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I’m old. I have cancer. I’m a yogi. And I just learned to freedive.

I just threw in the old thing because last night I learned that I’m the oldest person to complete two levels of training at Apneista. But age is just a number, so we’ll let that one go.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I was diagnosed with cancer. In the process of working that up, a second, more dangerous cancer was found. I did a full year of treatment, the usual stuff you, your friends, or your family have endured: surgery, chemotherapy. radiation. Now I’m a year into recovery, and feeling good; appreciating the gift of every day, every moment.

 

Yoga helped save my life. Even when I was too weak to do asana, the physical practice, I would still do other forms of yoga. Breathing practices, pranayama, helped muster and balance my energy. I set intentions, sankalpas, to guide me on my path. I did yoga nidra, sometimes called yogic sleep, for deep relaxation and rest. Every day my meditation brought me to samadhi, a place where my mind was still, free from the past or future. That carried on into my days. As Alan Watts said, I was able to “Be Here Now”, enjoying every moment no matter the circumstance.

After a year of essentially being house-bound during treatment, I started thinking about mixing things up a bit. My friend Ashley said it was a no-brainer since I loved both the ocean and yoga: come to Bali, specifically come to Amed where she taught freediving at Apneista. I’m a scuba diver since way back and I brought my scuba gear, but Ash offered a chance to sample freediving too. One dive and I never looked back.

 

The connections between freediving and yoga practices were emphasized during training; I’m very comfortable in the water so it all seemed natural to me, though I had problems equalizing my ears. As I am still recovering from treatment I am mildly anemic. Freediving causes the release of red blood cells as part of the mammalian dive response, and I was feeling great.

The real shift was in my mind. Freediving brought me to the same places that helped me so much with cancer. The shared emphasis on breath was natural. I learned to create an intention for each dive, perhaps to move slowly conserving energy, or maybe just enjoy the view. Relaxation was paramount, and I would sometimes find myself repeating a mantra, moving back into meditation while in the water.

Each dive brought me into the present moment, never mulling over how I could have prevented my illness, or worrying about what may lie ahead for me and my cancer. Underwater I was totally in the present moment, knowing myself, the one pointed mind. I’d look up through the blue water toward the light of the sun, a timeless view. Like meditation, freediving brought me to samadhi.

— Tom —