I enjoy snorkeling, but it also scares me. The unexpected cold when my body hits the ocean for the first time, the eerie underwater environment and the challenge of breathing through a snorkel combine to make the experience stressful. I often start off in a bit of a panic, with rapid breathing, a pounding heart, and my mind racing. I eventually calm down and take in the sights, but it can be exhausting.

On my most recent trip to the Caribbean, I decided to try a new approach — yoga breathing. It worked famously!

Maybe my fear comes from the first time I went snorkeling. I was in Mexico with friends during spring break. They did not provide much explanation but jumped in and began swimming, leaving me to struggle with my mask and snorkel, figuring it out by trial and error as I tried to keep up with them. I don’t think they meant to ditch me, but assumed I knew what to do and would be following behind.

Since that first time, whenever, I go snorkeling, I am usually the last person off the boat into the water and the first one back on land, causing me to miss many of the best fish sightings. Part of the reason is that I get cold easily, but it is also because I feel uneasy. When my children were young, they were a good excuse to return to the boat early, but now they want to stay out longer. Time to face my fears.

So this year, I still dilly-dallied getting into the water, but once I did, I reminded myself to breathe slowly — in for six counts and out for six counts — just like in Pranayama breathing. It works during difficult times in Bikram yoga class — like during a particularly long Triangle posture — maybe it would work under water.

With my mind focused on counting, it was distracted from the coldness of the water and the memories of my past snorkel panics. Almost immediately, my breath settled into a regular pattern and I felt good. Muscle memory, I guess. A beautiful fish swam by. I followed it. This was peaceful and pleasant.

I utilized the breathing technique throughout the snorkel, which kept me calm and provided better stamina. I was in the water longer, saw more fish and coral, and had more fun. I even saw my first stingray!

Back on the boat, my family was impressed that I had stayed in the water longer than usual, but when I told them it was because I had used my yoga breathing, they burst out laughing. Skeptics. : )

Readers, do you use your yoga breathing outside of class?

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Originally published at hotoffthemat.com on January 17, 2017.