Man or fish? Guillame Nery setting a freediving world record in a spectacular demonstration of kumbaka, or breathholding.
I am happy to report that we contain ancient, fishlike abilities. As soon as the face comes into contact with cold water, a state called bradycardia sets in, slowing the heart rate. This is the first step in the activation of our body's underwater survival mechanisms. Scientists call it the mammalian diving reflex, and we share it with animals like dolphins, seals, otters. This water-triggered reflex means that a person can actually survive without breath longer underwater than above.
Like anyone exploring the unknown, freedivers learn that to go deeper, they must relax all resistance (any extraneous effort means depleted oxygen) and accept (their thoracic cavities literally accept the depths, filling with watery plasma to equalize the pressure from without). It's such a perfect analogy for the way yoga seems to work...the further we dive, the more relaxed and accepting we have to be.
I've noticed that often I battle with what I find within myself. I can feel like two Ashleys (two zen muffins?) during yoga. I get confused about which one is real, confused about what yoga is 'supposed' to feel like. If I'm not blissed out and peaceful I think I'm doing it wrong. Sometimes I wonder how to 'use' yoga--as something to CHANGE the way I'm feeling in the moment or as something to help me feel that moment more strongly.
It's funny how easy it is for the mind to find something beautiful, appealing, inviting, like freediving. But to get the rest of the self to go along with it is the trick. Despite my fascination with freediving and my innate piscean nature, I've always lost underwater breathholding contests and feared the ocean. Yoga allows me to ease in gently, safely, and choose whether I float at the top gazing down or dive fully in.