From seasoned divers to new divers, maintaining neutral buoyancy is a fundamental skill that requires regular practice to master. Some of the more common mistakes are when new divers solely rely on the BCD (Buoyancy Compensator/Control Device) to maintain neutral buoyancy underwater, bobbing up and down while trying to counteract positive and negative buoyancy. A meditatively calm sport such as diving need not be a practice for your next night out at a club near you, and your eardrums and lungs will thank you for having good buoyancy control.
Most of us already know this, but before I talk about fine tuning buoyancy with our lungs it's important to note that if you need to constantly fin, and flail your arms about to stop yourself from sinking, you're negatively buoyant and do not have enough air in your BCD. Likewise, if you're unable to sink or find yourself constantly needing to swim down, then you're positively buoyant and there's too much air in your BCD. If you can control your buoyancy the way you are taught in your open water course, then you'll find yourself rising or sinking based on how much you breath in or breath out. Now that we are done preventing worm crawl breakdance underwater, let's look at fine tuning buoyancy.
Some of the best ways to maintain neutral buoyancy throughout the dive is to start with understanding that your lungs are the first 'apparatus' that you should be working with once you have enough compensatory air in your BCD against the entire weight of you and your gear. Adjusting first with the volume of air in your lungs, depth of breath and breathing tempo. It is important to remember not to be trigger happy in inflating the BCD or dumping air from it when already neutral, from the consequential movement from breathing in and out. As much as everyone would have learned this in their open water course, we often forget or may not even be taught about the role of our lungs and regulation of breath to be a large part of buoyancy management due to brevity or other concerns. Besides, the course shouldn't be the sole time to practice anyway, as diving more frequently allows you to understand this better and to be an overall better diver.
Breathing and Mindset
The entire sport of diving requires a calm and patient attitude to excel at it. The better your mental state, the better the dive gets, as with everything in life. Breathing properly as you would in some meditation programs allows you to improve your air consumption, and in most times allows you to think better and react faster to whatever you need to do underwater. As I was taught in the military, when you feel stressed and anxious; simply stop, breath and then think. Breathing right is also important, and it requires breathing down to your diaphragm or even your belly, taking roughly four to five seconds to breath in, and another four to five seconds to breath out, improving this over time drastically increases the amount of time spent underwater when there are no others concerns such as deco or restrictions on bottom time, where all you have to worry about is the amount of air you have in your tank.
Conversely, using this as a sport that allows you to unplug from the hustle and bustle of life where we don't even breathe consciously from moment to moment on land, changes the way we handle life in general when it is treated as both a recreation and as a healthy means to improve cardiovascular functions. For me, every dive is a good dive even when I don't encounter unique scenarios and marine life just for the fact that it allows me time to focus on my breathing without any distraction that modern life imposes on us. Personal experiences aside, breathing right has always been documented and studied from ancient yogic practices to recent modern mindfulness techniques to be of great benefit to adequately channel energy as it supplies adequate oxygen to the muscles and cells, decreasing high blood pressure and reducing levels of stress that is fundamentally the root of a plethora of ailments.
For many of us, our first few dives have been the day that we realised we have been breathing badly all along, and the continued reinforcement through diving and the relaxed environment reminds us how crucial breathing and breathwork is to us, not just as a primary function of survival but as a basic means to a healthy body, mind and spirit.
Nothing in Isolation
At first glance, it might seem like a stretch that I am connecting these dots from diving, breathing, health and life, but modern culture and approaches to any topic has conditioned us to develop myopic lenses with which we view with, often losing context and missing the larger picture on why we do what we do. As a species we have evolved, progressed and now regressed slightly (as observed linguistically, while language being the blueprint of culture, arguably). Returning to a holistic look at ourselves and the world at large allows us to make better decisions for ourselves and the people around us when depended upon.
As much as the word holistic has been commercially and culturally abused, much of what we do is undoubtedly part of the whole. Realising this, it's time we remember to take our time to breathe both on land and underwater.