[Transcript] – The Extreme Sport You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, And How You Can Use It’s Renegade Techniques To Become Superhuman.

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Podcast from:  https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/fitness-podcasts/how-to-start-freediving/

[00:00]  Introduction

[01:16]  About James Nestor

[03:55]  On Freediving

[11:43]  Freediving to Enhance Dry Land Competition

[17:06]  On the Valsalva & Frenzel Methods

[20:28]  Quick Commercial Break

[21:05]  Training Your Breath On Land

[26:07]  Electroreceptive & Magnetoreceptive Senses

[32:00]  On Echolocation

[36:39]  Where To Start Freediving

[40:49]  End of the Podcast

Ben:  Hey, it' Ben Greenfield here.  If you want to support this podcast, you can definitely do so by going over to the one website where I store everything that I've ever recommended for you to get to your goals as quickly and safely and effectively as possible, and that website is greenfieldfitnesssystems.com.  So check out greenfieldfitnesssystems.com, it helps to support today's show.  And now onto today's interview.

Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield, and as you know, if you've been a podcast listener for a little while or read the articles of bengreenfieldfitness.com, you know that one of the things I really focus on with myself or some of the athletes I work with is breath control, whether that be something like box breathing, meaning a four-count in, a four-count hold, four-count out, followed by a four-count hold.  Whether it be something like the use of a power lung to resist your breathing or one of these training masks that you wear to resist your breathing or even underwater hypoxic sets where you're swimming underwater back and forth while holding your breath to do things like increased production of growth hormone or for DHEA or get your heart rate up without necessarily putting an excessive strain on your muscles.

Well on today's podcast, we are, pun intended, going to take a deep, deep dive into breath work because I have on the call with me the author of a book that I've just recently finished reading that blew my freaking mind when it comes to what the human body is capable of as far as things like breath control and some breath holding, and also what we can learn from some of the seemingly supernatural things that fish like whales and sharks and seals do.

So my guest today is journalist James Nestor, and James just wrote this book called “Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves”, and in the book, he basically travels around the world, interviewing this gang of extreme freediving athletes, and all of these researchers who are way on the cutting edge when it comes to figuring out what we can learn from what's going on in the ocean and our own performance and our own bodies.  This book really was, I got to say.  I read, as I think I've told some of you guys before, anywhere from three to five books every single week, and it's pretty few and far between that I actually choose ones to feature on the podcast, and this was definitely one of the books that I just found amazing in terms of the remarkable feats that humans and other animals are capable of performing when it comes to breath holding and also some of the other things we'll talk about today like echo location and alternate forms of communication and all sorts of cool stuff.

So James, thank you so much for coming on the call today, man.

James:  Thanks a lot, Ben. Great to be here.

Ben:  So let's start off here.  Why'd you write a book about freediving?

James:  Well, I had no real intention on writing a book about freediving.  In fact up until about two years ago, I had never really heard of freediving.  Didn't do it, didn't know anyone who had, and then I was sent by Outside Magazine to cover something called the World Freediving Championships in Kalamata, Greece, and it absolutely blew my mind.  I saw these guys take a single breath of air and dive down without any weights, without any fins, down to around three hundred and fifty feet and back again on dives that lasted about four minutes.  I just thought wow, if we're able to do that, what else are we able to do?  What else don't I know about, and that's what sparked the book idea and was a platform for the rest of the chapters in the book.

Ben:  So when you're talking about freediving, as far as freediving as an actual sport, I know that you talk about more than just freediving in the book, but as far as freediving for people who aren't familiar with what that is, what exactly does freediving involve?

James:  Freediving is taking a single breath of air and using only your body as a mechanism to dive deep in the ocean.  No scuba, a lot of these guys don't even wear fins.  Some people freedive nude.  It's just a completely stripped down version, as it were, of getting in touch with the ocean and exploring the ocean.  And you might think, yeah, I can do that.  I've gone snorkeling before.  I can go down twelve feet, fifteen feet, but just with a little bit of practice, I learned that anyone in reasonable health can dive down to a hundred feet.  Anyone in reasonable health can hold his or her breath around four minutes, five minutes.  The world record breath hold now, its twelve minutes and thirty seconds.  So we're meant to do this, we're meant to dive deep.  Once you figure that out, the whole notion really opens up.

Ben:  In one part of the book, you go into what actually happens as far as the physiology as you dive into greater and greater depths, what the heart does, what the lungs do.  I thought that was really fascinating. Can you give an overview?  The way you lay it out is you go foot by foot as far as what happens as you're getting closer and closer to that three hundred foot mark.  Can you go into that a little bit for people who are listening in?

James:  Sure, well the seconds water touches your face, something amazing happens.  Your heart rate will lower about twenty five percent of its normal resting rate.  Your brain waves will soften, and blood will start flooding from your extremities into your core.  Now these reflexes will compound and increase more and more the deeper you go.  Until at around three hundred feet, three hundred and fifty feet depths which are normally reached by competitive divers, your body completely transforms.  It's like you almost become someone else.

All of these reflexes are called the Mammalian Dive Reflexes, or what scientists call the Master Switch of Life, and scientists have been studying this stuff for about fifty or sixty years, and it turns out that humans not only have these reflexes, but whales have them and dolphins have them and seals have them, and all of these animals use these reflexes to dive to incredible depths in the ocean.  If they didn't have these reflexes, they wouldn't be able to dive so deep.  They'd be crushed under the pressure.  Turns out humans have them too, and we're just now discovering our potential in the water.  We're just now really honing these reflexes and seeing how far we can go.

Ben:  Now wasn't it a thought at some point that if you went that far down, if you went below, I don't remember.  Was it like one hundred feet or two hundred feet or something like that that you just die?  That it was physiologically impossible to get that low?

James:  Yeah, a pretty interesting bit of history.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, sailors from all over the world who were sailing in Japan, the South Pacific, Persian Gulf, all over the place, came back to Europe and said, “hey, we just saw these sponge divers and pearl divers dive down to around a hundred and fifty feet and stay down there for fifteen minutes.”  Fifteen minutes at a time, nobody believed them, and even in the 1950s, scientists said that the deepest a human can dive in water and survive was a hundred feet.  Any deeper, and our lungs would suffer a fatal collapse.  Well since then, divers have dived down to seven hundred feet of a single breath of heart.  And again, we've been available to hold their breath for about twelve minutes and thirty seconds.  Just two and a half minutes, shy of these fabricated reports.  These guys have been doing this for that long.  Competitive diving has only been around for about fifteen years or so, so we're just now really seeing our potential and our ability to dive, and it goes against so much of what medical textbooks and scientists have said is possible, and that's when it got really thrilling to me.  Nobody knows our potential in water yet.

Ben:  Yeah, and I think in some ways when you're talking about this master switch of life, I know for me, I haven't gone that deep.  I've talked to some people who have even, at thirty or forty feet, come back up and felt absolutely amazing.  One of the things you talk about in the book, about how the body can actually do this without dying is this concept of shunting blood into vital organs and away from the peripheries.  I think it's called Peripheral Vasoconstriction where your body shunts blood around, and you actually get more blood passing through cell walls.  Is it like a hyper-oxygenation that occurs in the vital organs?

James:  Well what happens is the organ walls start allowing for water and plasma to penetrate through them, so they won't be crushed under the pressure.  Human lungs, it's amazing what can happen in water.  Just at thirty three feet, your lungs will be half the size and they will be at the surface.  At sixty six feet, they'll be a third of their size. At ninety nine feet, they'll be a quarter, and so on, and so on and so on.  So the only way our lungs cannot collapse under pressures below a hundred feet is by having the alvioli, these little sacks that process the exchange of gas in our lungs, they gorge with blood, they saturate with blood to stop the lungs from collapsing.

Now this is the same exact thing that happens with sperm whales who can dive to around ten thousand feet and with seals who can dive down to about three thousand feet.  Humans have the same reaction, and the deeper you go.  This is just the alvioli gorging with glove and the peripheral vasoconstriction are just a few of these master switches that occur.  The heart rate will automatically lower and the lower and lower you go on the water.  Some freedivers have recorded heart rates as low as fourteen beats per minute at depths of around two hundred feet, and some divers have recorded heart rates of seven beats per minute.  According to our understanding of human physiology, that's impossible, but these guys do it all the time, and they're really rewriting the textbooks on what's possible for us to do in the water.

Ben:  Now, as far as a crossover for people who are wanting to improve their importance on dry land, I think this is really interesting.  My initial epidermis to hunt down and read your book was I heard that some Olympic athletes who weren't necessarily water athletes like swimmers, but just Olympic athletes in other sports were looking into freediving as a way to enhance their dry land competition.  I think it was the New York Times or something like that, there's a story on this.  Are there actual benefits that happen to you when you're on dry land when you're going down to depths like this?

James:  Oh there's really so many.  We're talking about the extremes, people diving down seven hundred feet and holding their breath or twelve minutes.  You don't need to do anything close to that to really experience that master switch of life.  You literally need to dunk your head in water, then it starts happening.  As far as breath holding for different activities and different sports performance, a number of athletes from skiers to joggers to weightlifters have been taking freediving courses because it not only helps them breathe properly, it helps them focus.  When you freedive, you cannot be stressed out.  You cannot have any lack of focus.  When you're down three hundred feet and you need to get back up three hundred feet on that single breath of air, you need to absolutely be in the zone.

There is no other alternative to slip out and say, “oh, I don't feel like doing this.  I'm going to quit.”  You can't quit, so even learning how to dive down the thirty feet, forty feet, even twenty feet and holding your breath under water focuses your mind in a certain way that allows you to cope with more stressful situations.  The article that I had a feeling you read was in the Wall Street Journal, and it was talking about how Red Bull was now bringing some of their athletes out to Kona in Hawaii and having them do freediving training, and they were just saying it does incredible things especially for the jitters right before you start a big race.  To breathe properly, to focus yourself and to know you're going to get through it.

Ben:  Yeah, I just found that article.  I'm going to link to it.  By the way, for those of you listening in, I'll put a link to all the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/freedive.  Yeah, it's called “Olympians in Search of a Breathtaking Experience”.  It's on the Wall Street Journal, amazing.  So they're just holding their breath for more than five minutes, so like you say, you don't have to go to extremes of ten or twelve minutes to do this, but that was a really interesting article.

Now you yourself, as you wrote this book, I thought it was kind of interesting how you talked about your own journey 'cause you basically learned how to do some of these things yourself, right?

James:  Yeah, I kind of had to.  I had no interest in competitive freediving.  It just didn't really appeal to me.  Some of these guys are on the fringes.  They're doing some pretty dangerous stuff, but I was able to be introduced at that competition to some freedivers who are using freediving to do some really incredible research with oceanic animals.  Not only exploring their own connection to the ocean, but also exploring their connection with these other animals.

I remember the first couple of chapters that I was doing for magazine stories, I did one for man's journal.  I just ended up sitting on the deck of the boat watching these guys diving, three-minute dives, diving with sharks, diving with dolphins.  I just thought damn, if I'm going to write about these guys and really understand what they're doing, I need to get in there.  So lucky enough for me, they were some of the best.  Some of these guys were world renowned freedivers, so I learned really from the best and started freediving myself.  Again not competitively, not down hundreds and hundreds of feet, but anyone will be amazed how quickly you adapt to it, and that's one thing I wanted to mention about the Red Bull athletes.

Anyone in reasonable health can go down two hundred feet, hold your breath five minutes.  We just don't think we can, so this is much more of a mental switch you have to click in your brain than a physical one.  I'm sure a lot of your listeners are very fit people.  Well, they're probably capable of going very, very deep.  They just don't know it yet.

Ben:  Yeah, I mean I go do the Ironman in Kona every year, or at least half or five years, and I go there obviously in good shape 'cause I'm going to do a freaking Ironman.  But there's this coffee boat out there and they have this contest where if you swim down, I think it's about sixteen, seventeen feet.  You grab a handful of stand, you come back up, they give you a pair of goggles, and every time I've done that, I've been extremely uncomfortable as though I feel like my entire head is about to explode, and I try and do that equalizing that you'd normally do for example if you're on an airplane.  They were kind of tough to do.  Just plug your nose and push out of your ears, and it doesn't seem to work that well the deeper that you go.

In the book, you talk about some new form of equalization that new divers use.  Can you go into this special technique that you had to learn?

James:  Absolutely.  In any freediving course that's halfway decent is going to start with equalization 'cause that's the thing that people can't just get, and that's how people can get hurt and blow out their eardrums if they just keep pushing and they feel any pain.  When you're freediving, you shouldn't feel any pain, only pleasure.  The second you feel pain, get up to the surface.  So the traditional way of equalizing is called the Valsalva method.

Ben: Right.  That was the one I was talking about, the Valsalva.

James:  So that's just pushing up air.  Puffing up your cheeks and pushing air into your sinus cavities, forcing air in there.  That's what I use for my whole life on airplanes, even in the water scuba diving.  I learned from freedivers that that just doesn't work, especially in depth when there isn't enough air in your lungs to shuffle around in your sinus cavity.  So there's this new method used by jet pilots and by every other freediver called the Frenzel method which is very extremely complicated, so I won't bore you with it.  But it's essentially bringing your air up from your stomach, keeping it in your area, in your sinus cavities and shuffling it back and forth.  It takes about a half an hour to get it, but once you do, you can equalize your ears within a second, and that's how often good freedivers will be equalizing their ears to get to depth.  Every second bam, bam, bam, bam.

Ben:  Yeah, I read your book and I noticed that in this book, you talk about a guy who actually will teach you how to do this technique on Skype.  What was this guy's name that you learned this technique from?

James:  Ted Harty, and this is just good.  He's H-A-R-T-Y, in immersion freediving.  Great guy, he's the only guy who does this on Skype.  It's pretty cheap.  Half an hour, start to finish, you're done.  You've got it, and you'll never equalize any other way.  It's just such a more efficient way of equalizing, so that's the way to do it.

Ben:  His name is Ted Harty, does he have a website?  Do you know?

James:  Yeah, it's Immersion Freediving, and he does have a website.  I could send you that, you could put it on the link as well.

Ben:  I'll link it up and put it on the show notes 'cause actually yesterday, I just flew back from Tel Aviv, and before I left I just downloaded a Frenzel technique PDF to my Kindle and was just practicing a little bit on the plane.  I'm almost like swallowing air, and then forcing air back up your mouth and into your head again, and it actually does seem to work way better than the Valsalva, but now that I've done it on the airplane, I actually have to find a pool to go down deep and try it in the pool, but it's very, very cool how there's this alternate technique that apparently lets you go much, much deeper than normal.  It's called the Frenzel, right?  F-R-E-N-Z-E-L?

James:  That's right, and next time you go down to seventeen feet to get those goggles, if you're using that method, you'll go down in about ten seconds.  Grab those goggles and come back, it just makes everything so easy.  That's a great first step to freediving, learning that method.

Jessa:  Hey quick break here, this is Jessa Greenfield, Ben's boss.  I mean wife.  I'm not sure if you know this but Ben, being a complete nerd that he is, keeps track of everything he's ever recommended and found to work really well, and puts it all over at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com.  From books to lab tests to supplements he has all there, so whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, fix your gut, sleep better, balance hormones, learn about smart drugs, whatever.  It's all there.  Check it out at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com.  Okay, now back to the podcast.

Ben:  So how about when you're not in the water?  I noticed that as you went through the book and talked about you learning how to freedive and how to get more comfortable at depths and also how to increase your breath hold capacity, you were doing some interesting things like actual drills that weren't in the water.  Can you talk a little bit about those and about ways that people can train their breath when they're not in the water?

James:  Sure.  A great way of doing this is just by doing yoga and by doing breathing patterns while doing yoga.  I learned from Hanli Prinsloo, a top freediver and a top freediving instructor who's even instructed a rugby team in South Africa, and just to help them both mentally and physically prepare for that match.  So you just see how far freediving can go into other sports, but she taught me about the three chambers in the lungs, how there's a throat chamber, there's a chest chamber and a stomach chamber.  How were so accustomed to breathing, just at the very top of our lungs, and we're only using about a third of our capacity.

So the first thing she does is she lays her students down on a yoga mat and just teaches them to use the full capacity of their lungs, and once you do that, there are a number of different interval trainings you can do for breath holding.  Basically holding your breath for a minute then breathing up for two minutes.  Holding your breath for a minute and a half, breathing up for two minutes, so on and so forth, and increasing the time that you're holding your breath and decreasing the time you are breathing up.  You can just search freediving interval training, and people have developed little laps and all kinds of things to use to do that.

Ben:  It sounds just like any form of interval training.  The same as you do with run-walk training, right?

James:  That's exactly it, and so included in this interval training is walking breath holds which is supposed to simulate a dive in which you breath up for a couple of minutes and then you hold your breath and you walk say a hundred feet slowly, and then walk back that hundred feet very slowly, and that's supposed to be roughly equivalent to holding your breath during a dive.

Ben:  I actually started to try this 'cause I like to walk just to clear my head a lot of times when I'm in big cities.  I'm walking around to get from point A to point B, and typically for example when I'm in my car driving, I keep this thing called the Power Lung in my car when I'm stuck in traffic.  Every time I pass a mile marker, I have this rule that I have to do ten sets of three seconds in and three seconds out of breath training, and now what I've been trying to do is about every half mile or so when I'm out in a long walk, I'll just hold my breath for as long as I can.  I know it's not structured interval training, but it actually is pretty amazing how you can train your breath just while you're out walking around.

James:  Yeah, you can do a lot of this stuff when you're bored on an airplane, in a hotel, whatever.  I should make one very important note that obviously I'm saying.  Everyone who's interested in freediving should take a course, number one.  For two, don't go into your bath tub right now and try to hold your breath for five minutes.  Bad idea.

There's a right way of freediving training, and there's a wrong way.  The wrong way is doing this stuff alone.  It's doing this stuff to hold your breath while you're driving on the I-5 or whatever down to LA.  You can go unconscious if you hold your breath for too long.  There's so many safety precautions.  Hopefully all your listeners are very reasonable, reasonable people and safe people and pragmatic people and are going to do that.  So with that out of the way, with interval training, with walking, for instance, you're supposed to do it on a grassy surface.  So if you get really light headed, the worst that can happen you fall down on the grass, no problem.  At the same time, you can do shorter.  That's if you're really pushing it.  If you're just acquainting your body with breath holding, you can do exactly what you've done.  Walk around city streets, and that's something I did a lot of.  What's amazing is how quickly your body adapts.  I know I mentioned that earlier, but before you know it for one day you're holding your breath for two minutes.  Two weeks later, you're holding your breath for three and a half minutes to four minutes.

This stuff happens very quickly, and not only do you notice these changes while you're freediving obviously, but you notice them in other sports.  I surf all the time, I work out all the time, and when I'm breathing properly, I just have so much more energy and can really calm myself down in some stressful situations as well.

Ben:  Now there's some really other interesting things that you talk about in the book 'cause the whole book isn't just about freediving.  You talk about some alternate forms of communication that sea animals use.  For example, one of the things that you mentioned is electroreceptive sensing that fish use.  Can you explain what exactly that is 'cause I thought it was fascinating?

James:  Well, at the beginning I was very interested in the human body's potential and water.  We've talked about that, our ability to dive deep, but I've figured, “wow! if we're able to do that and I didn't know about it, what else is there that I don't know about?  What else is on the frontiers of science that people are exploring right now that's just being forgotten.”  One of those things, one of these connections to oceanic animals is electroreceptive sense as well as magnetoreceptive sense.  Sharks are able to migrate thousands of miles across the ocean from one island to the other and back again.

Well how do they do that?  How can you see where you're going when you're a thousand feet deep when you're in cold water and in currents.  Something else that's amazing that scientists discovered is not only are they migrating thousands of miles, but they do so in perfectly straight lines across the ocean.  What researchers have discovered somewhat recently is that they're probably using a magnetoreceptive sense.  Basically they're able to home in on the earth's magnetic field and use it as an internal GPS, and it turns out that humans can do this too.  We have had this ability, we just like freediving, swimming hundreds of feet underwater.  We've just forgotten how to use it, and there's a bunch of emerging science that I go into in the book explaining what it is and how to use it.

Ben:  Was this the part that they were blindfolding humans and they were finding their way around by using electromagnetism?

James:  Yeah, exactly.  That's what happened, they did a ton of studies, a thousand experiments in the seventies and the eighties and found that human have an innate sense of direction, and it's not predicated on visual stimulus or hearing or anything.  It's literally a sixth sense of direction.  It's the same direction that migrating birds use, that butterflies use, that ants use, that sharks use and whales and dolphin.  Well it turns out humans are able to use this too, and we've probably been using it for tens of thousands, even millions of years, but we've forgotten it lately because we have GPS on our phone and we live in a gritted society of landmarks in streets.

Ben:  There's even some talk.  Even before I read your book, I actually wasn't aware that humans had electromagnetic capabilities when it came to navigation.  Most people know that the human body is an electric machine.  Our cells run on electrochemical gradients, but as far as the magnetism component of that goes, and the ability to use it to navigate?  I hadn't thought about that much until I read your book, and one of the things that I did know though is that they're talking about how birds and bees, for example, are having harder times navigating or birds flying south for the winter, bee population die off, stuff like that.  One of the reasons that I've read that this may be happening is an actual change in the earth's electromagnetism due to emerging technologies like cellphones and WiFi routers and satellites and all of these things that are affecting life on earth from a magnetic standpoint.  Have you come across any of that stuff?

It's absolutely true, they found without any doubt that WiFi screws up these sense of direction.  We know this is happening right now, and it's probably really screwed up our sense of direction, but just like I was saying, we really don't need to rely on it too much, but the entire animal kingdom, almost every animal, has some sense of magnetoreceptive sense, some capability.  It's interesting, if you put a teeny little magnet, I'm not talking about a refrigerator magnet or anything like that.  Just a teeny piece of magnetite on a head of a bird or a turtle, they lose all sense of direction.  They just start either swimming or flying in circles.  So you see how sensitive this sense is, and with all the electrical wires and the WiFi in the world, I'm amazed that they're still able to fly around the way they do.

Ben:  Yeah, it's crazy.  That's why two of the things that I recommend to people, especially people who fly in airplanes a lot are earthing, are grounding where you're actually standing outside in your bare feet or using something like a grounding mat or an earthing mat and then also just unplugging your WiFi router or turning the signal off and hardwiring into it just to make sure that you're taking care of your body's own magnetism.  So it was interesting in your book to read about how there are some animals on the face of the planet or under the ocean that actually rely on this twenty-four-seven for their actual survival.

James:  For sure, and if you think about us as humans, we're the first generation.  We're the test cases for all of this technology.  I won't get into conspiracy theories here, but in twenty years, we could find out that it's really screwing us up in some serious ways.  We found that out with early cellphones, right?  They gave you cancer in your head.  So we really don't know, and I completely agree with you.  It's best to air on the side of being safe, and trust me people, it doesn't hurt just to turn your e-mail off for a number of hours.  It will only help you.

Ben:  So another form of communication that you talk about is echolocation.  I thought that was pretty cool, and this was another, I believe studies blind subjects.  Can you talk about this echolocation form of communication?

James:  Sure, this is pretty amazing stuff, they found out that sperm whales and dolphins and other oceanic animals use a sense of sonar called echolocation.  What they do is they emit a vocalization, a click, and they wait to hear the echo of that click.  Where it comes back, how long it takes, and they use all of that information to essentially see without their eyes but to see with sound.  The sperm whale for instance can see a human from a mile deep in the ocean with this echolocation.  It turns out that humans are also able to use echolocation.  I met this amazing guy named Brian Bushway in Los Angeles.  He lost his sight at fourteen, he was very active.  He used to skateboard, ski, play guitar.  All of a sudden within two weeks, his optic nerves shriveled up.  So he's not legally blind, he's completely blind.

Well now ten years later, Bushway is riding his bike through city streets.  He's camping alone in the wilderness for weeks at a time.  He can tell the difference between a tennis ball and a Rubik's cube on a table across of you, all by using this echolocation to dull things.  He has essentially rewired his brain to see with sounds, with the frequencies of sounds just the way you and I see with frequencies of light with our eyes, and they found, just one more little tidbit in here.  This stuff is real fascinating, but when researchers put him and other human echolocators in an MRI, they found the visual cortex of his brain lit up.  So there's really no difference from what he would seen again with sounds as to what you and I see with their eyes.

Ben:  And you actually visit him.  You yourself learned how to echolocate?

James:  Yeah, this guy's my hero because the blind community told him when he first went blind at fourteen, he said the blind community basically gives you a cane and a dog, shows you where the post office is and where a restaurant is and that's it, and they make you really rely on other people.  To him, they made him feel really helpless, like he wasn't able to do anything anymore, and luckily he had met another guy who had learned how to echolocate, and they formed this little group, and these guys are so badass.

They travel around the world teaching other blind kids how to live a completely independent lives through using this human echolocation, and he gave me a little course in that.  About a half hour course, and again it's just like freediving, it's just like magnetoreception.  You just tune into this, when you close your eyes and just allow your body to do what it's supposed to do, you can do really amazing things.  Within a half an hour, I was able to easily see the dimensions of the room around me to tell the difference between a glass surface and a plaster surface.  All of these things really came to life in a new way just by listening, and again it was one of those things that just amazed me of how much we're capable of and just don't know it until we really test our bodies a little bit.

Ben:  That's what I was thinking, how many things can a human body do that because we are lazy or over-reliant on technology or we've simply lost the ability to pass down skills like this, just from a culture storytelling and a learning standpoint.  How many things can we do that we don't even know about?  It's nuts that you can walk around by just clicking and making sounds and figuring out where you're at and what it is that surrounds you based off of the way that is coming back to your ears.  It's crazy.

James:  Absolutely, and they found again in many ancient cultures or cultures that have been around for a very long time having used these senses.  Where this Western culture, we've developed technology, so we don't need to use these senses.  But they've been part of our ancestry, they're a part of our DNA, all of these amazing abilities, and it doesn't take much to tap into them and remind ourselves of what we're capable of.

Ben:  Now let's say people just want to start by learning how to freedive, or at last by learning the basics of freediving.  I mean you yourself went through a ton of different courses in the book 'cause you got pretty immersed in the whole thing, but if people just wanted to learn how to do this themselves, what would be some of the best places for people to go?  There's this place in Kona that you talked about, but is there a website or a resource or one place that you think is best?

James:  A course I took with Performance Freediving International was just awesome because it was completely pragmatic.  Some courses can get a little hippy dippy, a little mystical.  I think what people really need to know is safety first and the mechanics, the body mechanics of how to freedive, and that's what they teach.  Again you can include that on your page.  Performance Freediving International, they're now holding courses all over the place because freediving is starting to explode her in the U.S. as it's down in Europe for the past twenty years.  Florida's a big spot, they come to the West Coast to San Diego, San Francisco, Monterey.  It's all listed on their site.  Ted Harty is another guy, Immersion Freediving.  He does great stuff.  He's the U.S. Freediving team's coach, so he's very good.

Ben:  How long does it take?  Do you devote three or four days to show up to a place?  Is this something that's a multi-hour day course?  If somebody wants to learn this, what do they need to put aside as far as time?

James:  Well within two hours of my first course, I was holding my breath four minutes underwater and so was everyone else, but I'm not special.  I'm not trying to be showing off.  There were other people holding their breath for six minutes, seven minutes.  It just goes to show that this stuff comes very, very quickly.  It's usually a two-day course.  Some people offer one-day course, I suggest going longer rather than shorter because you want to be able to learn the mechanics of breath holding and breathing patterns and all that, and then you want to apply this at depth.  So I would go for at least a two-day course.  It's a really fun time too, it doesn't feel like work.  You're exploring this new thing and exploring your body do what it naturally wants to do, and it's absolutely exhilarating.

Ben:  Yeah, looks like a bunch of them are in Florida, like Key Largo, St. Petersburg, Tampa and a bunch in Kona actually.  I don't have a lot of triathletes listening in.  It doesn't look like they don't have any, sorry people, around the time of the Ironman in Kona, but I guess if you want to go down to Kona and maybe throw on a little bit of triathlon training, you could throw in a freediving course too.

James:  Sure, I would definitely do a little research.  Some people have different philosophies on how they're doing their training just like any trainer in the world.  I think what you want, the best route to go is just pragmatic and direct is the way to do it, and Performance Freediving, and they’re a really good school to start with.

Ben:  Okay, cool.  Well I'm going to put links to all this stuff in the show notes, so if you're listening in and you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/freedive, I will not only put a link over to James and his book which I think you should read.  You would enjoy this book, it's not hard to read.  I read it on an airplane ride.  I mean it's pretty easy to get through, but it's amazing as far as what the ocean tells us about ourselves and also this renegade in extreme sports, so I thought it was pretty cool.  It is on my bucket list right now to learn how to freedive in 2015.  So I'm sure if you're a podcast listener, you're more about this at some point.  James, thanks for coming on, man.  This is fascinating.

James:  Thank you very much, have fun on the water.

Ben:  Alright folks, this is Ben Greenfield and James Nestor, author of “Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves” signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com/freedive.  Have a great week.



While on assignment in Greece, journalist James Nestor witnessed something that confounded him: a man diving 300 feet below the ocean’s surface on a single breath of air and returning four minutes later, totally unharmed…

…and smiling.

This man was a “freediver”, and his superhuman abilities inspired James to seek out the secrets of the little-known discipline of free diving, and to write the new book, Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves.

In the book, he embeds with a gang of extreme athletes and renegade researchers who are transforming not only our knowledge of the planet and its creatures, but also our understanding of the human body and mind. He finds whales that communicate with other whales hundreds of miles away through sonar, sharks that swim in straight lines through pitch-black waters using built-in, natural electromagnetic sensors, and seals who dive to depths below 2,400 feet for up to eighty minutes.

From each of these strange phenomena are, James shows how humans themselves could be capable of these remarkable feats such as extreme breath-holding, echolocation, and alternate forms of communication.

James has written for Outside Magazine, Dwell Magazine, National Public Radio, The New York Times, Men’s Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, and more, and in today’s interview with James, you’ll learn:

-Why Olympic athletes are learning to hold their breath for more than 5 minutes

-How you can use something called “the Master Switch of Life” to enhance your heart and lung function…

-What you can train your body to do to survive as you dive to greater depths…

-A new form of air pressure equalization that allows you to go to incredible depths, and how to learn it…

-How to use breath-hold walks and other forms of dry land breath training to increase your oxygen capacity…

-Why WiFi routers and cell phones may actually be destroying your innate ability to sense your physical location on the planet…

-How you can learn to navigate without seeing and instead by using a built-in ability called echolocation…

-How you can learn to freedive…

Resources From This Episode

-The book Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves.

-Ted Hardy from Immersion Freediving who can teach you the Frenzel Technique on Skype.

-This Frenzel technique .pdf if you want to teach yourself.

Performance Freediving International to learn how to freedive.


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