The Importance of Recovery Breathing

PB170571-2When it comes to freediving safety:

How to breathe before a dive?

How to provide safety to your buddies?

When to return to the surface?

How to avoid dive accidents?

How to rescue a blackout?

How to prevent a blackout?

All these topics and protocol are equally important and together offer us guidelines that keep us safe when we dive but there is something that I feel doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in the diving community and that is Recovery Breathing.

Recovery Breathing is our post dive breathing that we do immediately DSC_8030after resurfacing.  It’s also called ‘hook breathing’ if you’ve heard that term before. Proper recovery breathing is the one thing that you can do to prevent a blackout if you’re hypoxic (low on oxygen) when arriving at the surface.

There are many variations of recovery breathing like there are many ‘breathe ups’ (pre-dive breathing) but the style I like to teach is simple. After every single dive of your life no matter how deep, shallow, long or short you take three recovery breaths. They are strong active inhales where you hold your breath at the top for one second followed by a relaxed passive exhale.

When you inhale there is no need to direct the air anywhere specific, to your stomach or to your chest, simply suck it in sharply and then hold it for a second. Now when I say passive exhale what I mean is that you just relax and allow whatever amount of air that wants to rush out of your lungs rush out, without blowing or pushing anything. After the air finishes rushing out unforced you take your next recovery breath.

ocean quest for blogActive inhale, Brief pause, Passive exhale

Active inhale, Brief pause, Passive exhale

Active inhale, Brief pause, Passive exhale

We do three of these breaths after every single dive of our lives and we don’t do them because we need to breathe desperately after every dive. We do them because we want to ingrain this breathing into our muscle memory. We want to make it such a habit that if one day you do arrive to the surface hypoxic, struggling to stay afloat or struggling to breathe then your body will kick in automatically and start recovery breathing because that’s what it always does after every dive.

I’ve seen people surface from a dive that have prevented themselves from blacking out because they had programmed their bodies to recovery breathe and I’ve seen people revive themselves from

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

a black out because recovery breathing was so ingrained into their diving habits.

Now just because we’ve started to recovery breathe doesn’t mean that we can dive alone. We absolutely never dive alone. But it can prevent you and your dive buddies from experiencing the trauma of a blackout if you’re ever on the edge when you surface. Also there are no guarantees that my buddies have their eyes on me at every point of my dive especially if they’re also occupied in the water: spearfishing, taking photos, or perhaps they just spotted something interesting. Human error is always a factor.

We can look kind of ridiculous when we come up from an easy, shallow dive and start strong recovery breathing but as long as we all do it then we all look stupid together so make sure your dive buddies also do their recovery breathing.

Something we should keep in mind is that there is no worldwide official regulatory board or committee that sets safety standards for breath hold diving. All the safety knowledge and protocol that we have exists because it’s practical, because it works and it’s what we as a community of divers have learnt collectively over the years through trial and error, through diving accidents and through deaths.

Sorry to finish with so much drama!

Always recovery breathe.