Scuba yoga: Combining my two passions

Having found my way into scuba diving journalism, I wanted to find a unique angle for my next article. I found a resort in Grenada with a newly launched scuba yoga course. With scuba diving and yoga being two of passions, I was keen to see how they could be combined. Would scuba yoga be the perfect blend of my two hobbies or a just a fad?

My scuba yoga article below was published in Diver magazine in January 2016.

The un-still life

Appeared in DIVER January 2016

From underwater cadavers to wrecks, rebreather try-outs and the intriguing concept of scuba yoga, MELISSA HOBSON sets out to discover how much she can pack into a week in Grenada

Scuba yoga Grenada

Meditating with Gerlinda from Aquanauts as part of our scuba yoga course

Bodies below the surface

From the boat, someone screamed at the sight of bodies just below the surface. Thankfully, the corpses were in fact the eerie Grace Reef – a series of concrete figures lying on the ocean floor. Grace Reef is part of Grenada’s Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. Peter and Gerlinde Seupel, owners of Aquanauts Grenada, always explained the “bodies” in dive briefings after that incident!

Created by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, the sculpture park was designed to re-establish coral reefs and promote marine-life growth following the destruction caused by hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Emily (2005). Created from environmentally sensitive materials, they provide a surface to which coral attaches itself, attracting life to the reef while giving natural reefs a chance to regenerate.

Despite this positive environmental impact, the park has its downsides. “When cruise-ships come in, there are so many people there that you’re like Jesus – walking on water without getting wet!” joked Peter. The huge numbers of tourists attracted by the sculptures increases the chance of damage to the reef as novice snorkellers knock the coral. As the park expands to other sections of the reef the strain is expected to decrease, and on the day of our visit we were the only divers, so it was our private exhibition.

The Ring of Children
Jason de Caires Taylor's the Ring of Children

Scuba yoga in Grenada: Diving at the Ring of Children

As we descended, indistinct shapes appeared in the water before us. This was one of the collection’s most recognisable sculptures: the Ring of Children. The ever-changing appearance of these life-size figures holding hands in an outward-facing circle is fascinating. Their features, clear and crisp when sunk in 2006, are blurred and distorted by new growths, making each face unique.

Dappled light from the surface seems to change the expression of each child, as if amused by fish brushing against their cheeks, or the octopus creeping up one boy’s leg.

We wound over seagrass beds to the Buccaneer, a 13m sloop deliberately sunk nearby. The strong current swept us straight to its far end, and we had to shelter to fight our way back to see other sculptures: The Un-still Life, a table with bottle, fruit bowl and vase with coral creeping across it like mould; The Lost Correspondent, a man working at a typewriter as fish dance between his fingers; Christ of the Deep and several more. Others were so swallowed up by coral that it was unclear whether they were man-made or an interesting natural shape.

dive dive dive

Getting ready to dive – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

The seahorse

Back on the boat we refuelled on bananas, hot divers’ tea and gingersnap biscuits before jumping back in at Flamingo Bay, which was teeming with life: a baby angelfish, spotted moray, honeycomb cowfish, lettuce sea-slug, banded coral shrimps, false arrow-crabs, trunkfish, cowfish, flounders, grouper, an octopus, a huge gnarled scorpionfish and a juvenile drum – even a spectacular flying gurnard fanning out its electric-blue fins in a dazzling display.

Scorpionfish by Arti, Aquanauts

Scorpionfish – image courtesy of Aquanauts Grenada

Instructor Paul pointed at some purple coral. Puzzled, I swam closer and realised that a wild seahorse was holding on with its elegant tail. Well-camouflaged, you could lose sight of it by blinking.

We enjoyed a cup (or two) of rum punch as the ship brought us back to the boutique True Blue Bay Resort. The heavens opened, and we hoped that the storm wouldn’t churn up the bottom too much before we dived the renowned Bianca C the next day.

Heading back on the boat

Heading back to shore

The “Titanic of the Caribbean”

This “Titantic of the Caribbean” was a 180m cruise liner that sank in 1961 after an engine-room explosion started a fast-spreading fire. Of more than 600 passengers there were only two fatalities. This was mainly thanks to the rapid response of Grenadians who used their own boats to carry out rescues. The ship blazed for two days and sank while being towed out of the harbour to be beached elsewhere.

The imposing wreck leans to starboard, the port side falling in towards the centre. I was in good company on this dive.
Lois, an American on our boat, had dived Bianca C 12 years earlier. She told me how much the wreck had changed. For example, we all “went for a swim” in the second-class pool – “the world’s deepest swimming pool”. Lois remembered swimming in the first-class pool, which is no longer visible as a result of the ship’s collapse.

In the past three years several sections have collapsed, but as Bianca C disintegrates, new aspects are revealed. Aquanauts once found a whole section of the ship fallen in to expose a 1960s industrial dishwasher. On another dive, a VW car.

We enjoyed a drift-dive at Purple Rain, a 24m reef consisting of two parallel ridges and named for its numerous purple Creole wrasse, which can resemble a rain shower pouring over the edge of the ridges. Filefish, honeycomb cowfish, spotted trunkfish, barracuda, cleaner wrasse, a red heart urchin and a huge green moray were in attendance. Not to mention false arrow-crabs, cleaner and banded reef shrimp and a menacing-looking lobster.

Looking for a rare fingerprint

Throughout the week we found lots of the sea snails known as flamingo tongues but there was no sign of its relative the rare fingerprint cyphoma. That was, until we dived Kohani Reef.

I heard Lois squeal excitedly beside a large fan coral, where her son Jody had found a beautiful fingerprint, its intricate swirling markings distinguishing it from the dotted flamingo tongue. As we admired its distinctive patterns, we spotted another just a foot away and, on the other side, three more clumped together. You never know what might be hiding in plain sight.

The Shakem

The Shakem was a cargo ship travelling from Trinidad to Grenada in May 2001 when she took on water and sank. The cement-bag cargo turned to concrete, dragging the vessel to the seabed in only 12 minutes. The crew just had time to save themselves, and the wreck lies intact at around 30m.

If Bianca C had become “much more of a wreck”, Lois felt that Shakem had become more picturesque in the 12 years since she had dived it. White telesto coral had settled on its surfaces like fallen snow. The wheel, stairs, crane and the bags of cement were all intact.

On a recent closed-circuit tec dive to the engine-room, the Aquanauts team had found the German signs on the walls, and tools lined up perfectly on shelves.

Well-preserved and with nice swim-throughs, the sergeant-majors guarding their purple egg patches made Shakem come alive. There was also an array of the usual reef fish, including elegant French angelfish, and an octopus curled inside a pipe. Instructor Reece found a heavily pregnant red frogfish about to pop at any moment. Like seahorses, frogfish give live birth, and Reece predicted that she would be a lot slimmer the next day.

Eels, jawfish and pufferfish

At Dr Groom’s Garden we spotted a sharptail eel slithering across the seabed and a juvenile jack knifefish, which could easily be mistaken for a juvenile drum.

On Reece’s instruction, we waited at a seemingly empty sand patch until a yellow-head jawfish popped its head out of a tiny hole. It peered around like an underwater meerkat. Another followed, then another, and before long we could see more than half a dozen swimming just above the sand.

Our lookout for “the big stuff” at Lighthouse Reef didn’t start well. The visibility had dropped to about 7m, and my mask wouldn’t stop fogging. We were taunted by just-missed creatures – a patch of sand with the clear outline of a resting sting ray; the flick of a retreating reef shark’s tail in the distance. Then, suddenly, everything appeared at once. An enormous pufferfish, then a 2.5m nurse shark lazing under an overhanging rock, an adult drum and a row of five lobsters watching us like something out of Gogglebox.

Trying a rebreather
Rebreather lesson

Trying out a rebreather – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

During the week Aquanauts took me through my nitrox qualification so I could try out a Hollis Explorer recreational rebreather. Having been shown how to put the equipment together and perform system checks, it was time to kit up and try it in the pool. Its chic white backplate wouldn’t have looked out of place in an Iron Man movie.

Rebreather pic

Rebreather lesson in the pool – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

Rebreather trial

Testing out the rebreather in the pool – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

I was surprised how difficult it was at first. I kept popping up like a cork. Even once I’d added more weight, being unable to inhale deeply or exhale to tweak my buoyancy was unnerving. After some practice, I was able to swim along the bottom of the pool without shooting to the surface, feeling slightly embarrassed that something so basic was such a challenge. The Aquanauts team were however patient and encouraging.

Rebreather pool

Trying the rebreather in the pool – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

Rebreather - checking settings

Testing the rebreather – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

“Something’s wrong,” I thought as I hit the water for my rebreather dive at Glovers Reef. Everything was silent and I had to suck hard at my regulator to get air. Was my tank turned off? After a split-second, I remembered that the lack of bubbles was the point. Aquanauts had warned me that it would seem slightly harder to breathe in an upright position.

Rebreather ocean

Rebreather dive in the ocean – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

I relaxed and began to enjoy the silence. The rebreather’s green light winked in the corner of my eye. I knew that if the red warning light came on I could change to an open-circuit tank at the flick of a switch.

Buoyancy

Although better than in the pool, my buoyancy, frustratingly, wasn’t entirely under my control. Changing depth even slightly alters your buoyancy and, without having fully practised, you could start to float away. I caught myself automatically breathing on full or empty lungs to adjust my position before realising it would make no difference.

Enviously watching Reece expertly navigate the coral reef, I felt like a new diver again, repeatedly floating up and kicking back down. Yet experiencing how close you can get to fish without scaring them was awe-inspiring. We swam through a school of reef fish that barely noticed us, parting at the last minute so close that they almost brushed our cheeks. A nurse shark was undisturbed by our presence until an open-circuit diver approached and it darted away from the noisy bubbles. I had to agree with Peter from Aquanauts: “This is the future of diving.” I just hope I get more practice to master it!

Nurse shark on dive

Nurse shark passing us – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

Scuba Yoga

Aquanauts also offers a Scuba Yoga course. The concept may sound odd, but the two disciplines perfectly complement each other. In diving, as in yoga, you need to be focused on the present moment and quality of breath, not distracted by other thoughts.

This three-day scuba yoga programme consists of yoga and meditation classes, a pool session and two open-water dives. The course aims to help divers improve their confidence, buoyancy and experience in general.

Scuba yoga was designed to help anxious divers relax and maintain a positive mindset during a dive. It also helps them consume less air and relax the shoulders and back to minimise tension put on them by the tanks.

Throughout my week, I took part in several yoga sessions at True Blue Bay’s open-air Sankalpa yoga studio, with views over the beautiful bay. After a rejuvenating class to stretch and prepare for the dive, I was ready to give scuba yoga a try. I waited on the spotless white sands of Grand Anse beach for the boat to pick me up.

Grande Anse Beach

Waiting on the beach

After our briefing, we sat quietly on the ship’s bow, steadying our breathing and visualising the dive. We checked our kit and jumped in for our scuba yoga dive. We achieved neutral buoyancy and practised hovering in the Buddha position before following the anchorline towards the cargo vessel.

Pre dive meditation

Meditating on the boat

Meditation on boat

Meditation – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

Exploring the exterior, we focused on maintaining long, steady breaths. At the large open hold we tested how different yoga positions were affected by weightlessness. After struggling with buoyancy on my rebreather trial, it was good to be in control again; hovering in various positions and playing with forward and backward rolls.

The Last Days

As we swam back towards our ascent line we spotted two seahorses, one orange and one yellow, resting on the nearby reef. The perfect sighting for my last dive.

Seahorse by Arti, Aquanauts

Seahorse – pic courtesy of Aquanauts Grenada

I had a full day before my flight, so Magdalena and Russ at True Blue Bay organised a day-trip around the island with exceptionally knowledgeable guide Edwin from A&E tours. We visited waterfalls, Belmont Estate chocolate factory, a rum distillery, the serene Grand Etang lake and more. For those with more time, True Blue can organise other activities from river-tubing to rum-tasting and cookery lessons. There’s plenty to do in Grenada – and over the week I had managed to experience a fair bit of it.

Island yoga

Island yoga tour with Mit Sukha – pic courtesy of Aquanauts

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Melissa flew with BA from London Gatwick, www.ba.com/grenada
DIVING: Aquanauts Grenada offers daily guided two-tank boat dives plus courses and scuba yoga packages, www.aquanautsgrenada.com
ACCOMMODATION: True Blue Bay Boutique Resort, www.truebluebay.com
WHEN TO GO:Year-round, but best in dry season, January-April. Rainy season is June-November.
MONEY: Eastern Caribbean or US dollars.
PRICES: Dive Worldwide offers nine days at True Blue Bay from £1615pp, based on two adults sharing on a B&B basis, including return flights and transfers and 10 boat dives with nitrox for qualified divers with Aquanauts, www.diveworldwide.com. Separate Aquanauts prices: 10-dive package US $510, nitrox course $136, Rebreather Explorer Try-Dive & pool session $199, Scuba-Yoga course $268.
VISITOR INFORMATION: www.puregrenada.com