This is a short video of underwater yoga freediving of two types of fish pose (lotus) swimming by me (Simon Borg-Olivier in the black Stingray suit) and Christopher Morey (in the blue Orca Suit).
The video was shot at William Truebridge’s Freediving Master Class (brilliant) at the Blue Hole Long Island Bahamas, September 2009.
Thanks to Freediver Photographer Alfredo Romo for filming us and for allowing use to show his video here.
Underwater yoga has been a favourite pastime of mine since I was a kid. My father (George Borg-Olivier) was a freediver in the Mediterranean Sea and he taught me how to swim a lap of an olympic pool underwater before I swim on the surface. In my late teens my Tibetan Lama told me that traditionally (in the system he learnt) that postures where help for a long as one breath retention. So progressively I developed my underwater yoga practice know finding it the easiest place to hold the breath and be in a pose. In this practice I take a breath in, hold my breath, go underwater and get into a posture, hold for some time floating just under the surface, then exhale fully and sink down underwater (to the bottom if it is not far!) and hold my breath out and perform uddiyana bandha, mula bandha, nauli and lauliki (rolling my abdomen with my chest expanded etc). Then, I swim to the surface (often still in pose such as the lotus as in the video above) and when I break the surface I inhale to begin the next posture. I regularly practice a 30 minute sequence of up to 30 postures in this manner.
In the photographs below, photographed by Freediver Photographer Mads Becker Jørgensen (thank you Mads) at Deans Blue Hole on Long Island in the Bahamas, I have no air in my lungs and I sinking to the bottom in Supta Bhekasana in the first photo and Padmasana in the second photo. I am only about 5 metres from the surface but you can see the blackness of the 250 metre deep Blue Hole on the left hand side of the first photo and the right hand side of the second photo. On one such breath retention I was in Baddha Padmasana (the bound lotus) with no air in my lungs sinking down and waiting to touch the bottom…but the bottom didnt come … and it was getting dark… then realised I missed the floor and gone into the Blue hole … with no air … still bound in lotus … I felt briefly like Houdini before mildly panicking and undoing my legs and swimming to the surface which was much further up than I imagined. This experience gave me a lot of respect to William Truebridge who goes down 95 metres into this hole in one breath, and to all the freedivers who dive in the Blue Hole.
In this third photo I am doing an inhalation retention and floating in Padma Ardha Matsyendrasana. No chance of sinking in this one! Also very stimulating on the spine and internal organs to be so twisted with lungs full of air.
Many years ago I realised that I liked the effects of not breathing so much (please see my last post on not breathing much and how to slow the heart ) that I decided to incorporate this into my land practice as my Tibetan Lama had suggested. Hence although I teach most of my students to breath naturally in a posture (until it is mastered, as suggested in the Sutras of Patanjali, and as B.K.S Iyengar had told me when I was lucky enough to train with him) in my own practice i regularly hold my breath in and out for extended periods of time while holding posture and while moving between them.
The essence of pranayama comes from learning how not to breathe (see my post on the reasons for breathing in yoga ). But often people use the muscles of breathing for reasons other than to get more air. With an understanding of breath-control you can use the muscles of breathing for benefit wihtout actually breathing. For example, expanding the chest (like inhaling to the chest but not inhaling) can pull energy and information up the spine; contracting the abdomen (like making a full exhalation from the abdomen but not exhaling) can give some stability and strength to the lower trunk as well as massage the internal organs; and learning how to use the diaphragm (like inhaling with the diaphragm into the abdomen but not inhaling) can relieve lower back pain, increase trunk strength, calm the nerves and enhance blood flow without the heart beating faster.
The nice thing about the lotus swimming I do in this video is the effect on the spine. The hips and the arms move in opposite directions to move through the water. This uses the side spine muscles in a way that creates spinal side bending. The spine is mobilised and manipulated because to move in this way you need to relax the muscles of exhalation that can stiffen the spine by gentle activating the diaphragm (the main muscle of inhalation) and alternately use the side spine muscles. As the muscles on one side of spine are activated by bringing the same side hip and shoulder closer the opposite side muscles reflexly relaxed. Hence, the spine is massaged and blood flow is increased by the alternate on-off pumping of the spinal muscles without the need for the heart to beat faster. This principle is easily adapted to yoga done in a room or even in natural walking.
As an aside, and just for fun, it is interesting to relate my experience with my kids Amaliah who was at the time just 6 and Eric who was just 3. In May 2010 I was with the kids in a pool and Eric who could not really swim on top of the water much yet was sitting on the edge of the pool and put his legs into the lotus posture and dropped himself head first into the water then to my surprise swam for a while in lotus. When he surfaced I asked him how he learnt this trick. His reply ‘I saw Amaliah doing it!’ So I questioned my daughter ‘How did you learn this?’and she replied ‘I saw a video of you doing it Papa!’. Hmmm so it seems one doesnt really teach kids anything – they just copy!
You can learn more about breath-control and the applied anatomy and physiology of yoga on our online course
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Wonderful! …lovely to see your budding yogi water babies
Often I feel like I’m doing underwater Yoga when I’m on land! Sometimes the air feels thick when the flowing action is an extension of the flowing breath and together with the sound of the loud Ujjayi breath …I often imagine I’m scuba diving!
Underwater Yoga – maybe a match made in heaven 🙂
Yes I agree
underwater yoga is a match made in heaven
it is the ultimate state for mediation and pranayamaya
Great reading Simon, especially about the adventure down the black hole…..yikes!
Must try the fish pose underwater 😉
Hi Simon, I am reading your pages for the first time and came across these lovely texts and photos about underwater yoga. My picture in FB is snorkling picture – in Redang island. I took a day´s lesson in free diving, but found breath retention really difficult. More pranayama excersises needed.
Yes freediving is very challenging indeed – you have to be excellent at pranayama and also at swimming – even though i can hold my breath for almost 5 minutes adn can swim about 80 to 100 metres underwater (length not depth!) compared to many people i am only average at both! for example William Truebridge can hold his breath for almost 10 Minutes and can swim about 200 metres underwater. Please see my blog on him on these pages.