About a week ago I said goodbye to the gibbons and took a ferry to a smaller Thai island called Koh Tao. Surrounded by thriving underwater wildlife and packed with countless scuba schools , Koh Tao is the ideal place to learn how to dive, and that's exactly what I did! The open water course is the first level of scuba diver certification and in four days it teaches all of the necessary knowledge about equipment, diving theory, and water skills that a diver could need. It's not too complicated of course, tons of people pass everyday without even the slightest problem. However, few people know this, but I've never felt like water is my element. Growing up I wasn't a very confident swimmer. I never even learned how to dive! And on top of this swimming history, I actually went scuba diving once on a family vacation to Hawaii when I was 13, and I was so nervous the whole time about the pressure in my ears and the breathing and so on that I used up all of my oxygen and had to float back to the shore on the water's surface while everybody else got to swim back and keep looking at sea turtles.
So going into the course with some uneasiness made the lessons that were simple for other people a little more of a struggle for me. Firstly, breathing through your mouth into a weird tube while underwater is very bizarre and takes a long time to get used to. Secondly, due to this unnatural breathing (and my nerves) my mind would get confused between breathing through my mouth and my nose and I would end up choking on water for a second. This got especially pesky when we learned a few skills involving flooding the mask full of water and clearing it underwater by blowing out through the nose. It sounds straight forward, but time and time again I got frazzled and inhaled water instead of oxygen. Feeling unsure and uncomfortable in the water (the first day we only practiced in a pool mind you) I was on the verge of tears. My instructor calmed me down, got me to breathe, and all of a sudden something in my mind clicked. The sport of scuba diving revolves completely around the breath, and as a yogi, the breath is my specialty! One of the greatest lessons yoga has taught me is to always breathe through challenge. If I'm in a difficult pose on the mat, I just have to breathe through it and I'll be alright! And when I'm underwater and faced with an obstacle like a mask full of water, all I have to do is keep breathing and it'll be over before I know it. And so it's the same with any challenge in life!! Thus, in a desperate attempt to stay calm, I focused my entire mind and being on my breath, and it worked! But, of course, I didn't turn into a star swimmer overnight with this new realization. On the boat the next afternoon, I was close to marching up to the instructor and saying, "You're crazy if you think I can do any of this!!" But I gave myself a chance, got in the water, and as soon as I saw the bright corals and shimmering fish, my nerves subsided and I felt the most overwhelming joy. It's a whole new world under there!! So we just swam and breathed and swam and breathed and I felt at peace. Everything moves so slowly under water that it's hard to feel stressed, even if you wanted to. Of course the time came to practice the mask clearing skills on the ocean floor. I freaked out my breathing for a quick second, but I slowed down, caught my breath, cleared the mask and was completely fine, back in tune with my breath, the pulse of life. Four insanely beautiful dives later I became a certified open water diver, and I was really sad when the course was finished. Swimming through huge corals with anemones flowing in the current and iridescent fish nipping at my ears, I felt like I was on another planet, and what a blessing that scuba diving allows you to explore this new universe!! And did you know that scientists know and understand more about the moon than the ocean? How wild! So I'm feeling grateful for the opportunities diving has given me to explore that mysterious world. And I'm also feeling so proud of myself!! There really was a minute there when I thought I wouldn't finish the course, so the fact that I stuck with it and faced some of my weird water fears reminds me that I'm a strong and courageous warrior goddess even when I struggle with a challenge a little. So cheers to diving and to this beautiful little island! And now on to the final stretch of this long and wondrous journey. I'm India bound!