skinny dip with a buddy and breathe

Skinny-dip with a buddy, and breathe

The Ama (海女, or ‘woman of the sea’) have mastered the art of breathing. Since 700 A.D, these women have been free diving for pearls on the shores of Japan. Often needing to go as deep as 20 meters, for a minute or two at a time before surfacing to breathe, they fill their baskets with jewels from the sea.


Free from bottles, wet suits and hardly a single shred of clothing – these mermaid-like creatures accomplish their task through a very clever trick: just before gliding down into the belly of the ocean, the Ama floods her body with oxygen, through hyperventilation. By taking short, shallow breaths, the human body expels all excess carbon dioxide, replacing it with O2 – a helpful resource for surviving underwater. Clearly, there is much for us to learn from these water-dwelling women.

The plunge

Like the Ama, holiday is our hyperventilation: we immerse ourselves in sunlight, wrap ourselves in love, and flood our lungs with blue skies. When the calendar ticks over, we plunge into the new year – still tripping on ocean breeze and oxygen when we write down those resolutions. We are amped to clean out the belly of the ocean!

However, it doesn’t take long for the chest-pain of hypoxia to kick in. Swimming upstream can take out all the energy we gathered while drifting in the sun. Diving too deep too soon can also drown out all of our reserves, and – before reaching our true depths – our sense of direction gets shuffled like a deck of cards. Unless we breathe.

How we dive:

Surface regularly

Breathe for a minute. Dive for a minute. Breathe for a minute. Dive for a minute. Breathe for a minute. Dive for a minute…

An accomplished diver (or breather) – called a funado, can dive up to 75 times a day, her labour earning her as much as $100,000.00 USD in 2 months. For her, time spent on the surface is not wasted: it is her source of life. She understands that the aim is not to stay under for as long as possible, but to find the perfect rhythm between rising and sinking; diving and breathing. Pearls are her source of livelihood. Breathing is her source of life.

The buddy-system

The Ama’s lifeline to the surface is a single rope: on one end, a weight keeps her grounded; on the other end, a partner keeps her alive. As soon as he feels the tug, the Ama’s partner reels her back to the boat – but it is the Ama’s duty to give the tug.

Do you have a life-line, and – more importantly – who is holding the other end?

Dipping skinny

How many weights, wet suits, bottles and pieces of equipment are you carrying for other divers? It’s not uncommon to gather these like seaweed and barnacles along the way. What starts out as a good idea: gearing up to get the ‘most out of life’ – spending excessive energy, time and resources to keep us at the bottom –  often sink us in the end. Which begs the question: Are there unnecessary weights that you can drop this year, so you can travel freely between sun and sea?

So, in the spirit of the Ama, I urge you again:

Surface regularly.

Secure your life-line.

Dip Skinny,



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