19:11
TEDxToulouse

Guillaume Néry: The exhilarating peace of freediving

Filmed:

In this breathtaking talk, world champion freediver Guillaume Néry takes us with him into the ocean's depths. Meter by meter, he explains the physical and emotional impact of water pressure, silence and holding your breath. His eloquent description of the underwater experience reveals the hidden poetry of freediving.

- World champion freediver
With just one breath, Guillaume Néry can dive to -125m below the water's surface. Full bio

(Video) Announcer: 10 seconds.
00:13
Five, four, three, two, one.
00:19
Official top.
00:23
Plus one, two, three, four, five
00:25
six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
00:30
Guillaume Néry, France.
00:38
Constant weight, 123 meters,
00:40
three minutes and 25 seconds.
00:43
National record attempt.
00:46
70 meters.
01:19
[123 meters]
01:32
(Applause)
02:21
(Video) Judge: White card.
Guillaume Néry! National record!
02:24
Guillaume Néry: Thank you.
02:29
(Applause)
02:31
Thank you very much,
thanks for the warm welcome.
02:34
That dive you just watched is a journey --
02:37
a journey between two breaths.
02:40
A journey that takes place
between two breaths --
02:43
the last one before diving into the water,
02:45
and the first one,
coming back to the surface.
02:47
That dive is a journey
to the very limits of human possibility,
02:51
a journey into the unknown.
02:55
But it's also, and above all,
an inner journey,
02:58
where a number of things happen,
03:01
physiologically as well as mentally.
03:04
And that's why I'm here today,
03:06
to share my journey with you
and to take you along with me.
03:08
So, we start with the last breath.
03:12
(Breathing in)
03:15
(Breathing out)
03:29
As you noticed, that last breath
in is slow, deep and intense.
03:31
It ends with a special technique
called the carp,
03:35
which allows me to store one to two
extra liters of air in my lungs
03:38
by compressing it.
03:41
When I leave the surface,
I have about 10 liters of air in my lungs.
03:43
As soon as I leave the surface
the first mechanism kicks in:
03:49
the diving reflex.
03:53
The first thing the diving reflex does
is make your heart rate drop.
03:54
My heart beat will drop
from about 60-70 per minute
03:59
to about 30-40 beats per minute
04:02
in a matter of seconds;
almost immediately.
04:04
Next, the diving reflex causes
peripheral vasoconstriction,
04:07
which means that the blood flow
will leave the body's extremities
04:10
to feed the most important organs:
04:14
the lungs, the heart and the brain.
04:18
This mechanism is innate.
04:22
I cannot control it.
04:26
If you go underwater,
even if you've never done it before,
04:27
you'll experience the exact same effects.
04:30
All human beings
share this characteristic.
04:32
And what's extraordinary
04:36
is that we share this instinct
with marine mammals --
04:38
all marine mammals:
dolphins, whales, sea lions, etc.
04:41
When they dive deep into the ocean,
these mechanisms become activated,
04:45
but to a greater extent.
04:50
And, of course, it works
much better for them.
04:51
It's absolutely fascinating.
04:55
Right as I leave the surface,
04:57
nature gives me a push
in the right direction,
04:58
allowing me to descend with confidence.
05:01
So as I dive deeper into the blue,
05:03
the pressure slowly starts
to squeeze my lungs.
05:05
And since it's the amount of air
in my lungs that makes me float,
05:10
the farther down I go,
the more pressure there is on my lungs,
05:13
the less air they contain
and the easier it is for my body to fall.
05:16
And at one point,
around 35 or 40 meters down,
05:20
I don't even need to swim.
05:23
My body is dense and heavy enough
to fall into the depths by itself,
05:26
and I enter what's called
the free fall phase.
05:31
The free fall phase
is the best part of the dive.
05:33
It's the reason I still dive.
05:36
Because it feels like
you're being pulled down
05:38
and you don't need to do anything.
05:43
I can go from 35 meters to 123 meters
without making a single movement.
05:45
I let myself be pulled by the depths,
05:49
and it feels like I'm flying underwater.
05:51
It's truly an amazing feeling --
an extraordinary feeling of freedom.
05:52
And so I slowly continue
sliding to the bottom.
05:56
40 meters down,
05:59
50 meters down,
06:01
and between 50 and 60 meters,
a second physiological response kicks in.
06:02
My lungs reach residual volume,
06:07
below which they're not supposed
to be compressed, in theory.
06:10
And this second response
is called blood shift,
06:15
or "pulmonary erection" in French.
06:18
I prefer "blood shift."
06:22
(Laughter)
06:23
So blood shift -- how does it work?
06:24
The capillaries in the lungs
become engorged with blood --
06:27
which is caused by the suction --
06:32
so the lungs can harden
06:33
and protect the whole chest cavity
from being crushed.
06:35
It prevents the two walls
of the lungs from collapsing,
06:38
from sticking together and caving in.
06:42
Thanks to this phenomenon,
which we also share with marine mammals,
06:44
I'm able to continue with my dive.
06:47
60, 70 meters down,
I keep falling, faster and faster,
06:49
because the pressure is crushing
my body more and more.
06:53
Below 80 meters,
06:56
the pressure becomes a lot stronger,
06:58
and I start to feel it physically.
07:00
I really start to feel the suffocation.
07:02
You can see what it looks like --
not pretty at all.
07:04
The diaphragm is completely collapsed,
the rib cage is squeezed in,
07:07
and mentally, there is something
going on as well.
07:11
You may be thinking,
"This doesn't look enjoyable.
07:14
How do you do it?"
07:17
If I relied on my earthly reflexes --
07:18
what do we do above water
when there's a problem?
07:20
We resist, we go against it.
07:23
We fight.
07:25
Underwater, that doesn't work.
07:27
If you try that underwater,
you might tear your lungs,
07:28
spit up blood, develop an edema
07:31
and you'll have to stop diving
for a good amount of time.
07:33
So what you need to do, mentally,
is to tell yourself
07:36
that nature and the elements
are stronger than you.
07:39
And so I let the water crush me.
07:42
I accept the pressure and go with it.
07:44
At this point, my body
receives this information,
07:48
and my lungs start relaxing.
07:50
I relinquish all control,
and relax completely.
07:52
The pressure starts crushing me,
and it doesn't feel bad at all.
07:55
I even feel like
I'm in a cocoon, protected.
07:59
And the dive continues.
08:03
80, 85 meters down,
08:05
90,
08:07
100.
08:08
100 meters -- the magic number.
08:09
In every sport, it's a magic number.
08:13
For swimmers and athletes
and also for us, free divers,
08:14
it's a number everyone dreams of.
08:17
Everyone wishes one day
to be able to get to 100 meters.
08:19
And it's a symbolic number for us,
08:22
because in the 1970s,
doctors and physiologists did their math,
08:24
and predicted that the human body
would not be able to go below 100 meters.
08:28
Below that, they said,
the human body would implode.
08:33
And then the Frenchman, Jacques Mayol --
08:36
you all know him as the hero
in "The Big Blue" --
08:38
came along and dived down to 100 meters.
08:41
He even reached 105 meters.
08:44
At that time, he was doing "no limits."
08:46
He'd use weights to descend faster
and come back up with a balloon,
08:48
just like in the movie.
08:51
Today, we go down 200 meters
in no limit free diving.
08:52
I can do 123 meters
by simply using muscle strength.
08:55
And in a way, it's all thanks to him,
because he challenged known facts,
08:58
and with a sweep of his hand,
got rid of the theoretical beliefs
09:01
and all the mental limits
that we like to impose on ourselves.
09:06
He showed us that the human body
has an infinite ability to adapt.
09:09
So I carry on with my dive.
09:13
105, 110, 115.
09:15
The bottom is getting closer.
09:17
120,
09:18
123 meters.
09:20
I'm at the bottom.
09:21
And now, I'd like to ask you to join me
and put yourself in my place.
09:22
Close your eyes.
09:26
Imagine you get to 123 meters.
09:28
The surface is far, far away.
09:33
You're alone.
09:36
There's hardly any light.
09:39
It's cold --
09:42
freezing cold.
09:43
The pressure is crushing you completely --
09:44
13 times stronger than on the surface.
09:47
And I know what you're thinking:
09:50
"This is horrible.
09:52
What the hell am I doing here?
09:54
He's insane."
09:56
But no.
09:58
That's not what I think
when I'm down there.
10:00
When I'm at the bottom, I feel good.
10:02
I get this extraordinary
feeling of well-being.
10:04
Maybe it's because I've completely
released all tensions
10:06
and let myself go.
10:09
I feel great, without the need to breathe.
10:11
Although, you'd agree,
I should be worried.
10:17
I feel like a tiny dot,
a little drop of water,
10:21
floating in the middle of the ocean.
10:24
And each time, I picture the same image.
10:26
[The Pale Blue Dot]
10:29
It's that small dot
the arrow is pointing to.
10:32
Do you know what it is?
10:34
It's planet Earth.
10:37
Planet Earth, photographed
by the Voyager probe,
10:39
from 4 billion kilometers away.
10:42
And it shows that our home
is that small dot over there,
10:44
floating in the middle of nothing.
10:48
That's how I feel
10:50
when I'm at the bottom, at 123 meters.
10:52
I feel like a small dot,
10:54
a speck of dust, stardust,
10:55
floating in the middle of the cosmos,
10:58
in the middle of nothing,
in the immensity of space.
11:00
It's a fascinating sensation,
11:03
because when I look up, down,
left, right, in front, behind,
11:04
I see the same thing:
the infinite deep blue.
11:08
Nowhere else on Earth
you can experience this --
11:12
looking all around you,
and seeing the same thing.
11:15
It's extraordinary.
11:18
And at that moment,
11:20
I still get that feeling each time,
building up inside of me --
11:22
the feeling of humility.
11:25
Looking at this picture,
I feel very humble --
11:28
just like when I'm all the way
down at the bottom --
11:31
because I'm nothing,
11:34
I'm a little speck of nothingness
lost in all of time and space.
11:35
And it still is absolutely fascinating.
11:39
I decide to go back to the surface,
because this is not where I belong.
11:42
I belong up there, on the surface.
11:46
So I start heading back up.
11:48
I get something of a shock
11:52
at the very moment when I decide to go up.
11:56
First, because it takes a huge effort
to tear yourself away from the bottom.
11:58
It pulled you down on the way in,
12:02
and will do the same on the way up.
12:05
You have to swim twice as hard.
12:07
Then, I'm hit with another
phenomenon known as narcosis.
12:10
I don't know if you've heard of that.
12:13
It's called nitrogen narcosis.
12:15
It's something that happens
to scuba divers,
12:17
but it can happen to free divers.
12:19
It's caused by nitrogen
dissolving in the blood,
12:21
which causes confusion
12:24
between the conscious
and unconscious mind.
12:26
A flurry of thoughts goes spinning
through your head.
12:30
You can't control them,
and you shouldn't try to --
12:34
you have to let it happen.
12:37
The more you try to control it,
the harder it is to manage.
12:39
Then, a third thing happens:
12:43
the desire to breathe.
12:44
I'm not a fish, I'm a human being,
12:46
and the desire to breathe
reminds me of that fact.
12:48
Around 60, 70 meters,
12:51
you start to feel the need to breathe.
12:55
And with everything else that's going on,
12:59
you can very easily lose your ground
13:02
and start to panic.
13:05
When that happens, you think,
"Where's the surface?
13:07
I want to go up. I want to breathe now."
13:10
You should not do that.
13:12
Never look up to the surface --
13:13
not with your eyes, or your mind.
13:15
You should never
picture yourself up there.
13:19
You have to stay in the present.
13:21
I look at the rope right in front of me,
leading me back to the surface.
13:23
And I focus on that,
on the present moment.
13:28
Because if I think
about the surface, I panic.
13:31
And if I panic, it's over.
13:34
Time goes faster this way.
13:36
And at 30 meters: deliverance.
13:39
I'm not alone any more.
13:41
The safety divers,
my guardian angels, join me.
13:42
They leave the surface,
we meet at 30 meters,
13:46
and they escort me
for the final few meters,
13:48
where potential problems could arise.
13:50
Every time I see them, I think to myself,
13:53
"It's thanks to you."
13:57
It's thanks to them,
my team, that I'm here.
13:58
It brings back the sense of humility.
14:00
Without my team, without all
the people around me,
14:03
the adventure into the deep
would be impossible.
14:07
A journey into the deep
is above all a group effort.
14:09
So I'm happy to finish
my journey with them,
14:13
because I wouldn't be here
if it weren't for them.
14:15
20 meters, 10 meters,
14:18
my lungs slowly return
to their normal volume.
14:19
Buoyancy pushes me up to the surface.
14:22
Five meters below the surface,
I start to breathe out,
14:24
so that as soon as I get
to the surface all I do is breathe in.
14:27
And so I arrive at the surface.
14:31
(Breathing in)
14:33
Air floods into my lungs.
14:39
It's like being born again, a relief.
14:41
It feels good.
14:44
Though the journey was extraordinary,
14:46
I do need to feel those small
oxygen molecules fueling my body.
14:47
It's an extraordinary sensation,
but at the same time it's traumatizing.
14:52
It's a shock to the system,
as you can you imagine.
14:55
I go from complete darkness
to the light of day,
14:58
from the near-silence of the depths
to the commotion up top.
15:01
In terms of touch, I go from the soft,
velvety feeling of the water,
15:06
to air rubbing across my face.
15:10
In terms of smell,
15:13
there is air rushing into my lungs.
15:16
And in return, my lungs open up.
15:18
They were completely squashed
just 90 seconds ago,
15:21
and now, they've opened up again.
15:23
So all of this affects
quite a lot of things.
15:25
I need a few seconds to come back,
15:29
and to feel "all there" again.
15:31
But that needs to happen quickly,
15:33
because the judges are there
to verify my performance;
15:35
I need to show them
I'm in perfect physical condition.
15:38
You saw in the video,
I was doing a so-called exit protocol.
15:40
Once at the surface, I have 15 seconds
to take off my nose clip,
15:43
give this signal and say
(English) "I am OK."
15:48
Plus, you need to be bilingual.
15:51
(Laughter)
15:53
On top of everything --
15:54
that's not very nice.
15:56
Once the protocol is completed,
the judges show me a white card,
15:58
and that's when the joy starts.
16:02
I can finally celebrate
what has just happened.
16:04
So, the journey I've just described to you
16:07
is a more extreme version of free diving.
16:10
Luckily, it's far from just that.
16:13
For the past few years,
16:16
I've been trying to show
another side of free diving,
16:17
because the media mainly talks
about competitions and records.
16:20
But free diving is more than just that.
16:23
It's about being at ease in the water.
16:25
It's extremely beautiful,
very poetic and artistic.
16:27
So my wife and I decided to film it
16:30
and try to show another side of it,
16:32
mostly to make people want
to go into the water.
16:35
Let me show you some images
to finish my story.
16:38
It's a mix of beautiful underwater photos.
16:43
(Music)
16:46
I'd like you to know that if one day
you try to stop breathing,
16:47
you'll realize that
when you stop breathing,
16:52
you stop thinking, too.
16:54
It calms your mind.
16:57
Today, in the 21st century,
we're under so much pressure.
16:59
Our minds are overworked,
we think at a million miles an hour,
17:03
we're always stressed.
17:06
Being able to free dive
lets you, just for a moment,
17:08
relax your mind.
17:11
Holding your breath underwater
17:13
means giving yourself the chance
to experience weightlessness.
17:15
It means being underwater, floating,
17:19
with your body completely relaxed,
letting go of all your tensions.
17:22
This is our plight in the 21st century:
17:26
our backs hurt, our necks hurt,
everything hurts,
17:28
because we're stressed
and tense all the time.
17:30
But when you're in the water,
17:32
you let yourself float,
as if you were in space.
17:34
You let yourself go completely.
17:37
It's an extraordinary feeling.
17:38
You can finally get in touch
with your body, mind and spirit.
17:40
Everything feels better, all at once.
17:46
Learning how to free dive is also
about learning to breathe correctly.
17:49
We breathe with our first breath
at birth, up until our last one.
17:54
Breathing gives rhythm to our lives.
17:59
Learning how to breathe better
is learning how to live better.
18:02
Holding your breath in the sea,
not necessarily at 100 meters,
18:06
but maybe at two or three,
18:09
putting on your goggles,
a pair of flippers,
18:11
means you can go see another world,
18:13
another universe, completely magical.
18:15
You can see little fish, seaweed,
the flora and fauna,
18:17
you can watch it all discreetly,
18:20
sliding underwater, looking around,
and coming back to the surface,
18:22
leaving no trace.
18:26
It's an amazing feeling
to become one with nature like that.
18:28
And if I may say one more thing,
18:33
holding your breath, being in the water,
finding this underwater world --
18:36
it's all about connecting with yourself.
18:41
You heard me talk a lot
about the body's memory
18:43
that dates back millions of years,
to our marine origins.
18:48
The day you get back into the water,
18:51
when you hold your breath
for a few seconds,
18:54
you will reconnect with those origins.
18:56
And I guarantee
19:00
it's absolute magic.
19:01
I encourage you to try it out.
19:03
Thank you.
19:04
(Applause)
19:05

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About the Speaker:

Guillaume Néry - World champion freediver
With just one breath, Guillaume Néry can dive to -125m below the water's surface.

Why you should listen

Guillaume Néry is a French freediving champion, specializing in deep diving. As a multiple world record holder and the double reigning world champion, Guillaume's goals go well beyond the simple realm of sport. With a perfect combination of aesthetics, performance, films and exploration, Guillaume practices his discipline like an art form — it has become his way of life.

Guillaume grew up by the Mediterranean Sea, in Nice. As a child, he used to go diving every summer with his flippers and mask, accompanied by his father, to discover the wonders of the underwater world. At the age of 14, he and a friend took up a challenge: to hold their breath for as long as possible. The simple game became an obsession and led him one day to meet Claude Chapuis, the founder of the international AIDA federation (Worldwide Federation for breath-hold diving). Claude became Guillaume’s mentor.

True to the Nice school of diving, Guillaume devoted all his time and energy to his passion. He made huge progress when working alongside Loic Leferme (5x No-Limits world record holder), who later became a role model, guide and close friend.

In 2002, he became the youngest ever freedive record holder, by diving to a depth of -87m using the force of his fins alone. That marked the beginning of a great adventure. Guillaume then beat the world record 3 times, became the world team champion in 2008 and the individual world champion in Greece in 2011, diving down to -117m. Nowadays, he dives until -125m of depth, the new French record

Guillaume also teaches deep diving at his school, CIPA (in Nice), conducts training, is involved in business life and sets sail across the world's oceans searching for new areas to explore.

However, it was thanks to the film he produced in 2010 with his partner Julie Gautier, Free Fall, that the Frenchman's career truly took off. One scene shows Guillaume walking on a seabed, towards an underwater chasm: the Deans Blue Hole (Bahamas), the deepest blue hole in the world. Suddenly, he jumps into emptiness and starts his free fall into the chasm. In just a few days, these images had been seen all around the world, revealing a new, artistic and poetic approach to freediving.

Since then, the couple has carried out a number of other film projects, including Narcoses or, recently, Ocean Gravity. They also launched their own website dedicated to all their creations: www.lesfilmsengloutis.com

More profile about the speaker
Guillaume Néry | Speaker | TED.com