Physiology of freediving

The mammalian dive reflex is our body’s natural response to being in water. It begins the moment we put our face in water and it stops once our airways are clear to breathe once more. We all have it – to varying degrees. And it can be trained.

I see it as the body’s natural survival mechanism – it is our instinctive will to live. It has various stages, becoming more intense, according to the physical need. It is totally automatic and is what enables us to dive to extreme depths, for minutes at a time and come up smiling!

Stage one – immersion

Try this at home – find your pulse, put your face in a bucket of cold water, and hold your breath for at least a minute (if you’re alone don’t push this time!). You will notice your pulse will drop. Automatically. This is your brain picking up signals from receptors in your cheeks telling it that the airways are submerged so it should slow everything down in order to conserve oxygen.

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