elimination of carbon dioxide will be a thing of the past.
     Visualisation, meanwhile, is not just about hippies, candles and incense. You may already have used visualisation if you have been asked during your training to think about your dive; performing a mental checklist of your gear before you get into the boat, or imagining the topography of the site.
     Now you can take that step further and use visualisation and meditation techniques to focus on how you will feel in the water, and how you will achieve perfect buoyancy control and become part of the marine environment.
     I soon realised that I was automatically using yoga practices to improve my own dive skills and to enhance my enjoyment of the dive. I have always thought of diving as a form of meditation and frequently find myself doing nothing at all under water, hovering effortlessly, mind and body still. Scuba is a perfect way of meditating in a world where its hard to find a minutes peace and quiet. Buddy phones have no place in this serene environment!
     When I recently became a dive-shop owner, it became clear to me that an area in which yoga really comes into its own is for new or nervous divers.
     Divers who have not dived for a while or who have limited experience diving in our part of the world (the west coast of Ireland) are often stressed, and unlikely to enjoy the experience. Where appropriate, we can use stretches, deep breathing and visualisation to help calm our students and divers.
     The results speak for themselves in the form of more confident, relaxed divers enjoying longer dive-times.
     Yoga is growing in popularity and is already an established practice in the free-diving community. It is likely to become more and more widely accepted among scuba divers.
     It is already possible to combine the two disciplines on yoga and diving holidays throughout the world, but now it is also beginning to be incorporated into training and everyday diving trips.If you decide to give yoga a go, the best advice I can give you is to find a teacher and a discipline with which you feel really comfortable. With so many varieties out there, and so many ways of teaching, its easy to be put off if you dont immediately find a class you like.
     It took me several months to find someone I found inspiring enough to make yoga a part of my daily life.
     You dont have to be able to bend yourself into a pretzel shape and you dont need any special equipment and, yes, in case you were wondering, yoga classes are full of people of all shapes and sizes, and both sexes too!

  • Contact the British Wheel of Yoga,, 01529 306857

    (Downward Facing Dog) Strengthens and tones the arms and shoulders as well as stretches the ankles and backs of legs - all the areas that will help you to pull yourself into a boat.
    The posture calms the mind and slows the breath and heart rate. Use this to help focus on a challenging dive or a complex underwater task.
    (Bound Angle) Strengthens the knees and back muscles and releases tension in the hips. Will improve flexibility for reaching down and putting on fins.
    (Eagle) Develops and tones leg muscles, releases the joints, stretches the shoulders and teaches balance and focus. Will loosen the muscles that help you to put on your BC without struggling.

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