If you are breathing, you are probably still alive

So what is the most important muscle in the body for a diver?
It is the diaphragm, the muscle that makes the lungs work. It takes strength and energy to suck air through any regulator. More importantly though, breathing changes a divers buoyancy and so moves them up and down in the water. This takes effort too, especially when breathing on the surface when it can become a critical issue.
The diaphragm can be exercised like any other muscle, but there is a lot more to it than that. The diaphragm is part of what the martial artists call the 'chi'. The chi (usually pronounced 'key') is the conduit through which all muscular strength in the body is channeled. The swimmer's legs are anchored against the muscles that make up the chi. A strong swimmer with a strong chi can also channel the strength of their stomach, back and diaphragm to their swimming. A martial artist is taught that the power of their punch (kick) must originate with their chi.

Breathing... Breathing is good for a diver

There are things you can do to conserve air and there is always the issue of skip breathing, but there is also life breathing. There are things you can do with your breathing to keep you alive when nothing else will. This is an important lesson, even if it might seem a bit odd. And it works, powerfully. How do I say it?
If you take up a martial art, music, dance or any number of other sports, you will be told the overwhelming importance of breathing and controlling ones breathing. This context of breathing doesn't get much mentioned in scuba classes. I can tell you how to learn it and what it can do for you, but the reason it works is still mostly a guess to me, but I do know how useful it is. There may be other ways to accomplish this, but if my guess is correct, this is the easiest and best way.
Essentially it's this. Associate a word or words with your breathing. It doesn't even have to be out loud. On inhale, I say "oh" (which is actually hard to say out loud when inhaling) and on exhale I say "ho". Complicated, isn't it. Now do this for a minute or five, while concentrating on doing relaxed, full breathing. In ways, it is like meditating. Like other things to be learned, it takes practice and repetition, but after a while it becomes programmed in. It is not a trick. It is just training through repetition and concentration.
Why in the world would you do this? Well, say I am bicycling hard. For many people, maybe most, what tires and fails first is actually the breathing, not the legs. If you learn this controlled breathing, you can change to it and it will be the legs that give out first and maybe not near as soon as they would have. So how does this help diving? Take it from me, when you are right there at the edge, this can save you. In waves or currents, when you are struggling or perhaps even in danger of losing consciousness, it can give you back control. If you do a sprint underwater and overbreathe your regulator or just overheat, it can get you back in control.
Actually, it can do far more for you than that. My guess is that partly how it works relates to the odd fact that breathing is one thing that can be controlled either automatically or consciously. Words are something that can be handled only by the conscious mind. (Go left. Go right.) Associating words with breathing forges a link between the conscious mind and the body. More than breath control, it leads to an awareness of your body functions and status. It is something that will serve you at far more than diving or other sports, including if you find yourself quite ill and weakened.
Controlled breathing teaches self control of the body and mind. It's potential is great if you want to pursue it.
Oh, I'm sorry. Your instructor did explain all that in AOW. Oh well... then just forget I said it.

I will mention here, that you can carry this too far. With this skill well developed, you can just stay down too long. It's a case common to diving though, if you're pushing to the edge, you're blowing it anyway. Really though, I don't worry about people making mistakes too much though, because by the time you learn to really use the potentials of this, you will probably have learned enough to not do something too stupid with it. Still it is a hypnotic based skill and you can over extend your body in a number of ways if you want, including straining muscles and joints. I even learned how to release adrenaline while sparring... Gives your partner a real thrill. You can do the same thing without this method of training. Also, it's a bit like a martial art. You can learn to be a very dangerous person, but much of learning to fight well, is actually learning control. In diving, competition and life, it makes you less likely to be careless of the skills you do learn.

While on the topic of breathing, here are a couple of other thoughts. Being able to extend bottom time is generally considered the mark of a good diver. It indicates that they are relaxed, controlled, physically fit and that their body has adapted.
There are also methods a diver can learn to extend their air such as exhaling slowly. Skip breathing is a common issue. It is when a diver holds their breath between inhales and exhales or between exhales and inhales. It is considered risky for a few reasons and causes headaches for many divers. Still, in ways, that is what every experienced diver does.
A thing to remember though is that, usually, a diver is an athlete participating in a demanding sport. Sometimes we are slowly swimming in calm water, but if there is a current or the diver is swimming at all fast, they are doing a fair amount of physical exertion. That is not a good time to be restricting ones breathing. As a matter of fact, it is antithetical to the heightened physical activity. The point of all this is that conservation of air is a good idea and a fine goal, but should certainly not be carried too far. For a hunter who solo dives, like myself, it is certainly not a good idea. One of the things I do for safety is try to breathe naturally. It does not conserve air, but it is one thing I can do to reduce certain risks.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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