Free Diving Amed


“The one who controls his breath is the ruler over his mind and body”

Swami Satyananda Saraswati.”

Photographs courtesy of Cdelacy / www.apneista.com  

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Learning to free dive

 

Amed with its rugged mountain scenery and vibrant coral reefs is increasingly known as a centre for free-diving in Bali, and is home to Apneista, the island’s first free-diving school.  With a beachside yoga shala, cafe and juice bar on the picturesque bay of Jemuluk, Apneista  offers a range of courses that combine the essentials of free-diving with yoga, stretching, pranayama and advanced breath work – all  components of going ‘down the line’ into the big blue.   “Yoga breath is the bridge between mind and body, the conscious and the unconscious  says Matt, founder of  Apneista. “Rather than yoga being simply part of our free-diving training, we see free-diving as the oceanic part of our yoga practice.”

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People have been free-diving for thousands of years, scraping the ocean floor for pearls, shell fish and sponges, but free diving as a sport was relatively unknown until the iconic film of the 80’s, The Big Blue.  The movie, loosely based on the real life rivalry between two champion free-divers, Jaques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, captured the glory days as divers reached record depths and in so doing challenged the notions of human biology. It was discovered that humans, like sea mammals possess the mammalian dive reflex – when  the body is submerged in cold water all major systems slow down, minimising the need for oxygen. Known as the dolphin man,  French-born Mayol mastered his free-dive technique by swimming with dolphins –   in mimicking their behavior he learned how to integrate himself with the ocean. By adding the power of yoga and meditation, he revolutionised the sport, becoming the first free diver to reach 100 meters.  As yogis have always taught us, when we become aware of our breath, incredible things can happen.

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While adrenalin junkies still strive to go ever deeper, these days many are drawn to the more gentle, recreational aspects of free diving, and the opportunity to enjoy the peace and stillness of the underwater world unencumbered by a  tank. While scuba diving enables you to stay underwater for a longer time, passively observing the reefs and marine life; free-diving allows a full aquatic immersion as you float gently on the currents, completely at one with the ocean. There is an extraordinary sensation of weightlessness and silence, time seems to stand still – in fact it doesn’t seem to exist at all. The outer peace of the surrounding deep blue ocean creates an extraordinary sense of inner peace – or perhaps it’s the other way around… its hard to tell when the  body and mind are acting as one and flowing effortlessly, seamlessly into an intensely beautiful experience.

Asanas and free diving

Just as yoga asanas are often inspired by animals,  free-diving – sometimes referred to as ocean yoga – teaches us to move like a fish, gliding slowly and gracefully through the ocean. “Yoga teaches us alignment of the body, with practice the body becomes more fluid in nature as we develop flexibility and make space, but this is not a  thing only of ligaments and muscles, it is a thing of energy,” says Matt. “We don’t do this for the sake of sitting in ever-more complicated postures, we do this so the body’s subtle life juices can flow better. With free-diving our focus is precisely on this type of fluid movement, to move like water through water. We learn that rigid movement is wasteful movement the forgiving nature of water allows us a fluid realignment of the body.”

The benefits of Pranayama

“The list of benefits of yoga for the free diver are long – from teaching mental clarity and thoracic flexiblity to emotional well-being, but  the benefits of free-diving to the Yogi, when practiced in the right spirit, are equally profound,” says Matt. “ The most obvious  is the control and understanding of the breath, free-diving as a door into the science of pranayama.”   Those who practice pranayama regularly are naturally able to hold their breath longer and are accustomed to exploring the breath and the mind’s reactions to the body, perfect tools for free diving which requires  a range of breathing techniques, including a pre dive ‘breathe up’ and a ‘post dive’ recovery breath.”

 

Underwater Meditation

Yoga and meditation teach us to let go of tension, to be in the moment, as we learn to passively observe thoughts and physical sensations without putting energy into them. This is essential to free diving where the mind may initially rebel against the idea of going deep and being unable to breath – but it is only by confronting our fears that we are able to move beyond them. “This drawing together of mind and body into one focused moment is some of the essence of yoga,” says Matt. “In Bali the sea is considered a place of many dangerous spirits yet also a place of purification,” he adds. “In a romantic way we can see free-diving in the Balinese context as a ritualised confrontation with the our ‘low spirits’ of fear and needless anxiety. When we free-dive sometimes the mind turns against us becoming mischievous or fearful, we can become plagued by our own inner ‘demons of doubt’. But with the ritual of our weighted line and safety procedures  and our faith in physics we can see beyond the doubts to the deep blue face of mother nature. Then we free-dive mindfully, infused with calm and a sense of home coming.

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Yoga Music Art Dance a thon 2012

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I haven’t laughed so hard or for so long in ages, and herein lies the beauty of the event, we are supporting a worthy cause – and having an awesomely good time while we are at it.

2012 Yogathon, article published in Kula magazine 2012

After a week of torrential rain the clouds finally part, bathing Desa Seni in the glow of the emerging sun – an auspicious start to the second annual Yoga, Music, Dance A Thon.

I arrive to find brightly hued umbul (Balinese flags) flickering in the breeze and the path  strewn with frangipani and hibiscus – at Desa Seni the road to  wellbeing is always a colourful one. But today our practice has an even higher purpose, as all money raised by the event is directed to Ayu Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS, a program that promotes awareness through a series of work shops aimed at Bali’s youth. It is estimated that the number of people infected with HIV has tripled over the past five years; Ayu Kita Bicara aims to stem the spread of the disease by targeting Bali’s youth through a series of workshops. Last year’s event raised over $15,000 for the cause, an amount that we hope to match today.

It’s 8.00am, and with a full 12 hours ahead of us Daphna raises our energy with an uplifting kundalini class. Jocelyn Gordon then gets us into the swing of things with hula hooping on the lawn – the hoops bringing a whole new dimension to yoga practice.  Workshops are spread over three different areas, with 30 presenters signed up to lead the way. Cherie Rae enthusiastically leads a workshop entitled ‘Peace it’s an inside job,’ “Yoga is for the world, not just skinny people,” she calls out. I catch her afterwards at Jeff Von Schmauder’s Union Yoga – which  results in some rather amazing feats of balance, and some spectacular topples – “ I am so high right now,” she shouts.

Late in the morning dark clouds dance menacingly around us, before slinking off to the horizon – there is no place for rain today!  Following a healthy organic lunch in Rumah Uma many of us join Awahoshi  who lulls us into a blissful state with crystal sound,  succinctly summing up the vibe of the day when she says “You are here because you are amazing. ”  I join some friends in the  pool but am soon drawn out as “Another one bites the dust” rings out – its Charlie Patton’s Dancing Extravaganza and it looks (and sounds) like way too much fun to miss out on.

When I told a friend I was going to a Yogathon she said “Ooh that sounds like fun” in a tone dripping with sarcasm – if only she knew…. I haven’t laughed so hard or for so long in ages, and herein lies the beauty of the event, we are supporting a worthy cause – and having an awesomely good time while we are at it. EVERYONE is smiling! Desa Seni is in its element, today we truly are one! “ “How amazing it is when the Kula  (community) of Bali, from all over the island can come together and truly represent the meaning of  Kula ” says Desa Seni founder Tom.

As the sun sinks into the horizon flaming torches are lit as we join Kevin and Mel for inspirational Kirtan chanting. Finally, Hamanah Drum n Dance lead us in a high energy, butt shaking dance to the beat of the djembe, ending twelve hours of yoga, music and dance with a bang!

Yoga Desa Seni

Restaurant Desa Seni

 

 

Daniel Aaron interview

It is said that eyes are the windows of the soul, and the first thing I notice about Daniel Aaron are sparkling blue eyes that radiate calmness, compassion and knowingness. As the creator of Radiantly Alive, he aims to uplift our world through unique and powerfully transformative yoga experiences. But if you are picturing a white robed, long haired guru in sandalwood beads speaking in mantras, think again.  Daniel is very much a modern day yogi  (he prefers “human potential guide”) who also happens to make awesome raw chocolate, delves in astrology, runs yoga teacher training programs, and facilitates raw food chef courses. He has been keeping it real in Bali for the past five years and this month launches his Radiantly Alive studio in Ubud.

In a moment of serendipity our meeting coincides with Bali Spirit Festival, a 5-day celebration of yoga, music, dance where lush tropical gardens have been transformed into a hive of holistic activity. Impressive feats of balance are taking place in the acro yoga workshop, while pure crystal sound resonates from the crystal bowl healing workshop. I catch Daniel giving a talk on raw food in one of the pavilions. He is warm and likeable with a tendency to say “Y’all” a lot, in a way that is both embracing and endearing; he also has a natural gift for story telling which has the audience hanging on every word. “I have been playing around with stuff to feel better for a long time,” he tells us, tracing the origins of his transformation back 20 years. “I had a standard American sad diet with meat every meal…. I  was fat, depressed, and that was on a good day…… I started to think, this isn’t right, what can I do differently ?” Vegetarianism came first, but he likens this time to a crack in a windshield, which spread slowly but surely in a myriad of spiritual and health-driven directions as he journeyed across the globe, learning from dozens of teachers, living his life luminously, consciously, with full purpose.

His talk over, we go in search of fresh drinking coconuts, and wind up immersed in lively conversation as we sink into two squishy white bean bags under the shade of a palm tree. Daniel tells me that intuition led him to Bali, “I love the diversity of people, the fecundity of the land, the creativity that it inspires…. and I love coconuts,” he says. I ask if there was a cataclysmic moment that brought yoga into his life. He responds that a few years down the transformation road, a friend invited him to fire walk. Part of the preparation was a yoga class,  “I always thought yoga was for pansies,” he says “so I was surprised to find that I liked it.” He describes  Yoga as Alchemy, “You have to put in enough of a challenge and level of difficulty for it to work.” Daniel has a reputation for inspiring people to go beyond what they thought was possible, and tells me that he is motivated by “Making people feel more alive, more vibrant, encouraging them to discover, how good can it get?” Feeling good is obviously something that we all aspire to which leads logically to our next subject. Chocolate! Not mass produced confectionary high in sugar and milk, but the pure, gooey, healthy, raw kind, which he makes himself. I ask if he has any for me to try, he smiles, digs into his bag and produces a container with some of his latest creations.  I choose a dainty truffle infused with a hint of cardamom. It’s delicious, so good in fact that I could happily eat the whole lot, but that would be rather cheeky, so I manage to restrain myself.

The photographer arrives and we wander about the festival looking for the right backdrop; a west African dance workshop is underway and the tribal rhythms of the djembe create a lively soundtrack. Daniel is super chilled and easy going as we shoot in a number of locations; his  initial shyness with the camera surprises me – or perhaps its not shyness, but rather a refreshing sense of humility. Yet, his playfulness is revealed when he offers to climb into a tree and sit in lotus pose, it doesn’t look so comfortable, but he sees it though. I ask him to describe himself in three words and he comes up with “Inspiring” (yes, he has certainly inspired me,) “Quirky” (well, he is sitting in a tree,) and “Discerning” (obvious in his life choices.) I have just one last question;  what makes you happy? “Deep honesty, intimacy, seeing people transform, my daughter, nature, belly laughs, quality, artistry…..”

A few days later I am doing some background research and discover that Daniel is also a writer. His thoughts,  favourite poems, and inspirational quotes can be found scattered about his blog and websites, which is where I find this little gem that just says it all. “Our life is our project. We can make it an exceptional canvas of dreams and inspirations. Everything that passes through us is a brushstroke: each thought, bite of food, every interaction, how we spend our time, where we live. Life is as vibrant, alive, juicy and beautiful as we choose.”