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The Value of Being Relaxed: T’ai Chi and Scuba Diving

Like T’ai chi, in scuba diving, the less you do, the more effective you become. In other words, advanced scuba diving involves using minimum effort and strength to achieve efficiency. Wasteful expenditure of air, and overuse of fins and working against currents in the water, will quickly exhaust the diver and waste their air. The skill in diving is to relax as soon as you are in the water. Release the air from your lungs, and of course from your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) jacket, and dry suit (if wearing one). If you are relaxed and correctly weighted then you will descend in the water without effort. The deep breathing from the stomach, using the full flex of the diaphragm, helps you effectively expel air, and facilitates your descent. Having descended, stay relaxed and take slow controlled breaths, using the diaphragm. Do not take in too much air and overinflate your lungs. Use your T’ai chi breathing skills to control and regulate inhalation and exhalation. An essential diving skill is achieving neutral buoyancy. This is a condition in which a physical body’s average density is equal to the density of the fluid in which it is immersed. An object that has neutral buoyancy will neither sink nor rise. The buoyancy offsets the force of gravity that would otherwise cause the object to sink, if the body’s density is greater than the density of the fluid in which it is immersed; and neutral buoyancy offsets the rising of the object, if its density is less.

Advanced divers maintain their depth and their neutral buoyancy through their breathing, not using the BCD jacket, or finning. This is because adding air to the jacket is a very inexact process compared to controlled breathing, so it is too easy to over inflate the BCD and start to ascend. Once you start to ascend then the air in the jacket, and in your lungs, expands as the external pressure of the weight of water reduces, so the ascent accelerates and can become uncontrolled. This is dangerous, so it is safer to learn to control and adjust your depth and buoyancy using the air in your lungs. In a rolling ocean, you will be subject to depth pressure changes, so you need to be aware of these and adjust the air in your lungs accordingly. Therefore, in T’ai chi terms, you are using your awareness and monitoring your breathing. Staying relaxed is the key, because tension will cause your breathing to go shallow, and will use more oxygen as you try to force things, by strenuously finning. Advanced divers progress in the water using minimal effort, and the way of least resistance. They follow the flows and currents in the water.

Novice divers are told to breathe continuously for safety, so that they are not holding air in the lungs. Advanced divers who are skilled at maintaining depth and buoyancy, can avoid breathing in after an exhalation, and so save air. This means progressing with the lungs almost empty and missing breaths. It is an advanced skill and should not be forced. Moving with air still in the lungs, i.e. “skip breathing” is more dangerous, and should be avoided.

Because of the pressure of the water on the body, actions in diving are performed slowly and with minimal effort, just like T’ai chi training. All the above skills should start to become natural with practice. Then you will be able to save air, stay safe, and enjoy the scenery and marine life on longer dives.

For further explanation and examples of the ‘Value of Being Relaxed’, see T’ai Chi Ch’uan: Wisdom in Action in a Chinese Martial Art, pp56-58.

For further explanation of T’ai chi breathing, see T’ai Chi for Life, Health & Fitness, page 6.

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