What on earth does the anus have to do with freediving? While training in Montréal with the Club d’Apnée Sportive de Montréal (CASM), I took a specialized static training and pranayama course. One of my teachers was a former student of Jacques Mayol. Jacques Mayol taught him an odd but effective visualization technique for static breath holds and pre-dive breathing up. As you can guess, this technique focuses on the anus.
Jacques Mayol advocated an attitude of calmness and relaxation through pranayama and various yoga techniques during competition, in stark contrast to a “forcing and packing”. Visualization techniques play a major role in his approach, and today these techniques are used and taught by some of the best freedivers and teachers such Sara Campbell, Umberto Pellizzari, and Federico Mana.
Mayol discovered that by visualizing different parts of the body he achieved a state of calm. He focused gently on the limbs in order to relax them and ‘shut them off’. This way he achieved a serene state of calm. This visualization teaches self-awareness and control, and is important for the sensations associated with diaphragmatic breathing. He took it one step further and, as part of his routine, focused on visualizing and relaxing the anus. Why the anus? Perhaps because it is one of the core areas where stress manifests itself physically. The rectal area contains muscles that we keep tensioned and clenched almost all day long. It is one of the last muscles of the body to be voluntarily relaxed.
Visualization for statics
The exercise as it was taught to me is as follows. While breathing up, be self-aware of your body and visualize the different parts (fingers, arms, feet, legs and neck) relaxing, unwinding and loosening them. You can focus on the individual limbs and muscles one by one. Take your time, this is not something you can rush. Once you achieve this you can indeed almost imagine yourself as just a torso and a head, floating in the pool. Lastly, and most importantly, is to imagine and see all the muscles around your entire pelvic and rectal area just shutting down. Just loosen all those muscles that are constantly tense while walking, sitting and yes, also when defecating. Our teacher told us, and maybe Mayol told him, “If you can relax the anus, then you can relax all the other muscles too”. The power of visualization is that we can be aware of all of our body and shut down the unnecessary components. Complete relaxation is the key to a long static. This exercise has served as a fantastic relaxation tool prior to a long static or for calming the breath before diving deep. I use this visualization technique often, and it serves me well.
The anus is an area of constant tension. If you are able to truly relax it, the benefits will resonate all over your body. Freedivers must be in harmony with every part of their body, and the anus, is a part of that.
And make sure to go to the toilet before your diving session.
More info on pranayama and yoga for freediving: