I have never experienced an embrace stronger than that of the ocean at depth. On one breath I leave the surface and kick my way down to where liquid turns black, the sun is only a memory and water presses in on me from all sides squeezing me harder than I think I can survive. But it’s still only water. Gentle, flowing water- the same water can crush a human as easily as you crumple a piece of paper in your hand. Kick, kick… relax.
I fall deeper and deeper. Surrounded by ocean I am reminded of where I come from. That watery world we all experience before we are born into light, sound and smells. A quiet place where sound is muffled and we feel safe… a private ocean. I am water!
Maybe you're already a surfer, diver, swimmer, sailor..? Or on the other hand maybe you sometimes feel the need to tell people ‘I’m not really a water-person’. I can’t count the times I have heard people say that… and, well, it’s not true! Whether you feel comfortable in the ocean or not, you ARE a water person. In fact your body is around 70% water – same as our planet! Your body remembers a time of total submersion beyond what our terrestrial antics can explain. You are part seal, part dolphin... you have a deep-rooted, age-old Mammalian Dive Response that kicks in as soon as you pop your face in the water…
The Mammalian what!? Yes, you heard right… the Mammalian Dive Response is a series of adaptations for ocean submersion that the water-loving homo sapiens shares with whales, dolphins and seals! We are perfectly adapted for time under water on one breath. We have an inner seal living inside of us ready to come out during any water submersion! Like cogs in a vast machine this response is set in motion as soon as your face is submerged in water. ‘Aha,’ the aquatic mammalian inside you says, ‘ we are freediving!’ and whoosh bradycardia sets in: brady- slowing down, cardia- of the heart. The heart rate drops dramatically slowing down the circulation and usage of precious oxygen! As the carbon dioxide levels in the blood rise, the aquatic mammal gears up for auto-vasoconstriction. Blood vessels in the arms and legs constrict, shunting blood back to the core of the heart-lung-brain combo where oxygen is used more essentially and efficiently. The breathing reflex of our terrestrial body is making itself heard, diaphragmatic contractions try force you to breathe, it’s uncomfortable but it’s not a final reflex we have to obey. The aquatic mammal knows this is a false alarm - you still have lots of oxygen, hidden oxygen reserves especially in the human spleen, which like that of deep diving seals, responds to heightened carbon dioxide levels by contracting and releasing the oxygen rich reserves of haemoglobin into the blood. You are now fully a seal, ready to dive to great depths, spend time cavorting under the waves, catch fish if you wish to… or just stay relaxed when you get held down under a wave if you’re a surfer!
You don’t need a lot of equipment, money or even time to reconnect with our beautiful oceans – just grab a mask, snorkel and fins and walk on in. Feel the weightlessness of your body in water, enjoy the quiet, the solitude and beauty of total submersion. And if you live far from the sea – just close your eyes and deepen your breath. In and out, like waves and tides our breath copies the ocean. In and out, with each breath you take the oxygen you use is a reminder of the oceans gift. Water… and air. Even far from the ocean, you are an aquatic being.
- Hanli Prinsloo
I AM WATER Founder