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Dive Deep With a Single Breath

Cover Photo: SzJanko Photography

The ocean is one of my greatest teachers. Over recent years, I have been fascinated by the concept of free diving and the mental strength and grace I observe in those who practice exploring depths beneath the surface on a single breath. This past March, I arrived in Bocas Del Toro, Panama after spending an adventurous week sailing from the San Blas islands. As I took a morning stroll from the humble place I was staying, I noticed a sign outside of the Bocas Dive Center that read, “Free Your Soul – Try Free Diving”. This sign immediately drew me in, so I walked closer to read the details. I found out there was a yoga class on the water front deck that evening at sunset and that the yoga teacher was also one of the free dive instructors. I went to yoga and it was just what I needed, a wonderful class! I stayed afterwards to chat and found out more about the free diving course details. This led me to extend my time in Bocas by 24 hours so that I could at least take a one day class in free diving. The course blew me away! The instructors Gabrielle and Ariel are amazing humans and incredible teachers. With their guidance, teachings, and support, I made it down to 13 meters in one day! I am super inspired by the passion that radiates from Gabrielle and Ariel and their creation of Blue Chitta. They offer courses, trainings, and retreats all over the world that create space to experience full body and mind potential. Free diving is a fantastic compliment to yoga and meditation and I look forward to training with these two more in the near future. Learn more about this aquatic duo and what they do in the interview below…Thanks for diving deep!

Super excited to join in for the Freediving and Yoga Retreat in Bali //November 11 to 17 2018!

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to the earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” Jacques Yves Cousteau

Can you tell us a little about your yoga background and how you met?

We both have a pretty strong yoga background, we started practicing about 8 years ago when we were still in the  scuba-diving business. We found something very special in the yoga practice, a deep feeling of inner peace & an opportunity to make the impossible a possibility. Ariel did his first Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training Course in 2011 in Rishikesh India and started to teach yoga in Eilat, Israel soon after completing the training. We met in Eilat in 2011 in the dive shop where Ariel was working. I was a dive master at the time and I went to dive the Red Sea on my way to Thailand. We met in the public shower after the dive, he offered me soap and later on tea, we straight away had a special connection. That weekend, I went to my first Ashtanga Yoga Class led by Ariel in Hebrew! I continued my trip and made it to Thailand where I started practicing yoga more regularly in the local studios. A year later, Ariel moved to the same island I was living on (Koh Tao), to become a freediving instructor and started teaching yoga at the local yoga studio. I went to India to do my first TTC with Sivananda and a couple months after I completed a second TTC in Ashtanga and started working full time as a yoga teacher. By the end I was head teacher at the studio, teaching most of the classes from Hatha to Yin with a special love for Vinyasa & inversions. Ari was teaching freediving full time and spending his free time teaching Ashtanga Yoga or giving Thai Massage. We also started to practice and teach AcroYoga, a community based practice that blends the wisdom of Yoga, fire of Acrobatics and love and kindness of Thai Massage. In 2014, we founded Yoga Shak Montreal, a peaceful oasis in the city center of Montreal, a yoga studio dedicated to sharing good vibes through Yoga & Meditation.

You both started as scuba divers? Why did you make the crossover to free diving?

Getting more into yoga brought a change in our lifestyles. The scuba-diving business is very hard work, a lot of sophisticated equipment involved and the day usually ends at the bar at what they call ”Beer O’clock”. It was fun for a few years but after a while we started looking for something else. Evolution is an ongoing process. We would skip ”Beer O’clock” to practice yoga and meditation, we started to feel much more connected to our bodies and realized the power of the mind. When we came across freediving we felt like it was the perfect combination for us; mixing meditation, breath-control, our love for the ocean and offering a much more balanced life-style as well as a sense of freedom. Letting go of our heavy sophisticated equipment just made sense, it was part of our evolution, like a snake letting go of it’s old skin.

Photo: JF Gutierrez

Why do you feel yoga and freediving work so well together?

For us, yoga and freediving are two sides of the same thing, and at the same time are very complementary. The same principles apply in both yoga and freediving; using the breath to unlock the body and the mind to their full potential, creating space between the sensations and the reaction, and moving from fear to trust. They both bring us a deep sense of freedom, inner peace and Oneness. Practicing yoga and meditation is a part of most freedivers’ routine because it enhances their ability to stay calm under pressure, increase their lung capacity and keeps their body strong and healthy. Freediving is like taking the yoga practice into the ocean. The water is a very cleansing element, it brings up to the surface our deepest fears and gives us the opportunity to let them go, creating space for new beginnings and eventually bringing a great sense of empowerment. In both freediving and yoga, we get to let go of what is no longer serving us and to realize the limitless potential of our body & mind!

What kind of experience does one need to start free diving?

None. What we love about the way we teach our courses is that they are adapted to each student. We’ve had students who were terrified of the water…one woman could not even put her face in the water without panicking. With her, we worked on breaking mental blocks, creating new patterns of reaction and learning to trust the ocean. It took a little bit longer but after a few weeks she made it to 24 meters without any stress or fear and with a beautiful technique. Some people just want to learn the basics skills so they can go explore the reef safely and comfortably, others want to push their limit and dive as deep as they can…whatever it is, our general goal is to see some kind of improvement during the course and meet everyone’s individual needs and expectations. Knowing how to swim is a good start, but some people have even learned how to freedive before they could swim! Freediving is such a vast world, there is something for everyone and this is why we can allow ourselves to adapt the courses to each individual.

Can you recall one of your most memorable dives?

One of our best dives was in Mexico…we went freediving with a friend, we took a local boat to the reef and when Ariel did his first dive of the day to about 30 meters, he came back up with four dolphins spinning around him! I could not believe it! The dolphins were so curious, they were talking and singing and playing around with us for about an hour. They were copying our every move, if we would dive they would dive, if we would jump they would jump, spin they spin, it was spectacular! There is something magical with having a connection with dolphins; they establish a very strong eye contact and you instantly realize that they are much smarter than we can imagine. We can hear them communicating underwater with their whistle and it feels like we can understand what they are saying. In the end of the day they are mammals just like us, our bodies are very similar and react with the same adaptations when we dive into the sea on a single breath. I think this is why freediviers and dolphins have a special connection, they remind us that we are all the same, part of a whole, WE ARE ONE! <3
Another spectacular dive was Ariel’s first competition dive in Free2Be Comp. in Eilat. Competitions are very stressful for everyone; organizers, athletes and coaches. This was Ariel’s first competition and he announced a 60 meter dive. As his coach, I was at the surface waiting for him while he was diving down, not allowed to dive with him or else he would be disqualified. This would be an ”easy” dive for him regularly and he’d been going to this depth and deeper many times before, but to dive down alone on a single breath with all the adrenaline and the stress of everyone around was a whole new thing. He had about three minutes to breathe before he went down. The safety team was making sure he was hooked correctly to the line with his lanyard and counting the time down until it was his time to take a big breath and dive down. For the whole way down Ari was alone, leaving the stress and tension behind him, focusing only on his equalization, the present moments and letting go of any unnecessary stress or expectations. At the surface we were counting the time, after about 75 seconds we felt the turn, the safety team went down to meet him at about 30 meters on his way up. I still wasn’t sure if he had made it all the way down or not. Eventually I saw him coming up, as he winked, I knew. Once he surfaced he had 15 seconds to do three things in this specific order; 1- Clear his airway (take his noseclip off), 2- Give the OK hand signal to the judges, 3- Say the words ”I AM OK”. He did it perfectly without any signs of hypoxia or weakness. Following this, he had another 15 seconds to show the judges and the crowd the tag he had picked up at the bottom plate while keeping his airways above the wavy waters. He did all of this like a Boss! He looked so fresh and clean that the judges told him he should have gone for a deeper dive!

Where is your favorite place to dive?

Next to big animals!!! We were teaching in Mozambique, Africa for a while and on almost every dive we would see humpback whales and it was mind blowing every single time! Diving with Mantas in Bali is always EPIC and the dive with the dolphins in Mexico was definitely one of the best! But the ocean is unpredictable and the same spot can look completely different from one day to the another.

Anything else you’d like to share?

We have some amazing retreats and trainings coming up later this year! Discover your true potential in this unique 6 days all-inclusive Yoga and Freediving Retreat by the Sea led by Gabrielle GQ & Natalie Rudman  November 11 to 17 2018 in BALI. You will be breathing a lot; exploring various pranayama that can be applied both in the practice of Yoga and Freediving, connecting your mind and body through Yin Yoga and Vinyasa Flows, eating delicious local vegan food and learn how to explore the ocean on a single breath!

JOIN US!

Learn more about the November Bali Retreat HERE

 
Blue Chitta was founded in 2014 by Ariel Kedmi & Gabrielle GQ, two Nomad Ocean Lovers who want to share their passion for Freediving, Yoga & Thai Massage with the world! Blue represents the infinity of the sea and the sky and the love of the ocean. In India and in the Yogic Philosophy, Blue is a divine colour; the color of All-inclusiveness. Sadhguru says that anything that is vast and beyond our perception tends to be blue & this is why so many gods in India are shown as blue-skinned. Chitta is a sanskrit word that means consciousness or the connection between the Heart and the Mind.  Blue Chitta is about revealing the full potential of our mind, body and soul! Since 2014, Blue Chitta has been offering freediving and yoga trainings around the globe, from Africa to South East Asia passing through the Red Sea and all the way to the Caribbean!  Always looking to create life-changing experiences whether it’s through workshops, retreats, courses or trainings! 
IG/FB / @BlueChitta

Panama Sail Adventure: Living Yoga at Sea

Five years ago in Indonesia, on the very same trip the idea for Yoga Trade was born, I also met Captain Bryan Blaze. His sense of adventure instantly captivated me. Bryan, a seasoned sailor, was living part time in Indo and part time in Panama. In 2012, I remember him telling me about a passion project he was focusing on in Central America. We kept in touch intermittently. It has been inspiring to stay in contact with a fellow free-spirited entrepreneur who has persevered and made a grand vision a reality. Bryan is the Founder of Nirvana Surf Yoga and captain and owner of the Green Flash Catamaran based out of Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Last March, divine timing was on our side and a group of incredibly creative yogis came together in the archipelago to board the Green Flash to spend 3 nights of living yoga at sea. In addition to Bryan and I, our group was comprised by; Diego, an acro yoga teacher, traveler, and photographer from Venezuala. Judita, a globetrotter, ocean lover, and sailor from the Czech Republic. And Simone, a wellness travel educator, photographer, and soul sister from Oregon. This experience was one for the books and a good reminder that sometimes the most profound yoga revelations come when we integrate yoga into our everyday activities and adventures.

All photos by Simone Levine and Diego Barbato

Our first night was spent moored just off of Bastimentos Island. The beauty of the first light and colorful glow awoke me in the morning. I rose and went to the deck to watch the sun rise over the jungle island. It was amazing to practice meditation with the sounds of sweet hooting birds and gentle waves making playful sounds against the boat. Together we snacked on a light and healthy breakfast and then went to land to share a lovely asana practice at Red Frog beach.

 

The journey continued as we headed toward the Zapatilla Islands and eventually further south. Although we did not score swells ideal for surfing on this trip, we were blessed with phenomenal water clarity and we happily immersed ourselves in all its glory. Daily activities included; cruising around on the SUPs, snorkeling, and swimming. We tapped into our childlike states attempting flips and back dives off the boat. We took some goofy underwater mermaid shots and even played a round of underwater karaoke. We explored an uninhabited island and were graced by the presence of beautiful sea life.

The colors of the water from these days will continue to inspire my dreams and and imagination beyond this lifetime.

 

Our last night we ended up in a stunning bay where a local village resides. The new moon and favorable conditions delivered shooting stars and magnificent bioluminescence. The following morning we paddled into land and took a short hike to yet another picture perfect beach. We played around with some acro yoga, body surfed, and connected with a few local people. In the afternoon, the winds began to pick up a bit and we enjoyed a peaceful sail. My favorite memory comes from this afternoon…while swaying in the hammock listening to the sound of a tibetan chime, I realized we were flowing in synch with a pod of dolphins! Sailing has a magical way of bringing us in touch with presence and gratitude for this amazing world in which we live!

 

 

 

Benefits of Integrating Yoga and Sailing:

 

RELATIONSHIPS

While living on a boat, there are not many places to run or hide. This dynamic allows relationships to become magnified. Not only the relationships with ourselves but also our relationships with others. This can be challenging at times, but this also causes growth. Constant changes and ‘unknowns’ are thrown into the mix while sailing. As individuals and as a group we must adapt and deal with the situations at hand. The art of designing beneficial relationships is our choice, and being on a boat can help unveil work that needs to be done while helping us form special human connections.

BALANCE

Simple balance poses such as Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana), take on a whole new personality while cruising on water. For yogis who have practiced for a while, sailing brings unique approaches to postures. It is a great way to work on strengthening our smaller, secondary muscles. Also, being in the middle of the sea allows us to observe in great depth our emotional and spiritual balance. If you have yet to experience much sailing or time on the ocean, it is a great way to view things with new perspectives.

 

EXPLORATION

The ocean is teeming with life. Humans have barely scratched the surface when it comes to ocean exploration, and to some, the ocean feels like the final frontier here on earth. What better place to practice yoga than a place like this, where we can simultaneously explore our inner world while appreciating and exploring our outer existence here on this planet.

 

LEARN NEW SKILLS & LIVING YOGA

There is so much to learn about sailing. Navigation, wind, mechanics, etc….and this is only the beginning. Just like yoga, and many things in life, sailing allows us to be a forever student. It allows us to strengthen our problem solving skills, keep positive mindsets, and make do with what we have. It can give us confidence in realizing we do know more than we think if we have patience to reach new discoveries. Also, we can practice living our yoga by becoming aware that what we get out of an experience is a direct result of what we put into it.

 

BE IN TUNE WITH THE ELEMENTS

Living in fresh air and on a boat makes it easy for us to get in tune with the natural elements and our own circadian rhythm. Waking up with the sunrise, stargazing at night, feeling the winds, riding the currents, and becoming intuitively in touch with the swell, helps us feel deeply connected. It is from this place of deep connection that creative energy and flow is the most potent.

 

SUSTAINABILITY

By being immersed in and surrounded by mother ocean, it allows us to naturally form a deep respect for her and the entire natural world. We become more aware of the impact many modern life normalities can have, and start looking to alternative and more regenerative ways to live and thrive. Pondering, ‘all we need is less’ can be quite easy to do while sailing on a boat, and a great place to begin our pledge to living more simply and sustainably.

I left Bocas Del Toro with a full heart and beaming with gratitude for this opportunity and for the time spent with old and new friends.

Take your practice deeper by integrating yoga philosophies into everyday life.

There is a place inside of you where magic grows…KEEP THAT PLACE ALIVE!

To join in on a yoga at sea adventure or to bring a retreat group of your own on the Green Flash Cat, visit Nirvana Surf Yoga for more information:

NIRVANASURFYOGA.COM

 

 

 

 

Erica Hartnick grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, and enjoys all things wild and free. She teaches nature inspired yoga and leads mindful adventures in California and Costa Rica. She gets excited about; LEARNING, intense weather, glassy ocean peaks, pillows of fresh powder snow, crystal clear water, positive people, cultural travel, thriving vegetable gardens, fresh mint chip ice cream, nature’s glory, LIVING YOGA, and connecting with others. She is passionate about the collaboration with friends that led to the creation of Yoga Trade, and is devoted to connecting the yoga community with infinite opportunities!

 

Article Photography by: Simone Levine and Diego Barbato

 

Embrace the Unknown

Location: Palmar Tent Lodge, Isla Bastimentos, Bocos Del Toro, Panamá

Living on a beach in the jungle for over a month in a rural, environmentally conscious setting proved to have its challenges. Sand is to the beach, as glitter is to arts and crafts. It sticks to you everywhere you go, you wake up to it in your bed feeling like sand paper between your sheets, and it doesn’t rid your body in the foot-pump shower of cold recycled rain water you’re allowed once per day. There is no AC, in fact the only air conditioned room I ever stepped foot in during my time in Bocas Del Toro was to use the ATM in town. There is constantly a layer of moisture or sweat (or both) on you at all times. Plus side to that is I never needed lotion for dry skin. And things don’t dry here, EVER. The first week I hand washed my clothes, hung them out to dry, and three days later they were holding the same amount of moisture, and therefore molded. Everything molds at some point, even my passport has turned an unappetizing shade of green. Thank goodness for the laundry service in town. For $4 they take a bag of your laundry and wash, dry and fold it for you. The only bad part is I lost my favorite shirt this way. It’s a risk I was willing to take though, all of my clothes smelled of mildew and sweat and salt water combined. There are trails of leaf cutter ants on nearly every path you step on. Although the thought of being bare foot all day seems luxurious, one wrong step and your toe will be stinging for days. Those ants are workaholics, and they show no mercy for disrupting their business. Speaking of bugs, I resided with bird spiders and tarantulas, cockroaches making themselves at home in the kitchen, bats sleeping over my head in the living room, and crabs greeting me every morning for my bathroom routine.

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And yet with all of your surroundings wanting to kill you, living on a beach in the jungle was surprisingly adaptable. I suppose the human kind can instinctively adapt to any environment, if given time and patience. The first two weeks I was really doubting the living arrangements, and the last three I learned to embrace it and the conditions actually made me so much more grateful for the luxuries we have in this world. I forgot what a warm bath felt like, and instead found joy in eating freshly chopped coconuts on the beach. I forgot about wearing makeup and the need to impress others with the right outfit, and instead gave up ‘looking good,’ and felt confident in my own sun-kissed skin and miss-matched outfit. Basically if any of your clothing items were dry it was a good day. During my time in Bocas I learned to not only let go of needing the material items of this world, but I also have a much greater appreciation for the little things most humans take for granted, such as a dishwasher or working Internet.

I gave up all of the comforts of life back home in the United States to witness the natural beauty of our planet, and to search for my contribution to this world, doing all that I know and love to do: teach yoga and write. Somehow traveling and living in the elements really sheds the layers, clears the smoke and allows you to get to the root of your being. It’s not over, heck no, this is only the beginning of what I’m out to discover. Social media and articles may perceive the adventure I’m undertaking to be a walk in the park, every second of every day being some extravagant exploration and constantly undergoing life-altering experiences. But in reality it’s the opposite. What I’ve discovered so far during my long-term travel is that it does have its ups and downs, situations of hard decision making, days of doing nothing and then feeling bad about it. It’s exactly the same struggles I face living back home, but it’s heightened at a much greater scale. And if you don’t fight against it, you have the ability to learn the lessons of life very quickly, and that life is so much more beautiful.

You make close friends in a matter of days or weeks and then you have to let them go, let their own journey unfold. A lesson in non attachment. Back home you maintain the same friendships for years and then something happens where you don’t see that person, and you can’t handle it. There have been a couple of casualties of items that were dear to me, including my beloved 40 ounce HydroFlask that I used not only to keep me hydrated, but as a weapon when full of water. That bottle also served as a reminder of my yoga home in Houston, Texas, BIG Power Yoga. I got the water bottle when I first became a member, and bedazzled it with stickers along the years of my time there, from yoga teacher training to full-time manager, representing a different era of my journey. This deep loss has really struck a chord and has allowed me to practice this life lesson in non attachment more than ever. I have to trust that water bottle served its purpose for me in my life, and now it’s time for it to move on to its next purpose.

I’ve learned a huge lesson in embracing the unknown. The first couple of weeks my type A personality got the best of me. I woke up in fear of what the day would bring, because my only plan was to teach yoga at 5 o’clock. With a few days of depriving myself of having a schedule, I transformed from the need of keeping a calendar to control my every waking moment, to rising out of bed and thinking “I wonder what today will bring.” Seriously, the moment I realized I was saying that to myself, I finally realized what living actually is.

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I soon discovered that if you learn to let go of controlling what your day is going to look like or should look like, then the universe has the opportunity to step in and guide you in the direction you’re meant to go. By doing this I’ve had the opportunity to do so many things I never could have planned for. Yacht parties, driving an ATV through the rainforest, eating next to a deep sea speargun fisherman whose catch of the morning was on my plate, hanging in a hammock on a catamaran, stand up paddle boarding around the perimeter of a tiny island, staying up late around a bon fire and then letting it burn out to be in awe of the Milky Way constellation and the millions of stars scattered like confetti in the sky. Not one of those things were planned, were ever an agenda or something I checked off my list. And yet they are now a part of me, and I was in the experience of belonging in those moments as if they were always meant to happen.

That feeling of letting go cleaned the slate of my need to know what’s going to happen next. I still have no idea of what I’m supposed to fulfill during my time traveling or what it’s supposed to look like on the other side. But what I’ve gained is so much more valuable. I’ve learned a lesson in trusting the process. I’ve always known to do that, but now I know what it actually feels like in my body. It literally feels like a weight lifted off of me, that I’m not supposed to know what I’m supposed to do, and that’s ok. I believe that I am supposed to be right here for a reason, and leave it at that. I can allow myself to be with that truth and then let the universe take charge of guiding me by listening, feeling the sensations in my body when opportunities arise.

I’ve gone completely yoga teacher on you by this point, but the lessons I learned on my mat before this trip, the lessons I’m teaching to my students during this trip, and the lessons I’m allowing to sink in as I write this article, are all boomeranging back to me and showing me their effectiveness each day. These lessons are what have gotten me to this point in my journey, and I know they are what will carry me through all of the difficult situations, beautiful moments, and leaps of faith I have only tapped the surface of thus far.

It’s becoming clear to me, how I’m experiencing all of this life exploration is more important than what I’m experiencing. You can keep pictures to commemorate memories and great experiences in your life, or you can hold on to what you felt, what you learned from that experience and implement it throughout your entire life until your very last breath.

 

 

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Steph is a yoga teacher from Houston, Texas. Currently she is traveling through Central America teaching yoga wherever her heart is led to. Steph teaches vinyasa and yin-style classes and is committed to her students feeling rinsed out and restored!