Bali is world-renowned for retreats that take a holistic approach to healing that looks at the entire person—body, mind and spirituality—rather than just a sum of parts and symptoms to be investigated individually. And some might be surprised to find that now this multi- disciplinary philosophy is also being applied to diving. Pioneered in Bali by Mahendra Shah, Zen Harmony Diving is a system that combines scuba diving and snorkeling with meditation, yoga, pranayama, or controlled breathing, and Ayurveda. “We are all made 70 percent of water and spend nine months floating in amniotic fluid in the womb. What better way to place yourself in a meditative world, and become completely present, than through diving and snorkeling,” Shah says. “Usually people want to go diving straight away. We don’t encourage that, but give them a consultation first to see what their mental and physical condition is like, and how they breathe.”
In the Zen Harmony Diving philosophy, the ocean can be used as a pathway to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual therapy. The practice enables divers to explore Bali’s fascinating marine flora and fauna while enjoying meditative clarity through controlled breathing and free flow physical exercise in an underwater environment, which is around 800 times denser than air. The Zen Harmony Diving experience begins with a consultation, during which divers meet with a diving expert, as well as Ayurveda and yoga professionals, who assess their physical and mental well-being. According to a Zen Harmony Diving instructor, Arnaud Gonzalez, thorough preparation before a dive can make a world of difference. “We help divers learn key breathing techniques, as well as meditation, yoga, and Ayurvedic exercises to make them feel more comfortable in the underwater environment. Mediation makes it easier for people to relax during a dive, yoga prepares the body for the dive to ensure that people don’t get cramps, pull muscles or injure themselves, while premayana helps people breathe slower and deeper,” Arnaud says. “After the dive, we work with each person to remove any excess nitrogen from their system, and to calm the mind and the body.”
To facilitate a meditative diving experience, Zen Harmony Diving utilizes full face dive and snorkeling mask systems, which allow users to breathe naturally through the nose while under water. Traditional diving equipment requires the use of an air tank that is connected to a breathing mouth regulator, which is not a natural way of breathing. “The problem with traditional diving and snorkeling equipment is that you need to breathe through a tube with your mouth. This does not allow natural deep breathing,” says Shah. “To solve this problem, an Italian company came up with a new mask model around three years ago, that we now use. It is an all-in mask that covers your whole face and comes with a tube so you can comfortably breathe either through the mouth or the nose.”
As a part of the pre-diving process, Shah offers Zentsu, an adaptation of Watsu—shiatsu that takes place in water—to diving and snorkeling. The 30-minute treatment, which usually takes place in the pool, involves floating on the surface of the water—both face up and face down in a full-face mask—with the help of a therapist to relax the body and mind. Shah says that Zentsu can be particularly helpful for anxious divers. “Zentsu is meant to bring our mind back to our experience in the womb. After saying a mantra in Sanskrit, the therapist starts rocking you at the frequency of the womb. Within five minutes, many people go into the fetal position with some almost becoming unconscious. It is an extremely healing experience and allows divers to focus on their breathing pattern.”
Shah says that Zen Dives promotes awareness not just of ourselves, but also the issues affecting our oceans and marine life. Divers are encouraged to pick up rubbish if they encounter any during their dive and participate in beach clean ups organized by Zen Dives on the 28th of each month.
Zen Dives offers two programs, one for beginners and one for those who are already certified. The packages run from three to ten days, and are flexible in terms of what is offered and the dive sites. Zen Dives also offers a full range of PADI courses.
Some Zen Harmony Diving Locations
Zen Reef Puri Jati – A micro diving site a five-minute drive from the Zen Dives Resort in north Bali. The marine life in the area includes seahorses, stargazers and mimic octopus.
Menjangan Island – An island in north-west Bali famous for its rich marine life and healthy coral. The numerous diving spots on the island boast caverns, dramatic walls, steep drop-offs and even a 19th-century wreck.
Pemuteran – The location of the largest coral reef restoration project in the world. Lots of healthy soft and hard coral, fascinating biorock coral nursery structures and a small underwater temple.
Tulamben – Home of the U.S.A.T Liberty shipwreck, which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during World War II. Today, the shipwreck abounds with a huge variety of marine life.