Diving in

Zoe Saunders on how she makes the most of her time away from court and unwinds.

As I was leaving court recently, one of the local district judges said to me: “I understand you’ve taken up some kind of extreme sport, sky diving or something.” As someone who is terrified of heights and not much of an extreme sports fan I had no idea what he was talking about; after some discussion of other extreme sports that I would never contemplate, I tentatively offered “Do you mean freediving, Judge?” To which he replied, “oh yes, that’s the one".

I am always surprised when people consider freediving an extreme sport, but the reaction I get when I tell people that I am a freediver is often one of astonishment, as though I am doing something dangerous. Strangely, I never get the same reaction when I tell people I am going downhill skiing, which is much more risky. Done correctly, freediving is incredibly safe and is suitable for all ages and abilities not just the young and super-fit.

Anyone who has ever held their breath underwater has been freediving, although they will not think of it as such. Human beings have been freediving for centuries, usually for food or for the other riches of the sea. Freediving is a form of underwater diving that relies on the diver’s ability to hold their breath rather than any form of external aid such as scuba-tanks. Training as a freediver simply involves learning the physiology, science, techniques and safety procedures which are critical to enable you to dive longer, deeper and safely.

For me the only way in which freediving is an extreme sport is that it is extremely relaxing. Being a barrister is a fairly high stress job and I have never  been very good at “switching off ”. I have tried meditation and found it impossible: as soon as I tried to focus on nothing, I found myself mentally preparing for my next case. Freediving is fantastic for relaxation because the key to being a good freediver is to be as relaxed as possible, the more relaxed you are the less precious oxygen you burn.

"The mental preparation ... for freediving has been extremely useful in my practice as a barrister"

I have also discovered that freediving enables you to get much closer to underwater wildlife as you are not spouting clouds of noisy bubbles. I have always wanted to swim with wild dolphins and we were lucky enough to be visited by a pair of wild bottle-nosed dolphins on a recent liveaboard holiday in the Red Sea with www.gofreediving.co.uk (see the website for a video). It was the most magical experience. To freedivers they are friendly and curious and will swim astonishingly close to you – at one point I was looking across to my right where I had last seen the dolphins, when I glanced across to my left one of them was right next to me less than a foot away. If I had not already been holding my breath I would have held it from the sheer awe of just being in such close proximity to one of these magnificent creatures.

I have found that the mental preparation and relaxation that I practice for freediving has been extremely useful in my practice as a barrister because there are a number of similarities between the relaxed yet focused state that precedes a successful dive and the focus that I need for court hearings. I have found through freediving that relaxation and focus are not necessarily incompatible and the breathing techniques that I use as a freediver are a useful quick relaxation technique that can be used before a court hearing or just sat at your desk in chambers.

I learnt to freedive with gofreediving. For more information on the sport, visit their website: www.gofreediving.co.uk.

Category: 
Issue: 
Author details: 
Zoe Saunders

Zoe is a barrister at St John’s Chambers. She specialises in complex family law cases, in particular financial remedy cases involving trusts of land, cohabitation disputes over the ownership of property and professional negligence.