75 Meters Down: Freediving with Stig Pryds
From the moment a person is born, they are compelled to breathe, to fulfill the basic necessity to stay alive. As Stig Pryds is well aware, man was not created with gills nor has he evolved to breathe underwater, yet. That hasn’t stopped his curiosity of chasing the unknown and diving down beneath the surface, challenging the ticking clock of human physiology.
On average, a person breathes 12 to 20 times per minute. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. It is something that we take for granted, unconscious, like the constant drumbeat to life. Breathing, however, can be something much more, as Stig well knows. “Breathing is such a big tool that we've got, but we're just taking it for granted,” said Pryds. Through sport, he has found an almost super human power centered on the simple task of controlling his breath.
The niche sport of freediving, or breath-hold diving, may be intriguing to the spectator but it demands a strong physical and mental aptitude from the diver. It’s a decent into darkness of the sea and mind. Freediving is a physical sport, low tech in its purest form. A diver has only one inhale to indulge every cellular need for sustained life, and then hold on.. “Freediving is most incredible,” says Stig. “A place like no other, underwater, but still with the feeling like you are in the best place you can be.”
It made me wonder, “What is it like for Stig to dive into the ocean’s darkness with only one breath?” He’s been diving around the world in places like the Red Sea, Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, and even Nemo 33, one of the world’s deepest manmade pools. For Pyrds, his connection with the ocean is deeply personal. “It’s some kind of a home,” he said, “My mom is buried in the ocean. I have taken her ashes out in the sea and for me it's…comfort.” He described to me the ocean as an incredible environment—strong, powerful and commanding respect.
Like free solo climbing, freediving requires the apex of mental clarity and physiological understanding. A person must have complete control of their mind and body. Just like in free soloing, freediving presents serious risk of death that unfortunately happens time to time in the sport. “…It can go really wrong,” said Stig, “You're really close to death.” He went on to explain that freediving is like a form of meditation that allows him to learn more about himself, to increase his mental strength, and to relax. He added poetically, “You find your better self when you're doing this.”
A combination of influences led Pyrds to dive, but most specifically pain drew him into the deep. Stig has psoriasis arthritis which causes inflammation in the joints and chronic severe pain. This pain once forced him into a very dark corner. He gradually lost the ability to walk without a cane and needed heavy medication. It became so unbearable that at one point he considered ending it all.
This dark moment was a turning point in his life that led him to seek alternatives, to transform. Through research and his own trial, Pyrds discovered that focused breath, yoga, freediving and a plant-based diet helped to reduce his symptoms, increase his energy, and improve his life. In diving, he found relief. “When I'm diving, the deeper I go, the better it gets…something to do with the water pressure,” remarks Stig. “When I’m diving, I feel calm, relaxed and pleasant.”
There is evidence his new lifestyle hasn’t just relieved his pain, its healing his body. Using blood and tissues samples, doctors conducted research on Pyrds and found positive physiological correlation. He wants this tool for the benefit of everyone, especially those physically suffering in the hospital.
From his interest in yoga, controlled breath, and dealing with chronic pain, Stig has developed Breathe, an app to improve mental clarity and relieve pain. “Its a way to start meditating, to learn, and be more aware of yourself,” said Stig. He explained how the exercises on the app help improve lung capacity, increase oxygen efficiency throughout your body, and improve mental and physical health. He added, “This app should be in every hospital bed because you're recovering faster, you're mood is getting better.” Currently the app is available in Dutch, but will be out in English in the coming months.