My story about my friend Kiera who teaches both scuba diving and yoga on the island of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand – and the connection between the two – has been published by Fah Thai magazine.
Last December I went to visit my friend Kiera on Koh Phi Phi to find out more about the connection between yoga and scuba diving. I’d never tried yoga before but I was curious to give it a go – and, much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. I think the spectacular outdoor setting beneath Phi Phi’s limestone karsts at sunset helped, and Keira was a great teacher too for a complete novice like me. Below is the complete article that was recently published in Fah Thai magazine. You can find out more about learning yoga or diving (or both!) with Kiera at Keiritasyoga.com.
Scuba diving and yoga don’t normally get mentioned in the same breath, but Chris Mitchell discovers on Koh Phi Phi that together they provide a new form of enlightenment
“Scuba diving is the new yoga.” It sounds like a complete contradiction in terms: scuba is usually seen as a high risk adrenaline sport that involves close encounters with sharks, while yoga is considered a serene, mystical experience practiced by impossibly flexible devotees. Yet there is a growing recognition that scuba and yoga actually complement and reflect one another, and that practicing both together can be extremely beneficial for your physical and mental health.
Thailand’s world famous island of Koh Phi Phi is home to one such progressive practitioner of scuba diving and yoga, Keira White. Originally from Ireland, Keira abandoned a burgeoning career in New York in 2001 after discovering scuba diving on Koh Phi Phi, and has returned to the island continually ever since. Already a yoga convert before being certified a scuba diving instructor, Keira traveled to India in 2006 to study at The Yoga Institute in Mumbai and became a yoga teacher. Wanting to teach both yoga and scuba diving, Koh Phi Phi was an obvious choice for Keira to make her home.
Despite its breathtaking natural beauty, arriving on Phi Phi can be quite a shock for those expecting a quiet place to find themselves. The island’s inhabited area is a maze of tiny streets which are thronging with Thais and tourists alike day and night. “It’s like a tropical Manhattan.” Keira laughs. “The lack of space available for development and the high cost of living seem to contribute to the high intensity atmosphere of the island. That actually makes going diving and practicing yoga all the more important.”
Keira regularly conducts yoga classes at sunset in the open air on the roof of one of Phi Phi’s beachside bars, with a spectacular view out over Ton Sai bay and the towering limestone karsts that surround it. The bustle of the street below is forgotten as she takes beginners alike through a class that is at once calming and invigorating, outlining the basics of yoga positions and the concepts of meditation and breathing that help bring peace to the mind. Keira is keen to demythologize yoga to make it more accessible, but also stresses that “it’s a philosophy or a way of life, not just a means to physical training and fitness.” Keira teaches the Ashtanga Yoga system, which emphasizes moral principles and personal discipline as the foundation on which the postures and meditational practices of yoga must be built.
So how can scuba diving, with all its heavy tanks and bulky gear, have any similarity to yoga? “The link between yoga and diving is quite significant on a meditative level more than a physical level,” Keira points out. “Meditation has many different levels and most people have a form of personal meditation be it walking, running, reading, singing, playing a musical instrument or, as is the case here on Phi Phi, diving.
Meditation, in simple terms, is being so immersed in an action or contemplative state that all else is blocked out and one has an overwhelming sense of peace and connectedness to the life energy of the earth and universe.
Personally I feel closest to this inter-connected energy when I am diving. One hour underwater can feel like five minutes because I am totally absorbed by what I am seeing – the amazing movement of the hundreds of different fish and the sheer beauty of living corals never gets old.
Like yoga, scuba is all about breathing. The focus on long slow deep breaths, the weightlessness of the body and the silence that’s imposed by being submerged underwater all provide an ideal environment for being at peace with yourself.”
In this way, a regime of scuba and yoga while on holiday can work wonders for quietening the mind and allowing people to focus on both themselves and what is really important within their lives, away from the endless distractions of work.
Despite the benefits of practicing scuba and yoga together, for some the thought of submerging underwater is enough to induce a panic attack – especially if they’ve watched Jaws one too many times. But diving is actually misnamed as an adrenaline sport – most dives are usually peaceful affairs and with little physical effort besides the odd kick of your fins. The sensation of hovering in midwater is immensely liberating, the nearest most people will get to experiencing near-zero gravity like an astronaut.
Thailand’s warm waters provide the perfect place to beat the fear and try scuba diving – the sensation of breathing underwater feels very strange at first but soon dissipates. As Keira points out, “Diving can be relatively stressful when you’re learning the basics, but once you’re through the learning curve there’s not only a great sense of achievement but a whole new underwater world to explore”. The payoff for making the effort to learn scuba diving is huge, both in terms of enjoyment and the escape from the everyday world
As such, what seem at first like complete opposites turn out to be the perfect complement to each other – and Thailand is the ideal place to practice both scuba and yoga, combining as it does spectacular scenery above and below water that allows people to explore the inner space of the oceans and their own minds.