I grew up for the first four decades of my life in the Midwest. Summer activities consisted of water skiing, sail boating, canoeing down the rivers, and swimming in the lakes. When I was a young girl, my father would take me fishing in my grandfather’s private lake, where we would use cane poles to hook sunfish and bass. I have always loved anything having to do with water and being in water is where I feel both the most alive and the calmest.
I had an opportunity to move to the West Coast in the late 1990’s, after leaving my 17-year corporate career as an environmental scientist. I had only seen the ocean a few times prior to my move. My first home there was just a few miles from the ocean, and every day I would go to the beach to watch the waves. I was so in awe of the power of the ocean, at how the water sparkled like millions of little diamonds scattered upon the surface. I loved the warmth of the sand beneath my feet and the whooshing sound of the waves as they receded from the shore.
After seven years of living in Southern California, I decided it was time to explore the magnificent depths of the ocean. I was inspired watching all the scuba divers as they waded out of the surf and onto the beach, and I would hear them excitedly talking about what they had seen during their dive. I wanted to get up close and personal with green sea turtles, parrot fish and coral reefs. It was time for me to experience the feeling of being gently cradled by the ocean.
From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free. – Jacque Cousteau
I decided it was Someday Is Now to finally get my PADI Certification and I started my training in November of 2006. After receiving my basic PADI training, I flew to Belize where the waters are warm to spend time on Ambergris Caye and train with one of the PADI dive shops on the island. Belize is one of the top diving areas in the world and is home to the world’s second-longest barrier reef and three of only four true coral atolls in the western hemisphere.
My first dive in Belize was to 95 feet and I was completely captivated by the abundance of beautiful fish, corrals and sponges of many colors, ferocious-looking eel, and spotted eagle rays. I found a green sea turtle lounging on the bottom of the ocean and I lay on the floor near him just a few feet away.
After several days of training, I started noticing how relaxed and calm I felt when immersed in the ocean. My mind was used to a daily regimen of multi-tasking, continual use of computer and electronic devices, and generally just rushing through the day. But with scuba diving, I was only focused on being a safe diver and the awe-inspiring beauty surrounding me. I felt so present and aware listening to the sound of my own breath as a glided through the water.
We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came. ~ John F. Kennedy
When we mindfully dwell in the present moment, we completely dissolve into our current activity and we become the activity. Peak experiences occur when we are so totally involved with life that our sense of separateness dissolves into the experience. This is one way to describe Zen. For me, this is what I feel when I scuba dive and why it is a very Zen experience. I am in a state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind.
I have also learned to practice the long, slow, breathing that I use for scuba diving in my daily life. I never realized until I started diving how ineffective I was in providing my body enough essential oxygen. By using long, slow breathing, I stay more focused, clear-headed and I am less tired. When I find myself rushing too much during the day, I take 20 minutes to focus my breathing on my heart center, and merge my body with my mind.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”~ Thich Nhat Hanh
There are thousands of articles in medical literature about how focused breathing reduces our stress response. Harvard Researcher Dr. Howard Benson has been studying the benefits of proper breathing since the early seventies. In his new book “Relaxation Revolution”, Dr. Benson claims his research shows that breathing can even change the expression of genes. He says that by using your breath, you can alter the basic activity of your cells with your mind. Dr. Benson believes it does away with the whole mind-body separation. That takes focused breathing and getting Zen to whole new level!
You don’t have to go 100 feet below sea level to get Zen and learn to nourish your body with long, slow, breathing. One of the most valuable habits we can have in life is to learn deep relaxation. Even if you can carve out 20 minutes every day to quiet your mind, you’ll achieve inner peace and better health. A small task for a big reward!
If you enjoyed this Blog post, you might also enjoy the Heck Yeah! post “Stay Calm And Get Dirty, Girl“.