“Learn to breathe,” is the first thing my dive instructor said many years ago. And all through my many lessons and dives with this excellent instructor, he would emphasize the importance of breathing correctly. Night diving, wreck diving, cave diving, Search and Recovery, Stress and Rescue—through them all until I qualified as Master Diver, I remember his constant above- and underwater instructions: BREATHE! Concentrate on your breathing, control each breath. Breathe with meaning. It became a mantra and eventually a natural way of breathing.

His pre-dive briefing would begin with “Breathe” and underwater he would constantly be checking for the bubble flow to make sure that the breathing was correct—not too fast, not too slow, don’t hold your breath, stay calm, keep your body-shape in line, use only your fins to move you through the water, check your buoyancy, don’t flap your hands around.

Keep calm and breathe!

He was also a yoga instructor and I had been practicing pranayama for a number of years, so once I got over the excitement of being where I had always wanted to be—under the sea (I am a water fanatic)—I was comfortable with moving through this other world with the “breathy-thingy” in my mouth.

But before each dive—sometimes on the dive boat if we were not doing a shore entry—we would spend a few minutes taking slow deliberate breaths and concentrate on breathing. This, of course, has the immediate effect of calming the diver and after the “stress” of gearing up in this equipment-intensive pastime, it ensured the dive was a pleasure, and that any problems—real or induced for learning purposes—were managed without panic.

And the joy of being underwater is indescribable—the sheer beauty of hovering next to a reef for 20 minutes watching “the little things”—the nudibranchs, shrimp, snails and so many others going about their daily duties, sitting on the ocean floor while ragged tooth sharks circle overhead, teasing eels out of crevices in coral, being startled by a perfectly disguised octopus that has had enough of being ignored and shimmies past, waving back at the sea fans, tickling coral to close then watching as it opened, floating through wrecks demised by treacherous seas and making acquaintances with their new dwellers and starfish and turtles, and clown fish and neons and beautiful but deadly scorpion fish and awfully ugly and even deadlier stonefish—the list goes on forever.

Yes, it’s beautiful and exciting and awesome and sometimes the situations get scary—a storm comes up while you are diving in the sea and it’s difficult (almost impossible, in fact) to get into the dive boat… breathe! Your weight-belt decides to leave your waste and you start shooting for the surface… breathe! Your oxygen cylinder wedges itself into some area of a wreck and you are stuck… breathe! Your dive buddy disappears and you have to do a “lost buddy” exercise, but you also have to let the dive master know, and everyone else is swimming away, and… and… breathe!

You drop something, your mouthpiece is ripped from where it should be… breathe! Umm… how? The first thing you automatically want to do is hold your breath. Not a good idea. Slowly, very slowly while you are looking for your mouthpiece, or finding your octo (back-up breathy-thingy) or your buddy’s octo, slowly exhale. It calms you and your thought processes work properly and you’d be surprised how quickly solutions come to you.

I have sometimes found myself walking in thought or running up a flight of stairs and wondered why I was suddenly feeling tired. I have been either holding my breath or breathing very shallowly and I tell myself “breathe, woman!”

I was asked the other day if I ever meditate. I sat and thought about this for a while. Do I deliberately move to silence? Do I disappear from the outside world into a space of nothingness allowing everything to go through me and around me and watch and listen to what comes? Do I become totally absorbed in whatever I am doing wherever I am, finding peace and grabbing thoughts to formulate them into sense—or simply watch them float around? I realized that this is my normal state of being. Even when I write, I disappear into the words hearing nothing around me. And yet, I am aware.

But it is under the sea, in the depths where my meditation is the most significant—where I feel most at home. A sense of awe, a sense of being infinitely small, a floating through a wonderland seeing things that only a small number see or appreciate, at peace, in silence and beauty, actually hearing and seeing each breath. In another world and being fully aware.

Smiling, I sent a response: my whole life is a meditation.

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