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“It’s the strongest form of meditation I have ever experienced”: the life of a female freediver

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Martina Amati is a freediver and London-based contact who plunges herself down into the depths of the ocean tens of metres at a time. Stylist.co.uk catches up with her ahead of new freediving art exhibition Under, to discover what it’s really like to disappear into the blue.

“I was first introduced to free-diving years ago in Sardinia, in my early twenties. I’ve always been used to the water: my father was a sailor and I was brought up by the sea. 

I did a scuba diving course, and one day managed to swim under water for a distance of 75 meters without any fins or a breathing tank. I just thought ‘oh my god’. 

Om my first proper freedive, I remember just feeling the cold of the water, and then the purity and silence. I remember the incredible feeling you get after the first time you have the desire to breath, and you kind of just mentally tell yourself to relax, that you don’t need to breathe, that you’re fine.

That is amazing, like entering a new world.

It’s like learning to walk for the first time, or going up to the moon.

Martina during a deep dive Image: Alice Cattaneo

Martina during a deep dive (Image: Alice Cattaneo)

That was ten years ago now, and it’s now a big part of my life. I train with the London Freedivers in Richmond pool when I can, and try to fit in a trip abroad once a year to freedive in the ocean.

People often ask me why I do it. There’s a lot of misconception and misrepresentation surrounding freediving, it’s not the extreme sport a lot of people think it is. Yes, there can be risks involved, but accidents are very rare. Everyone I’ve met who enjoys freediving does it because they believe it makes them a better person.

I’ve done yoga for most of my life, and yet freediving is still the highest, strongest form of meditation I have ever experienced. It connects your body with your brain, and though of course it does require physical effort too, it’s much more a mental practice.

The richest part of the training - which requires a lot of time in the pool - is not about the stamina you build in your muscles. When you learn how to suppress your desire to breath under the water, the work is entirely mental, and that’s the real reach of freediving. It helps me to listen to my body.

A still from Martina's new freediving project Under

It’s so beautiful to just let go of all your thoughts and enjoy the dive. Usually, when you’ve enjoyed beautiful sensations during the dive, you want to go straight back down as soon as you’ve back into the air.

Sometimes, people who go down very deep can experience problems when they come back up, because in order to suppress the desire to breathe you think of other things, you enter another world, and can forget you have to breathe when you come up. The person who dives with you for safety always welcomes you back with ‘breathe, breathe, breathe!’

The deepest I tend to dive now is 40 metres with the help of a sledge to pull me down, and 30 meters in the free discipline – that’s around the height of a 10-storey building.

My next goal is to be able to dive to 40 metres without any assistance. I’ve been training with Liv Phillips for Under who is British champion, and she easily dives to 70 meters at a time. She’s fantastic.

Martina with Liv Phillips while filming Under in Egypt

Martina (left) with British champion freediver Liv Phillips during filming for Under Image: Daan Verhoeven

When I began to film Under I had lots of numbers and depths in my head, but during the process I discovered something else - my underwater dance. Freediving takes me away from the world and closer to who I really am.

That’s what I hope to convey with Under. I want to bring the experience of freediving into an urban space, so I’m trying to recreate the feeling of being submerged under water, to let people see the different stages of a deep dive.

I want to let them experience the feelings of going down in the sea, seeing your friends disappearing in the blue and then going down and disappearing yourself.

Martina perfoming an underwater scene for art exhibition Under Image: Alice Cattaneo

Image: Alice Cattaneo

Under will be on view at Ambika P3, University of Westminster, London, 26 September to 11 October 2015. For more information visit under-installation.com

Get a taste for the exhibition with this teaser clip...

Top image: Daan Verhoeven

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