Is relaxation a skill ?

Relaxation is crucial in freediving. So far, everybody agrees, and you are probably not learning anything… 

Nevertheless, you may not know that two drastically different visions of the definition of relaxation coexist in the freediving world. The first definition is the most commonly shared and will undoubtedly seem familiar to you. The second one is still not widely used but is, in my opinion, the future of the sport.

Relaxation is stress management.

This first definition is, as I mentioned, the most common one. It consists of starting from the principle that there is or can be a stressful situation, and relaxation happens when you can remain calm, concentrated, and in perfect control of yourself in the face of this situation. Therefore, it is a matter of not letting oneself be overwhelmed by one’s emotions and possible negative stimuli to limit (or even eliminate) the symptoms of stress. In the context of this definition, relaxation can be achieved with the help of different techniques with which you are probably already more or less familiar. These techniques will allow you to put these stressful stimuli in a “little box” to more or less limit their impact during the dives. In this sense, relaxation is a skill that can be developed.

Relaxation is the absence of stress.

This second definition assumes that relaxation “does not exist”. More precisely, being defined by the absence of stress, it is impossible to be “more” relaxed but only “less stressed”. This definition supposes that there is no “relaxation switch”, that it is impossible at a given moment to do anything to be “more” relaxed since, by definition, trying to “do” something is in pure contradiction to the notion of relaxation. The only option is to have previously removed or transformed the negative stimuli and make sure they do not happen (the role of training). Relaxation thus occurs naturally and passively. The supporters of this definition believe that relaxation is above all the result of a context and not an action that can be carried out at a given moment. On the international scene, Nathan Vinski clearly expresses this opinion (it is from him that I borrowed the expression “there is no relaxation switch“). We also find Aharon Solomons, who defends this point of view in an episode of freedive cafe (1h18 and 30seconds). Finally, this is the vision that I support in my Ebook “No, you don’t have equalization issues” still freely available.

Small analogy.

To be a little more explicit, we can put forward a “fictitious” example taken from daily life. Then we will come back to our main subject, freediving.

Let’s imagine that you have insomnia and frequent nightmares. You identify these sleep problems as being caused by a conflicting relationship with your boss.

Option 1: You take up meditation, yoga, and relaxation therapy. Your relationship with your boss is still stressful, but you can handle it better. As you progress in your use of relaxation techniques, your nights improve, and you find your sleep again.

Option 2: You contact the superior of your boss hierarchy and/or undertake to review this relationship during a frank conversation. Tensions subside, and your relationship is normalized. Little by little, your nights improve, and you find sleep again.

In both cases, you find sleep because you are more relaxed. But in option 1, the stress stimuli are still present, and you have learned to “deal with it”. In option 2, the stressful stimuli have disappeared. The definition of relaxation is, therefore, quite different in the two situations.

Life is complicated…

What is complicated in life in a very general way is that we constantly face stressful situations or stimuli that are likely to prevent us from getting sleep. However, it is sometimes difficult to decide what to do with these stressful stimuli: accept them and learn to “deal with them” (option 1) or suppress/transform them (option 2, with all the work, time, patience, or radical decisions that this can sometimes require). Chances are you know someone around you who is “stuck” in a situation because they have made a “choice” to deal with the existing stress (staying in a toxic relationship, for example) when from the outside, it seems evident that the best thing to do is to cut the source of stress. Sometimes cutting the source of stress involves a leap into the unknown that seems even more stressful at first, so we prefer to deal with the existing stress that has the advantage of being familiar. Sometimes removing stress seems simply impossible and completely utopic. Sometimes, managing existing stress is the only thing to do to continue to live/survive properly (inevitable events we have to face). Knowing how to choose what kind of behavior to adopt to find a form of appeasement is not easy, and we probably “make mistakes” in our attitudes. Nevertheless, I hope we agree that when this choice appears to be possible, the second option, removing the stress, is preferable in the long term. At least that is my opinion.

To come back to freediving.

No one is forcing you to practice freediving. Few people live by their freediving performance (and let’s be honest, you are probably not one of the chosen few). Whatever your life, you probably have enough “stress management” situations on your shoulders, and there is absolutely no point in adding one to your leisure time! Consequence? Nothing obliges you to inflict this stress on yourself, and therefore, nothing obliges you to manage it for freediving. In my opinion, the only definition of relaxation that is valid in the context of freediving is the second definition. Your freediving training should aim at eliminating the negative stimuli that can occur during a dive, not at managing them better. To do this, you should strive to make dives with a high level of quality and comfort that will allow you to be mechanically relaxed (definition 2) for the next dive. When you put it that way, things may sound simple but let’s be clear, training with this approach is quite complex. It requires more thought and knowledge to understand all the sources of stress that your dives and training can generate, and the help of a coach who understands this approach is certainly not too much. However, this approach is the only one that will guarantee you a healthy and sustainable progression without the emotional ups and downs that are sometimes difficult to understand when adopting (voluntarily or not) a training approach based on stress management.

To get an idea of what stress reduction training can do, I recommend that you try the static one contraction as I describe it in this article. I will also publish an article later to explain THE basic principle for anyone wishing to apply this approach in training.

To go further

Does this article seem to be in contradiction with what you usually hear about freediving? Learn how to deal with contradictory advice in freediving while optimizing your training.