Freediving and yoga go hand in hand with most of the top freediving athletes, and it’s pretty clear as to why. Flexibility, relaxation, and meditation are significant parts of yoga, which are also key parts of freediving. Flexibility is especially useful in order to decrease the risk of injury, cramping, and it can also increase your performance. Raising your arms with ease, whether you are training monofin, no-fin, or free immersion, improving the flexibility of your ankles in order to fin more efficiently and enhance your technique, and stretching your lungs and diaphragm in order to avoid lung squeezes are just a few of the benefits of incorporating yoga poses into your stretching routine.
Every person’s stretching routine is very personal, which is why you should never compare yourself or push yourself to compete against others. You may enjoy some poses without liking others or need certain modifications. Always consult a physician if you have any medical conditions or injuries before starting yoga. The most important part of yoga is to listen to your body. There should never be any pain, only finding the balance of a good stretch and practicing good form. If there is any pain or discomfort, gently come out of the posture. Everything should be done slowly and smoothly, and your breathing should sync up with your movements. These yoga poses are specifically highlighted because they stretch the key areas that are needed for freediving, help improve your form, decrease the risk of injury.
Modified Upward Salute/Urdhva Hastasana
Benefits: Stretches the sides of the body, spine, abdominals, shoulders, and armpits.
This pose is modified specifically for no-fin and monofin divers. From a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart and a straight back, while inhaling, lift your arms up from the sides and meet above your head. Place one palm behind the other with straight arms (but not locked elbows) as you would when diving with a monofin, and slowly push your arms behind your head. For a deeper stretch, stand in a doorway or a bar where you can lean into with your palms to deepen the stretch.
Your head may stick out a little, but avoid straining your neck to get your arms behind your head; it is better to slowly open your shoulders for a few sessions and then start to work on getting a deeper range of motion in your arms. Hold the position and breathe in and out slowly for 5 breaths. Return to the starting position by gently sweeping your arms down to your sides on an exhale.
Upward Salute Side Bend/Parsva Urdhva Hastasana
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens oblique muscles, lower back, and abdominals, and strengthens hips, legs, and ankles.
Begin from a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly tuck in your tailbone, but without rounding your back, sweep your arms up the sides and have them meet above your head on an inhale. Touch your fingertips to each other and keep your arms straight, but do not lock your elbows. As you exhale, press your left hip out to the side while bending the upper part of the torso and arms to the right side. Inhale and exhale slowly five times, expanding your chest with each breath. On an inhale, gently raise yourself back to the center, and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: a deep stretch of hips, thighs, ankles, triceps, deltoids, armpits, and chest.
If you feel comfortable enough performing a basic tricep stretch, challenge yourself with Cow Face pose. Begin in a kneeling position, crossing your right leg over the left leg, right above the left knee. Place the top of your right foot on the floor, next to your left ankle. As you exhale, lower yourself back onto your heels while keeping your thighs and feet together. Raise your right arm towards the ceiling with your palm facing forward. Bend your right elbow and bring your hand to rest along your spine. Extend your left arm to the side, with palm face-down. Rotate your left arm so that your palm faces away from your body, laying on your back.
At this point, if you can hook your fingers together, do so, or hold a towel between your spaced hands while gradually decreasing the distance between the two with each session or couple of sessions. Roll your shoulders back, and actively stretch the top elbow towards the sky while stretching your lower elbow to the floor, while keeping both elbows drawn in towards the body. Do not slouch and collapse your chest, focus on spreading the collarbones. Breathe slowly while expanding your chest and hold the pose for one minute, and then switch sides.
This pose can be quite challenging in the beginning. Be sure to check out these modifications to adjust Cow Face to work for your body if you are having pain or difficulties achieving the pose.
Downward-Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana
Benefits: Stretches hands, shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and arches of your feet, and strengthens the arms, legs, and back.
Begin the pose on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders and your knees should be directly under your hips. With straight elbows, relax your upper back, and distribute the pressure of your hands on the floor equally. As you exhale, keep the balls of your feet on the ground, lift your knees off of the floor, and straighten your legs as much as you can without locking your knees. Your body should be in the shape of an “A.”
Pull your hips and thighs backward, and push the floor away from you with your hands. Draw your chest to your thighs and slowly lower your heels onto the floor, if possible. If you are flexible enough and can keep your feet flat and your legs straight – great! If not, stay on the balls of your feet and keep your knees slightly bent, so that you feel a stretch, but never pain. Your ears should be between your upper arms, and your head should be relaxed; you can look at the space between your legs or at your stomach. Breathe into this position and relax with every breath, staying for at least 2 minutes. Release the pose by exhaling while gently bending your knees and coming back on your hands and knees.
Benefits: Stretches shoulders, chest, abdominals, and strengthens the arms and shoulders.
Begin the position by lying face-down on the floor. The tops of your feet should be flat on the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, and keep your elbows tucked in. Press your pubis, thighs, and tops of your feet into the floor. On an inhale, lift your chest up off of the floor, while using your hands as a guide by pushing down. Keep your pubis on the floor, and tuck your tailbone towards your pubis, while lifting the pubis towards your navel. Avoid tensing your buttocks. As you push your shoulders down and back, opening your chest, elongate your neck while looking slightly upwards. Breathe in and out deeply for 15 to 30 seconds. Exhale while lowering yourself to the floor to finish the pose. You may repeat 2 or 3 times depending on your comfort level.
Benefits: Stretches the front of the body, throat, chest, abdominals, groin, thighs, ankles, and strengthens the back muscles.
Begin the position by lying face-down on the floor, with your arms resting by your sides and your palms facing upward. Rest your chin on the floor, and bend your knees so that your feet point to the ceiling. On an exhale, reach your arms behind you and take hold of the outside part of your ankles with your hands. As you inhale, lift your chest up off of the floor, while lifting your thighs by pulling up your ankles with your hands.
Adjust your weight so that you are resting on your abdominals. Your head should be in a neutral position, and your knees should spread no wider than your hips, with your tailbone tucked into your pubis. Breathe in and out deeply for 20 to 30 seconds. On an exhale, release your ankles and slowly return your arms and legs to the floor. You may repeat 2 or 3 times depending on your comfort level.
Upward Abdominal Lock/Uddiyana Bandha
Benefits: Strengthens the abdominals and diaphragm, increases the flexibility of the diaphragm, lower the residual volume of the lungs, and minimizes the chances of a throat injury and lung squeeze during a dive.
It is recommended to warm up your core muscles and diaphragm by doing 1 to 2 rounds of Kapalbhati Pranayama.
With an empty stomach, begin by sitting cross-legged on the floor with your hands resting on your knees, with a straight back. Exhale all of your air from your mouth, bending forward to empty the lungs further. While bending the head, press your chin to your chest while hunching your shoulders up and in front of you, and keep straight and firm arms. Your epiglottis should be kept closed. Expand the chest without inhaling, while pulling up the muscles of the pelvic floor. Hold for as long as comfortable, but make sure to release the pose BEFORE contractions start. When releasing the pose, inhale slowly and wait until you fully recover. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Now It’s Up To You
Every freediver has his or her own preference as to how they stretch, and these poses are just a few of many suitable ways to prepare your body for freediving. Whether it is an everyday routine you choose to perform first thing in the morning or a short stretch before a training session, there is no ideal routine that will work for everyone. The most important poses are the ones that work for YOU, increase your confidence, improve your flexibility, and help keep your body safe as you delve deeper into the sport of freediving.
Kristina, an AIDA, PADI, and Molchanovs W2 Freediving Instructor, discovered her love for the sea as a PADI Divemaster in Dahab, Egypt, where she shared the Blue Hole with freedivers and developed a serious passion for the single-breath sport. Nowadays, when she isn’t nose-deep in a novel on the beach, Kristina likes to train depth, and often pretends to be a mermaid when her buddy isn't looking.