“Life starts with an inhalation and ends with an exhalation, the most important thing for life is breathing, and free-diving is learning how to control the most essential thing that connects and keep us alive.”
Here is an interview with a woman who is incredibly inspiring who not only dedicates her time to competing in what is currently considered the second most dangerous sport in the world, second only to sky-diving but who also is a strong advocate of ocean conservation and the founder of Big Blue free diving competition in her hometown La Paz, Mexico.
Estrella Navarro is the first Mexican woman to win a medal at the world championships of freediving, and today has broken the national free diving record 26 times. On top of being a competitive freediver Navarro was also 2008’s Miss Baja Sur, and also placed 6th for Miss Mexico in 2009.
Navarro has a current breath hold record over 6 minutes, and regularly dives to depths of more than 164 feet (50 metres).
Do you have any favorite places that you like to dive, or somewhere that you haven’t been yet but would love to visit?
I would love to visit Maldives where there are many mantas. To also freedive with crocodiles, there’s a great place in Mexico called Banco Chinchorro that I would love to go to.
“We can always be better. We can always be a seed that becomes a new tree.”
- Estrella Navarro
You broke the national free-diving record over 21 times and achieved success around the world twice, how do you constantly challenge yourself and what’s your motivation to continue going deeper with each dive.
One of the things is the concept of the human limits. All of us have limits in a certain way at a certain time. I like the concept of erasing those limits and rewriting them. Today I can go to a certain depth, but if I train I can go further and further. To me that is very exciting. Especially if you train well, and you continue going deeper then it becomes easier than the previous dive. It is a very nice and interesting thing about the mind and human capabilities. It has taught me beyond freediving that it can apply to so many things. We can always be better. We can always be a seed that becomes a new tree.
Your current breath hold record is over 6 minutes, did that take place in the Red sea off the coast of Egypt?
I did the 6 minutes some time ago before that. I usually don’t train static, focusing more on depth because to me that is exciting. I don’t practice it too much, but that day I couldn’t practice depth as there was too much current, so we decided to focus instead on breath-hold.
“I confuse my mind with the concept of time.”
- Estrella Navarro
tell me a bit more about your technique and what was going on through your mind during that breath hold.
Freediving is a very mental sport, and the static discipline, I can say probably almost purely mental. Of course there are techniques to train and many things you can do to improve. But there are different sensation and different things that happens and there are techniques to hold your breath longer.
One of the main things that consumes oxygen are the thoughts that we have. To say to someone don’t think about anything can be difficult for most of us. Through my training I have learned to control it better, but sometimes you have thoughts that still appear and sometimes these thoughts are around and around which happens in life, not just in freediving.
When you are holding your breath, one of the techniques is to keep your mind busy. The mind can’t be busy at two things at the same time. The techniques I use is to fool myself with the concept of time. Then actually what I do is to reproduce in my mind a song that I really like, that is very slow, but I reproduce it even much slower than in reality. I confuse my mind with the concept of time. That’s one of the things I do.
Another thing that I do is more of a trippy one. I like astronomy a lot. Like many kids, when I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. I love also quantum mechanics, when I have free time, I love to read more into it. But I imagine myself when I’m holding my breath, times that my energy is close to a black hole then time that is happening there is different than the time that is happening in my body and that helps me to hold my breath for longer.
You mentioned that depth is a big part of something you tend to focus on. The deeper you go, the darker it becomes and you are completely alone. How do you deal with the fear aspect? Do you still feel fear after diving so many times?
Sometimes I feel fear. Sometimes when you dive, certain things make you remember those fears. When I was in Egypt last year, something happened to me that never happened before. I was at depth around 60 metres and I felt super dizzy. I felt fear because I was losing the sensation of where I was and to feel this dizziness made me really feel fear. I didn’t really hurt my ears, so we didn’t really know what had happened. A lot of research needs to be done with the physiology of freediving still. Sometimes things happen that reminds me of fear.
And also the mind is not the same one day and the other. When you are on the surface of the water sometimes you feel it’s a certain place of stability. If you are on the land you can place your feet on the ground, you are like on the safest place. You are safe on land. If you are under water, it is completely peaceful. This point of surface, where the air touches the water, this movement of the waves, I feel that touching can sometimes be very peaceful, sometimes it can be aggressive. So with this contact, I can sometimes feel the stress, because it’s not completely peaceful as underwater. When I’m on the surface, sometimes these thoughts that I mentioned before the mental control, sometimes these thoughts start to come naturally. You are going to depth, you are going to be alone, it’s going to be dark, it’s cold, all these things sometimes comes to your mind. Even if you are not looking for it. What I do is similar to what I was telling you before, to do substitution of the thoughts. So I say to myself, this place is going to be nice, you are going to relax more. I start to make my mind busy with positive thoughts and that help me to face the fear and once I’m underwater, all of that disappears and I feel the peace of being under water.
“freediving is to learn how to control what is the most essential thing that makes us alive which is breathing”
- Estrella Navarro
Freediving has really come to me as an increasingly spiritual sport. many sports are about speeding up but freediving is a lot more about slowing down.
Yes, completely. Freediving has completely changed my life. Big part of it in every sense. To start with, the most important thing for life is breathing. Our life begins with an inhalation, and ends with an exhalation. And what we do in freediving is to learn how to control that, to learn how to control what is the most essential thing that makes us alive. We can live for a long period of time without eating, we can live sometime without drinking water but cannot live too long without breathing.
My improvement for depth involves spiritual practice. Breathing and meditation became more profound and much easier when you are in aquatic environment. In freediving, water awakens your freediving reflex. Part of freediving reflex is to make every muscle of your body relax. When you have all your body relax it is easier to also relax your mind because it is connected. The consciousness of the breathing, because the middle point between the motions between mind and actions, everything for it to happen, there’s a specific kind of breathing.
If you learn that, which freediving has taught me because we do relaxation breathing to infuse the state of relaxation in the body and the mind. If you learn that every way of breathing has a specific reaction.
Did you go anywhere in particular to learn breath work? How do you generally learn and was there any place or way that you learned which you found very helpful.
I learned from different sources through observing and noticing. I also have plenty of teachers, I also interchange information with really great freedivers competing around the world. I have yoga teachers, really great ones. He also taught me some breathing techniques that really made me improve. I also combine breathing with the power of the mind in creating situations that is even deeper than just breathing. To create a new world and to make your life better.
Also another thing I learned from my dreams, I discover some things especially in the past life. Have you heard about Mudras, it is yoga with the hands. Yoga with the hand is like you put the hand in different positions that makes the energy flow in the certain way in your body that tells you different ways of putting yourself in balance. Sometimes we have this balance in the body. It’s very connected to Chinese medicine that use this specific point.
We have different nerves that if you touch it, you connect your fingers to certain way, you make the energy flow in a certain way. I noticed myself half asleep and I discover myself in weird positions, yoga positions not only my body but also my hands. “Why do I have my finger like that while I’m sleeping?”. When I was doing this position with my hands I was being healed by the night and in day I was fine. I repeated it on purpose and if I’m sick I’m going to put the position of my hands again. I was getting healed. Then I searched the internet and found Mudras which is like yoga with the hands and this is something that is known for centuries or more. When I was dreaming and sleeping I was making this positions with my hands and with my body.
“I also combine breathing with the power of the mind in creating situations that is even deeper than just breathing.”
- Estrella Navarro
Ocean conservation is an aspect that you promote through the freediving competition The Big Blue which you currently run. Did this passion for ocean conservation come as a result from your freediving experiences?
I am a marine biologist and I think it’s a combination between what I learned in school about the biology and animal behaviour. To learn about the species in a more profound way through studying and with freediving to know them more like a friendship connection. To be able to interact with the animals and have them as an inspiration every time I dice with them. I love their life and I want the planet to last longer. I think it’s very sad we may have a big probability in finishing our time in the planet. It is very sad that we are making all the planet suffer and all the animals. What we need to understand is that the planet has been here for 4600 million years and it will have another time similar to that. It has gone through five extinctions already, this is the sixth one. It takes for the planet 10 million years to recover, but for planet times that’s like a blink, it will recover, we will have new species but the thing is humans we will not make it. We are killing ourselves.
Becoming unconscious is a real part of freediving. Have you ever been unconscious or have you ever become close to being unconscious during one of your dives?
I have blacked out 5 times which really is not much for professional freedivers. It is not dangerous if you awaken immediately. Your brain doesn’t suffer any damage, the neural central artery when you blackout, the brain protects itself to be oxygenated so your brain protects itself. There is some research from a scientist friend of mine where the brain of the freedive who has done it for many years, instead of being damaged, instead it has developed areas that you see similar to people who meditate a lot. It’s contrary to brain damage.
lastly Do you have any books that you like to recommend to people whether or not it’s freediving related.
“The Madman” from Khalil Gibran, I think it’s a funny and true perspective, artistic and deep.
For Spanish speakers, I would recommend “Mexicanos por Naturaleza”it is a beautiful book about biodiversity in Mexico, combining biology, culture, food, regions, climate, history. It is written in a very rich and easy way to read. It is something to give joy to your soul combined with delicious knowledge.