I’m holding a respectable tree pose on a sun-bleached jetty above St. Lucia’s turquoise waters. It’s the sort of place you drift off to mentally when you are midway through a peaceful meditation in a reassuringly mildewed London yoga studio. This time, though, I’m actually here and ready to embark on one of the latest wellness trends: a holistic diving experience in the Caribbean complete with breathing exercises and underwater yoga that will allow me to reach “whole new levels of relaxation” and, one hopes, enough spiritual transcendence to get me out of the water if things don’t go to plan.
But there are boat engines roaring, tourists being herded on and off and an unusually aggressive coastal wind is picking up, along with the tide. Given that the idea is to float and hold various poses once in the water, it becomes difficult to remain zen about the challenges that might await.
Descend, equalize, stay calm, let the yoga begin. Once on the seabed I move to a half lotus, immediately upsetting the sand-dwellers and attracting an audience of confounded fish. The current manhandles me like an impatient dance instructor, and what began as a close-proximity group exercise becomes a rout. Members of the party are swept away, holding bow-poses while trying desperately to avoid crashing into coral and rock.
This cocktail of diving, yoga and breath work looks good on the menu and as a seasoned diver and yoga lover, I could understand the logic of the pairing. I was especially keen to see how the breathwork was going to affect us underwater: given we’d be taking in a higher level of oxygen, it should have taken the yoga experience to another level. Now that I’m here in the water, the practical obstacles become clear. I no longer feel at one with nature, more mocked by it, as I stumble over yet another large shell and startle an octopus. In fact, I’m actually a lot more stressed than I was before.
A little breath work should help. After all, diving requires you to take long slow deep breaths and find your own natural buoyancy. However, closing your eyes to focus on the breathing goes against every instinct you have as a diver in waters with low visibility. I tough it out by remembering my brief foray into the popular methods of Wim Hof, a Dutchman who touts the benefits of plunging yourself into very cold water. After all, a bit of mental stress in the warm Caribbean Sea is more pleasant than being submerged into an ice bath.
My underwater experience isn’t the most extreme yoga-combo on offer these days. I could be hanging from a helicopter over the Ursus Major Mountain doing mantras, or surrounded by goats or alpacas, two creatures on the ever-growing list of animals that are said to enhance the experience. Today’s jet-setting yoga lover is spoiled for choice when it comes to far-flung and outlandish circumstances which promise access a whole new level of zen. But is it really worth risking your own safety or sanity or expensive yoga outfits?
Despite my obvious misgivings, I can still see the logic. A new environment certainly forces you to be present in the moment, which is the main purpose of all these practices. And you end up with a humorous story you can dine out on for weeks afterwards, not to mention the excellent photos to light up Instagram. Here on the seabed, however, the photographer is also struggling, and I imagine the results will resemble the work of a toddler who runs away with your camera and throws it in the bath.
Once we finish the poses, we set off on a regular dive and I feel my stress levels immediately drop. I remember that what I love about diving is becoming part of my natural surroundings, with no choice but to be absorbed by the silence and sound of my own breathing. The underwater yoga makes for a nice memory and a lesson in remaining calm when literally under pressure, but the best mantra here is probably “to each their own.” And as for me, you’re likely to find me safe and sound in my local yoga studio, not on a mountain top — or under the sea.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s March 2023 World edition.