Pool training, 11/21

The advantage to being a no-talent beginner freediver is that you improve steadily yet incrementally, so you’re always setting new personal bests. Today I did a new PB in DYN (i.e., “dyamic”, which means swimming for distance in a pool on a single breath hold): 55 meters. I’m thrilled with this because my last PB, set a month or so ago, was 44 meters (so actually, a significant as opposed to incremental improvement, this time).

Afterwards, my coach put me through a dynamic training table:

Breathe-up for 1min 30sec, then swim on one breath for a distance of 30m; repeat 4x.
Breathe-up for 1min 20sec, then swim 30m; repeat 4x.
Breathe-up for 1min 10sec, then swim 30m; repeat 4x. (By this point I couldn’t make it 30m, though, so we reduced the distance to 22m.)
Breathe-up for 1min, then swim 22m; repeat 4x.
Breathe-up for 50sec, then swim 22m; repeat 4x.
Breathe-up for 40sec, then swim 22m; repeat 2x.

The point of this exercise is to develop tolerance to carbon dioxide. By reducing the recovery time between swims you increase carbon dioxide buildup in your bloodstream, which means that the urge to breathe comes sooner, diaphragm contractions start earlier, and lactic acid builds up in your muscles. The idea is that with repeated exposure to these phenomena it becomes easier to deal with them. I have poor CO2 tolerance generally and my contractions start early, so this is the shit I need to work on.

These exercises are seen as grunt work and it seems most freedivers don’t really enjoy doing them, so I’m either a freak or a masochist because I had fun. It’s totally head-clearing–it was impossible for me to think about other stuff either while breathing or while swimming, and about halfway through the table I entered “the zone”, such that I was physically comfortable at the end of each length and not gasping overmuch when I came up for air.

After a pool session I always feel really good, too. Not the euphoria I get after an open-water session, but still, pretty good.

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The journey inward

I recently took up freediving (diving underwater on a single breathhold). It’s a fascinating activity for so, so many reasons and teaches you a lot about your physical and mental capabilities. I started out with zero natural talent (indeed, the AIDA ** course that I took runs for 2.5 days and I had to do three extra sessions to meet the course requirements) but yesterday I comfortably and repeatedly went down to 20 meters. And that was because I was able to overcome a mental hurdle.

In conjunction with almost-daily yoga practice and some reading I’ve been doing on the mind-body connection, I’ve come to some major realizations about myself and the dysfunctional habits I’ve developed over my lifetime in order to do the stuff normal people do in the face of crushing anxiety.

I no longer think of my body as something separate from me that’s mainly there to impose limitations and cause pain.  Well, mostly “no longer” — old habits die hard and even the metaphors that I’ve come up with to conceptualize this new relationship end up preserving mind-body dualism (“it’s like I discovered a Siamese twin I took no notice of before”; “my body is the house I live in”). But my attitude to my body really has changed.

I’ll be writing more about freediving and what I’ve discovered about my mind, relaxation, breathing, and trauma in upcoming posts, insha’Allah.


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Yesterday was the first day of Diwali, and I’m glad to be in Udaipur, Rajasthan, which is very pretty and hence extra picturesque when all lit up for the celebrations.  Yesterday just after dusk I took a walk, and here are some of the things I saw:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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Freshening up a shrine, Bundi

Freshening up a temple, Bundi

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Cognac Remy

Found a nice ghost sign on Sherif St. yesterday.


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And believe it or not, I’m still here

Cairo, argh.

The argh:

So there were clashes in my neighborhood over the long weekend in which one person was shot and killed. Lucky for me, I was actually in Sinai at the time finishing my Advanced Open Water scuba course.  But there was violence in South Sinai too: My Dahab-Cairo bus the following day rolled into El Tor about half an hour after the suicide bomb that killed two policemen and injured 48 people.  The bathroom attendants at the bus station were animatedly talking about an explosion but I didn’t think much of it (they could have been discussing a movie or something), and it was only when I got back on the bus that I learned what had happened.  Courtesy of the middle-aged dude who lived in Park Slope in the late 90s and then kept interrupting my stare-out-the-window reverie on the way back to Crazytown.  He made several little trips to my seat to tell me things and show me stuff:  First his NY driver’s license, lest I think he was lying about Park Slope, then later a photo album with a picture of his brother (Allah yarhamuh) standing in front of a Blockbuster Video at night.

Back in Cairo and things seem more or less normal except that traffic is fucking insane at all hours.  In April 2012 I read a news article that said that the average speed of Cairo traffic in 2017 would be 11 km per hour, but I think we’re already there.  My taxi driver from downtown to Zamalek told me, as we crawled along at a snail’s pace at 1 PM, that he was just two weeks back in Cairo after years in Saudi, and expressed bewilderment at the horrendous traffic.  (Nice guy, incidentally.  Gave me his phone number and wouldn’t take the fare from me — I had to leave it on his armrest.)

And I think there are fewer taxis in circulation.  This afternoon I had to walk from 26th of July St. to the Opera metro station and I did not encounter a single empty taxi during that half-hour walk.  This would have been unheard of in the very recent past.

Side note:  I’m noticing more and more mohawks in the city these days, which sort of adds to the general Mad Max ambiance.

The heh:

Lone patriotic man in Dahab on October 6th, getting his “Teslam al-Ayadi” on.

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Clashes in my neighborhood

So today I was doing some cat-care in Zamalek for an embassy friend who was evacuated a couple of months ago and on my way home the metro skipped my station, Behooth.  There was an announcement saying that the station would be skipped, “حرصاً على” something-or-other that I couldn’t make out.  So I got out at Cairo University station and started looking for a taxi.  There were dozens of young men walking down the street in one direction, as though leaving an event.  Taxi driver said that there had been gunfire in Dokki, but didn’t know much more.  He dropped me on the corner of Musaddaq and Muhi el-Deen and I had to walk the rest of the way, because he said he didn’t want to get too close, that there might still be gunfire.  I was like, hmm, weird.  I walked home and didn’t hear anything, but the narrow streets where I live were utterly clogged with vehicles.

Discovered through Twitter when I got home that there was shooting from the top of the Behooth station between cops and Ikhwan.  Apparently state media says it was Ikhwan that was doing the firing.  Har har har.

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