As a scuba diver, I’m completely fascinated with the open ocean. I lived in the Philippines for a little over a year when I was young and it sparked my obsession with the sea world. The Pacific Ocean was literally in my backyard and I would explore the tropical coral reefs every chance I had.
National Geographic recently posted an interview with James Nestor, whose book Deep delves into the sport of free diving and the human body’s ability to adapt to deep depths. Free diving is essentially a form of diving where the person holds his or her breath underwater without a breathing apparatus. While it may seem counterintuitive for humans to dive hundreds of feet into the ocean on a single breath of air, Nestor says our bodies are far more adaptive to deep sea diving than we know. He says,
Something amazing happens the second we put our faces into water. Our heart rates lower about 25 percent. Blood begins rushing from our extremities into the core. The mind enters a meditative state. At around 250 to 300 feet the heart rate of some of these free divers has been recorded to be about 14 beats per minute. That’s about a third of a coma patient’s. It shouldn’t support consciousness, according to physiologists. And yet deep in the ocean it does. But no one knows exactly how.
Nestor is describing the Mammalian Diving Reflex, which is a natural reflex in mammals that allows them to stay under water for longer periods of time by optimizing respiration. This is why newborn babies instinctively hold their breath when submerged in water. The Mammalian Diving Reflex is an interesting ability we developed through evolution and researchers still don’t fully understand it.
While free diving can be dangerous and should be practiced with caution, it is increasingly gaining popularity as an extreme sport and Nestor believes the world record will soon reach a depth of 1,000 feet (the current record with fins is 895 feet). Guillaume Néry is a world record-breaking free diver that created a mesmerizing video entitled Free Fall to capture the beauty of the sport. The video is artistic fiction intended to express the connection, harmony and freedom free divers feel with the ocean. Check it out below!