March 27, 2007

The Art Of Breathing Underwater

We don't really pay attention to breathing as much as we should. The truth is, there's an art to breathing. Sure, we've mastered the whole oxygen intake thing, but that's starting to seem so very passe these days. Antediluvian, even. We're a culture that likes to push the limits. Faster, stronger, higher, longer - every era exceeds the next in just about every aspect of humanity. So tell me, aside from creating a few random genetic abnormalities like Lance Armstrong and his lungs, I ask you, what have we really accomplished with breathing over the past four thousand years or so?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. That's what we've done. We've just taken it all for granted.
Well, my friend, as Al Gore says, it's time for change. (Or was that Motley Crue who said that? I get them confused sometimes).

It only makes sense that the next phase of breathing will bring us underwater. After all, nearly 78% of the earth is covered with water. Even our bodies are comprised of about 70% water. Wouldn't it be natural that we should be able to survive in this liquid environment?

All sorts of fish have managed to figure it out pretty effectively. Dolphins, whales and penguins aren't necessarily all there, but they're not doing such a shabby job when it comes down to it. Humans? We're clearly at the front of the retard line when it comes to this underwater breathing category.

What makes things even worse is that all us humans spent the first 9 months of our lives breathing in a big bubble of liquid inside our mother's stomach before the stork came and delivered us home. Do you see what this means? For nearly a year we were all hunky-dory breathing underwater, and then just like that - snap! - we forgot how to do it. Doesn't that seem weird to you? Maybe even like a conspiracy?

Sure there are all those freedivers and their whole Competitive Apnea thing, where some silly folks can hold their breath for nearly 9 minutes. And, yes, I'm sure we all remember the beauty of The Big Blue. But that ain't underwater breathing - it's just a lot of underwater not-breathing.

Which leads us to today.

Catherine and I went swimming this morning, just like we're supposed to do. I didn't want to go swimming today - I woke up in one of those moods. It wasn't because of my sleep, I had a great nights sleep, over 7 hours of very restful dozing. It wasn't because of my body, there was no pain, no tiredness, nothing out of wack. As a matter of fact, I felt pretty springy.

Apparently it was just one of those mornings.

As I drove to the YMCA, I was dreading every second. Maybe I'll get in a car crash, I thought. That'll help me avoid the swim. Or, better yet, perhaps a flat tire. That won't cost me as much, I probably won't die, and it will definitely cause all sorts of delays that would force me to skip the workout.

But, alas, I got to the YMCA safely. I got to the locker room without even stubbing a toe. I got to the poolside without straining a muscle. At that point, I suppose I had to at least give it a shot.

It was a 3000 yard swim and I decided to take it super slow. Every lap was mentally painful, the resolve to quit just a few inches beyond my reach. But I kept trying to relax and enjoy the moment. And then, somewhere on the north side of 1500 yards, I started to calm down and lost the tremendous urge to give in to my mood. Soon the world began to calm down and the workout took a turn for the better.

But if there's one thing I've learned in life it's that when everything seems really good, something not as good is probably about to happen.

A few months back I've talked about the French guy that swims in the YMCA pool. I always know when he's there because the water suddenly has a fresh scent of cigarettes and baguette. When I first experienced this smell I told myself I was crazy. Surely one person can't make an entire pool smell like a Parisian cafe. Who ever heard of smelling underwater anyway?! I mean, I've watched Shark Week enough times to know that they have an uncanny sense of smell, but I'm not a shark. Probably not even a guppy. Polliwog, maybe. Either way, I just assumed the human nose doesn't work in the liquid environment. If it did, I'd probably be able to breathe underwater. And, as we discussed before, I can't.

So there I am, a good 2200 yards into my workout this morning, when all of the sudden I smell perfume. And I'm not talking about lifting my head up out of the water and smelling perfume, I'm talking about me pushing off the wall and getting a waif of this as I'm gliding underwater. Underwater smelling. I definitely didn't make this one up.

I gagged. It was that type of smell.

As I continued to swim to the other end of the pool, the underwater smell got stronger and stronger, as if somebody had poured a bottle of Coco Chanel into my lane. Did my grandmother just get in the pool? I thought to myself. Have all her Bridge-playing brethren moved their over-saturated perfumery to the YMCA?

I lifted my head out of the water to see who was bringing in this smell. Lo and behold, when my nose hit the air, it felt as if I slammed my face into a vat of Eau De Givenchy that had been sitting in the sun for far too long and had long-since spoiled all of the Eau. The air was worse than the water.

I turned to Catherine in disgust and we shared a look of mutual nausea as I pushed off from the wall again. I couldn't breathe in that soiled oxygen.

Yet as I swam, every breath I took got me more disgusted. The pool water seemed permanently scented and the air was even worse. I started breathing on every 3rd stroke. Then 4th stroke. But the air just kept getting worse. I tried breathing on every 5th stroke, but that proved too much. After all, I'm no apnea competitor. Yet as I plowed through my laps, swimming in a pool of perfume, I suddenly wished I knew how to breathe underwater.

The air that surrounds me had gone sour. The planet that we thrive on is dying. The carbon monoxide levels are increasing dramatically. We're getting hotter than hot and colder than cold. Every year has more tornadoes, hurricanes, snow storms, mudslides. At the rate we're going, we'll destroy ourselves before we even fully realize what we've done. The only safe place is underwater. The water is our destiny, and the perfume lady just brought the point home.

There's an art to breathing underwater. I definitely don't consider myself an artist, but I suppose now is a damn good time to start practicing.


pb said...

I've read scientific studies about the breathing organ of fish. If I remember correctly, they're called gills? Might be worth a try... You keep us posted?

IM Able said...

Here's my question -- I practice breathing a lot, kind of like all day. Can I log that in my trainingpeaks as hours trained?

Just thinkin...

j. said...

interesting thing, PB, is that when dolphin's are gestating in the womb, they actually have noses/nostrils and look eerily like humans. it isn't until the latter months of the gestation period that those nostrils move towards the top of the head and turn into a blow-hole. we all originally came from water and evolution took us out of it. i've seen Star Wars and Star Trek and Battlestar Gallactica, so I know that there are "people" out there who have been able to grow gills back. Fear not ye of little hope.

(oh, and Able, yes... breathing is part of training. log that baby.)

pb said...

Very interesting indeed J. That's then two things I've learned today (the other one being that it's not a good idea to walk down stairs with bike shoes on).