Working on Equalisation (by Germaine)

I started attending the weekly pool trainings with Zen Freediving after a failed attempt to get my open water certification in Nusa Penida. After a decade of scuba diving, I knew I was comfortable in the water so I decided this deserved another shot. As the pool sessions with Zen progressed, I found myself looking forward to the swim drills and was pleased with myself for deciding to stick around.

In each of the pool trainings, there were always tips I picked up to improve just that little bit better. To me, having a good breathe up like we practiced all the time was only half the picture. With the Frenzel equalization workshop, I signed up because I was interested to find out how to conserve my precious air better underwater. All this time, I had been going with the old-fashioned “pinch nose and blow hard” technique. It was also during this equalization workshop that I found out the right term – Valsalva.

What I didn’t expect was the classroom session in the beginning. We were shown diagrams of the air pockets in our heads and the flow of air through each ear canal and sinus. Also a lot of medical human anatomy terms at this point – moving our larynx, closing the glottis, air through the eustachian tubes. I have to admit, I referred to the manual sent over after the session to type this out. I couldn’t remember all of it and I still cant’!

It became clearer when everything fell into practice. The first being to control our larynx – or the rookie term for it – voice box. This involved sticking our tongues out as far as possible, fingers on our throats and making a heaving noise to feel your voice box moving. We were a group of about 10 adults, sitting in a circle at a public swimming pool on a buzzing Saturday sticking our tongues out at one another. I do love everyone’s enthusiasm.  

As we progressed through the workshop and the exercises got more complex, I could complete some of them. With others I wasn’t quite sure if the air was going into the right places of my head and exiting through the correct outlets. I looked around the table and I saw some equally perplexed faces, thank goodness there were others doing this for the first time too! The instructors came around to each of us, dishing out breathing tips and asking where we were lost.

 The final and I guess you could say the most complex of the breathing exercises was with the apparatus. It consisted of a blowing mouthpiece and a balloon. We started by inflating it with the mouthpiece attached, which took some effort for me. With the balloon inflated, I had to then put the mouthpiece to one nostril, allow the air to funnel through my nose and back into my mouth. If you could complete this, you would be *high five*frenzeling! 

Again, looking around the table, we had varying degrees of success. Some had wonderfully inflated balloons and the air breezing through the right head channels on the first try. Others only managed to inflate their balloons and had let too much air escape while trying to pass it through a nostril. And there was me, taking quite a few embarrassing tries to blow up my balloon. After a few tries, I figured I had to use my stomach muscles, just puffing my cheeks wasn’t enough.

Practising in the pool

I can’t say I mastered this combo control exercise but was of course assured when the instructor told us that this was outside our usual breathing and that practicing at home would help. Also the fact that the notes would be emailed to us after the workshop was really helpful.

To put all that breathing exercise into practice, we dropped line down a 4m pool with everyone taking their turn descending. Yes I was hesitant, given that I didn’t ace the balloon activity. But this was obviously the safest environment to try. In my first attempt, I instinctly reverted to the Valsalva move to clear my sinuses. Not ideal, and with my next few shots it took conscious reminding to make sure I tried the Frenzel equalization instead. I didn’t feel the satisfying immediate relase of pressure when you pinch and blow.

The instructors were really encouraging though. Everytime we came up from a dive, they would ask, “Did you feel different?”, “Where do you feel the pressure?”, “Next time try with your body and head upright” I felt guilty telling them each time that I didn’t feel that I was successfully frenzeling. It was only towards the end of the pool session that I managed to feel a very small squeak in my ears at the 4m bottom.

To me, that was an accomplishment and the farthest I got that day. The instructor lit up when I said I finally felt that small release in my ears, good enough validation I guess.

Getting some fun shots in after the workshop


 At the next few weekly pool sessions, I attempted the new equalization again. Can’t say this is working instantly but I did realise though that I do need to get myself out of the habit of going back to my old technique and put this new one into more practice. Nudge to remind me the next time I’m at freedive training!