Wet suit, check. Air supply, check. “I’m so out of love …”, an amused giggle to myself, before I go on to the buddy check… check! We step into the big blue with a splash, and I give my partner the all-ok sign, which I’m not sure came before the universal alright symbol or after? The splash of my partner as she jumps into the water shakes me from my pondering, and we descend into the Caribbean waters to start our journey down into the warm big blue.
It’s hard to imagine just two days ago we were in the Alaskan cold, shivering our ear lobes and digits off. Now we’re in Dominica (a.k.a. “Nature Island of the Caribbean”) in the midst of what has to be the perfect trip for us — a scuba diving slash yoga retreat. I’m an avid dive enthusiast, but with periodic dabblings into the stretchy, posey world of yoga, while my partner is the opposite — an avid yoga practitioner who joins me on occasional underwater explorations. The trip we had booked on promised yoga routines designed to complement diving, including pre-dive body strengthening, in-dive meditation and breathing tips, and post-dive physical restoration. It sounded like a winner, and so here we were.
We started on the north end of Soufriere-Scotts Head Marine Reserve, an area ratified in 1998 and formed by a submerged extinct volcano crater with walls dropping down to intriguing depths. The coral-covered pinnacles rise up from deep under the ocean floors, but, as hinted by nearby snorkellers, the sights to behold are only about 10 to 15 metres below the surface. When my eyes adjusted to the visual overload with technicolor creatures all screaming to be seen, I noticed seahorses bopping around. I always had a soft spot for the ugly buggers, they should be called sea spirits in my book.
We didn’t stay long because we wanted the drift dive to nearby L’Abym. Some of my fellow divers aren’t too enthusiastic about this way of enjoying the underwater world, but I have to say it appeals immensely to my energy-saving tendencies. Instead of flipping the fins to get to where you’re going (and where ARE you going?), why not let the current take you and have the scene shifters do the work for you? It’s just like sitting in the passenger seat on an underwater road trip through the scenic landscape — sit back, and enjoy the ride.
On the drift over, we could just make out the silhouettes of large sea turtles sharing the joyride. L’Abym is the Creole word meaning the abyss, and just like it sounds, the two or so mile long wall plunges out of sight into the caldera and well out of bounds for recreational diving. Just to be sure, I checked our depth. All good. Then I refocused my thoughts on the dancing whip coral, scorpion fish, yet more seahorses, with occasional glimpses of barracuda. Before we surfaced, we floated off the southern corner of the wall to wonder in awe at the endless cliff dropping into the sea and plunging downwards. I have to admit, looking down into the deep blue melding into mysterious black sent a shudder through me, so I switched my gaze sunward and slowly made my ascent.
The Spirit of Nature
On other days, we hiked. 300 odd miles of trails on Dominica make for an impressive walk for scenery-chasers. There’s everything from waterfalls to geothermal wonders, and rushing streams, not to mention endless photo ops. Every morning, however, it was yoga time. It’s hard for me to keep up a yoga regime in my “real life”. Sure, I can always “make time” for it, but let’s face it, between family, work, and the million ad hoc things that demand attention, it takes dedication. Yoga and diving already have the deep conscious breathing in common, but with the intense daily regimes, the dives we had towards the end of the retreat seemed much easier, perhaps due to the increased frequency of both practices. Our shoulders and backs were definitely looser too, and the added flexibility makes it easier to move around in the water.
So how do you celebrate on one of those days when your lungs feel powerful, the rising sun in smiling, and (more than) three little birds are singing? Some congratulatory Champagne, of course. Yes, the bubbly kind, but Dominican, not French. We had heard the activity around Champagne Reef, off the western shores of Dominica, gets heaving during the evenings, but my partner wasn’t a night diver, so we did a morning dive. The geothermal gas bubbles seeping through the ocean floor does make it seem like swimming in a flute of Champagne (or Sprite or San Pellegrino sparkling water for that matter). However much I love diving, next time I’d opt to go snorkeling at Champagne instead, sans SCUBA gear — seems to fit the bright, colorful, playful nature of the reef better.
Yoga has both physical and spiritual elements to it, but for the latter, the surrounding scenery, both above and underneath the water in Dominica, provides more than enough inspired grandeur to evoke a sense of spirituality. The physical aspect of it, just like any other cardiovascular exercise, was evident in the decreased amount of oxygen intake during dives towards the end of the retreat. Or maybe it was the heightened awareness of the breathing. Either way, I’m adding yoga & diving to my list of go-togethers, along with peanut butter & jelly, beer & sunsets, summer & ice-cream.
Five asanas (yoga poses) and how they are beneficial for divers:
- Cobra: Expands chest cavity and facilitate lung expansion by spine lengthening
- Downward-facing dog: Improves flexibility in the back and all the way down the legs for efficient finning
- Crescent Lunge: Stretches the hips, which will help fully expand the diaphragm to take deeper breaths
- Bridge: Improves breathing posture by opening the hips and lengthening the spine.
- Reverse Plank: Opens up the chest cavity for maximum breathing potential.