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Javiera Pinto: “For me, freediving is more than a sport. It’s a way of healing.”

Javiera Pinto: “For me, freediving is more than a sport. It’s a way of healing.”

By: Hernan Claro - 19 February, 2024

Javiera Pinto

Javiera Pinto is a national depth record holder, having descended to 71 meters below sea level in 2023. As the protagonist of ‘Extremas’, the freediver talked to us about her breath control method and explained the freedom she feels when submerging.

Although born in Santiago, Javiera Pinto moved to Los Molles (Valparaíso Region) at the age of six. There, she discovered her passion for freediving, a discipline that has allowed her to travel the world and achieve several national records.

While preparing for new competitions, Javiera featured in an episode of ‘Extremas’, diving into the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. She shared her feelings during the episode and reflected on the mind-body relationship required by the discipline.

‘Extremas’ is the new web series from Chile Travel, where Chilean athletes share their stories of effort after significant achievements in sports disciplines and how they connect with specific destinations and territories in Chile.

What was filming ‘Extremas’ like?

It was an enriching experience because I was having a lot of issues with equalizing -which is to pass air from the nasopharynx to the middle ear to compensate for the eardrum and be able to descend in depth- and that was causing a lot of frustration for me.

So, the filming was like a “refresh” for me, as if I had fallen in love with freediving and myself again, putting aside the frustration of many failed attempts. Being such a mental sport, that “refresh” served to continue and plan my training.

How would you describe the freedom of submerging?

What one feels is very personal. We all have a world; we are individual beings with many life experiences.

However, in my case—and it’s something that comes up in conversations with other freedivers—I feel free when diving in apnea. Underwater, you feel extremely comfortable and don’t need any external apparatus.

What I feel is having a space for myself, and that space is my right to be. Moreover, with a lot of humility, feeling supported by the sea. It’s a sensation of healing, freedom, and exquisite containment.

What was diving in the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve like?

The reserve is spectacular because there is a lot of interaction with wildlife. In this way, freediving has an advantage because, without external air, no bubbles are released, so animals come closer to you.

Having the opportunity to dive, in an even deeper descent, in such a magical place with so much fauna and algae is very enriching and incredible.

How do you manage to concentrate when diving?

There is no single way to exercise self-control. The way I contain myself is different from what another person might do, and that’s something which is extremely important because I use it a lot in freediving teaching. You can study guidelines, but it’s very flexible because everybody is different.

The key is relaxation. How do I seek it? First, it’s essential not to think that I’m not breathing but to focus on what I have to do at that present moment.

When I’m resting in the previous breath, I use resources like going to my happy place or thinking about people, like my buoyant partner, who relaxes me. I express gratitude for my beliefs before descending. These are resources that each freediver learns according to what works for them.

How do you deal with nervousness?

In apnea, we have the contradiction that competitions generally make us nervous. We want to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to keep a state of relaxation and not consume more oxygen.

When I go down, I only think about what I’m doing at the present moment, for example, if I have to perform a maneuver or count the number of kicks.

Now, insecurities come in, and it’s normal, but I only let them in and pass so they could leave. If I feel a strong sense of insecurity, anxiety, or fear before descending, I let them accompany me and descend with me so they can adapt and relax as well.

Self-control is something incredibly beautiful, not only for sports but for anything in life. To hold my breath, I first have to learn to breathe well and use resources that allow me to maximize my diving. Breathing well is one of the keys to human life.

What would you say to those who want to dive but are hesitant?

I would tell them that many people go through that. And it’s very normal. Many times, in competitions, I feel fear and anxiety. It’s common, so, daring is going with the anxiety and not trying to get rid of it but simply doing it.

For me, freediving is more than a sport. It’s a lifestyle, healing, self-awareness, and interacting with others who enjoy this beautiful sport. It’s an opportunity to have a special connection with the aquatic environment and its animals.

We all come from water. That’s scientifically proven. The most natural thing for us is to be underwater, and there is a mammalian diving reflex that proves it. We come from the sea, so it’s just reconnecting with our origin. It’s something which is very beautiful.

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