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Taking yoga on holiday

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I recently spent a week on a liveaboard halfway through an intense fitness training period, so I had to think of some ways to keep fit onboard. I packed my yoga mat, swimsuit and skipping rope with the hope to finding time to do all three. Little did I know how relentless the diving and eating timetable is!

First of all I wasn’t able to swim because each dive site had a risk of sharks patrolling the surface waters. Not wanting to come face to face with an oceanic white tip, I willingly complied. Skipping seemed a good idea at the packing stage but finding the space and time to do this outside of the hottest hours of the day was tricky.

Which left me with yoga. On all the days we dived except two (when wakeup was 4:45am!) I spent 20 – 30 minutes on the top deck waking up my body with sun salutations and a short breathing exercise. I’d come down to the diving deck raring to go while the others were still wiping sleep from their eyes!

An hour after the last dive, and before dinner, I spent some more time stretching out my shoulders, upper and lower back from the pressure of the heavy scuba gear. I also focused on core strength exercises for improved stability in the water. Although I wasn’t able to fit in any cardio training, I think that 3 hours of frog kick up, down and around reefs helped to at least maintain what i’d built-up in the weeks prior to my holiday.

So if you’re on a diving holiday this summer and want to keep body and mind in tip-top shape while you’re there, here are a few suggestions:

– yoga is best performed before eating so you may need to get up earlier, or delay the post-dive beer a while to fit in a session before food
– stick to seated exercises if the boat is moving, or rocking
– don’t use shoulderstand, headstand or other poses bearing neck weight in case the boat suddenly moves
– try to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed

 

Guided Yoga Exercises

For guided yoga sessions you can register for the OMdiver yoga programme to receive videos (if you have WiFi onboard or at your hotel) and audio files (which you can download onto an mp3 player). Alternatively you can follow the seven exercises suggested below.

 

7 yoga poses for a liveaboard

Breath awareness

 

Spend a few minutes with your hands on your belly breathing deeply so that you feel the hands rise and fall. Breath in: bely swells, breath out: belly contracts.

Then deepen your breath for two minutes more by breathing first into the belly and then into the chest. To breath out let the chest fall first, then the belly. A hand on the rib cage can help guide your breath upwards into the chest.

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Cat Stretch

Position yourself on all fours – hands under the shoulders, knees under the hips. Breathe IN tilt the pelvis lift the head and the back arches downwards. Breathe OUT pushing your back upwards, dropping the head and gazing towards your navel. Repeat 5 – 7 times.

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Back strengtheners

From the position of the pose above, pick a point a few feet in front of you to direct your gaze to help with your balance. Don’t try this one if the boat is moving! Breath IN lift your right arm and left leg to shoulder/hip height. Breathe OUT bring arm and leg down. Breathe IN lift left arm and right leg, breathe OUT to release. Continue for one minute.

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Downward Dog

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This pose hits the spot on so many levels. Stretches the calves and hamstrings to relieve tension after finning. It keeps the ankles flexible for fin position. It eases tension from the lower back, stretches the shoulders and the arms. The action of the pose also stimulates the relaxation response so this is a good pose to do at the end of a diving day.

Side bends

Come into a cross-legged position. Breathe IN and slowly take your left arm over head as you bend to the right side. Go as far as is comfortable for you, until you feel a stretch in the left side ribs. Take 3 – 5 breaths here, breathing IN deeply to create an extra stretch in the left side of the rib cage. To release breathe OUT and slowly take the left arm back to your side. Repeat on the right side, taking the right arm overhead.

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Arm stretches

1) Breathe IN taking both arms up slowly above your head, clasping the fingers at the top and turning the palms upwards. Stretch up. Breathe OUT to slowly release the hands down by your sides. Repeat two more times.

2) Take your left elbow in your right hand and gently draw it over to the right side, slightly behind your head (you may need to tilt the head down). This stretches the triceps. Hold for 5 breaths

3) Then take the left arm in front, pressing with the right hand at the wrist to create a stretch through the top of the shoulder (deltoid) and tricep muscle. Hold for 5 breaths. Repeat 2 and 3 on the right arm.

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Twists

To finish stay in cross-legged position for a rejuvenating twist. Breath IN lengthening the spine upwards by sitting upright. As you breathe OUT turn slowly to your right starting with the base of the spine and allowing the rotation to spiral up the spine to the middle, upper back, shoulders and lastly the neck. Use your left hand on the right knee to aid the twist. Stay for 3 – 5 breaths. Breathe OUT to slowly release back to the starting position. Repeat to the left.

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Relaxation

Spend 3 – 5 minutes lying on your back now, feet out wide to the corners of your mat, arms slightly away from the body with palms facing upwards. Close your eyes and relax to the gentle movement of the boat. When you finish take your time getting up, stretch a little at first and then slowly make your way to sitting.

Equipment

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As you see in these pictures I took my yoga mat on holiday with me, which gave cushioning against the wooden floors of the boat and has an anti-slip surface. However if you don’t have space for a full-sized rolled up mat, it’s still possible to take a yoga mat with you. Many manufacturers are now selling thin full sized mats, or mats that can be folded, such as shown here. In this case they take up the same amount of space as a towel for example. If even that is too much space, you can buy grip gloves and socks to enable you to practice on any surface.

Rebecca Coales runs the agency OM Diver http://www.omdiver.co.uk/ and leads the Bristol Freediver group. She started Scuba over 20 years ago, and yoga in 2009. She started competitive freediving at the start of 2013 and has found both the physical and mental elements of yoga a huge benefit. On 31 July 2013 she set a new UK female National Record for Dynamic No Fins (DNF), which is underwater breast-stroke swum in a pool. That's 120m on one breath!

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Alonissos: The complete diving destination (Part 1)

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In June we were incredibly fortunate to be invited to dive in Alonissos, a small Greek Island in the Sporades island chain located in the North Aegean Sea.  While I have long been a big fan of the Greek Islands as a great holiday destination, I had not had the opportunity to do any diving on previous visits and Mike and I were extremely excited to see what Alonissos had to offer both above and below the surface!

The Sporades are easily accessible via the airport in Skiathos (the first island in the chain), which is served by Jet2 flights from all major UK airports from May through October.  Numerous ferries and charter boats make island hopping from Skiathos Town a breeze.  After an hour boat ride, the picturesque port of Patitiri was a wonderful introduction to Alonissos, where we were met by our gracious hosts Kostas of Albedo Travel and Dias of Alonissos Triton Dive Center.  Mike and I were delighted to be staying at the Paradise Hotel, aptly named for its stunning views over the sea and great location for walking to the waterfront.

Alonissos is beautifully situated in the National Marine Park of Alonissos and the Northern Sporades, the largest marine protected area in Europe.  The surrounding seas offer fabulous marine life, including incredibly rare species such as the Mediterranean monk seal.  They boast deep walls covered in gorgonians and sponges, stunning topography with caverns, swimthroughs and pinnacles, and the first accessible ancient shipwreck from 500BC!

In locations where historical sites have been reported, the waters are largely restricted, but with collaboration between government, underwater archeologists and dive centres, incredible underwater museums are being created for a truly unique diving experience.  Alonissos is home to the first of these, the Ancient Shipwreck of Peristera Accessible Underwater Archeological Site.  The chance to dive into history (along with reports of healthy reef life and amazing underwater topography) meant Mike and I were keen to get in the water.

Our introduction to the diving around Alonissos was at the Agios Georgios Pinnacles, in the channel between Alonissos and Skopelos.  This fantastic site was named “The Chimney,’ and proved to have a huge amount to see.  We got to a decent depth here (over 25m), and marvelled at a colourful reef wall with a wonderful swim through whose rocky walls were absolutely covered with life.  As well as brilliant topography there was no shortage of macro life here.  We saw numerous nudibranchs, five different species in total.  The second dive at Mourtias reef nearby was a shallower dive along a nice wall with lots of crevices. Several moray eels and grouper called this site home.  We enjoyed looking in the crevices for lobster and smaller benthic life, such as cup corals and tunicates.

Our itinerary allowed us two dives a day with afternoons left to explore the island with our hire car and evenings to enjoy the famous Greek hospitality.  This proved to be a lovely mix of in-water and land based diversions.  

The next days diving to the Gorgonian Gardens and Triton’s Cave was to be even better!  These two stunning sites are nothing short of fabulous.  The Gorgonian Gardens was a deep wall near to the Agios Georgios islands.  The ever-present currents in this deep channel meant that the sea life was amazing … the namesake Gorgonian sea fans dotted the wall at a depth of 30 to 50 meters, getting ever larger the deeper we went.  Above 30m was by no means less beautiful, with sponges, corals, scorpionfish, moray eels and some rare and colourful nudibranchs.

The second shallower dive of the day was to Triton’s Cave or the Cavern of Skopelos, on the east side of that island. The spectacular rock formations had wild striations both above and below the water making a truly epic topography.  The cavern entrance was at 14m, and big enough for a buddy pair, winding up to 6m and passing two beautiful windows out into the blue.  Emerging from the cavern, the light at the shallower depths and the incredible rock formations made for a fantastic gentle swimming safety stop and we all surfaced by the boat with massive grins. 

Check out our next blog :Alonissos: The complete diving destination (Part 2)” to hear about our amazing dive on the 2500 year old Peristera Wreck!

Thanks to:

Alonissos Triton Dive Center https://bestdivingingreece.com/

Albedo Travel https://alonissosholidays.com/activities/

Paradise Hotel https://paradise-hotel.gr/

Alonissos Municipality https://alonissos.gr/en/

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Mamma Mia! Diving Skopelos (Part 2)

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Our second days dive itinerary was to the famous Christoforos wreck! This is arguably the best dive in Skopelos and though only open to divers with deep diving experience, this 83m long wreck is well worth the visit.  

The Christoforos sits in 43 meters of water with the deck at 32 to 35 meters.  A 30m dive can give an impressive view of the wreck, though such a large wreck needs a few dives to truly do it justice.  Given its ideal location just a 2 minute boat ride from the dive centre dock it is an excellent first dive of the day.  The sheltered site is also diveable in all but the absolute worst weather so although deep, the water is usually clear with little to no current making it a very pleasant dive.  The site is superb for technical diving and a great training site for the Tec 40 and 45 programs, offered by Skopelos Dive Center.  

The Christoforos wreck was originally a collier ship built in 1950 at Grangemouth shipyard under the name “Thomas Hardie”.  In 1976 she joined the Greek merchant fleet as “Christoforos”.  On the 2nd of October 1983 the Christoforos was carrying 2600 tonnes of cement from Volos to Piraeus Port. During the voyage the weather turned, resulting in the ship developing a 7 degree list, whereby she changed course for safe anchorage at Panormos, Skopelos.  The ship reached Panormos at 16:00 with a list of 17 degrees and water ingress to No. 1 hull.  Though attempts were made to right the vessel, the crew were ordered to abandon ship at 22:00.  The captain, lieutenant and the quartermaster remained to try and save the ship, but had to abandon the attempt themselves and the Christoforos finally sank at 05:30 on 3rd October 1983.  She now sits upright in 43 meters of water less than 200m from shore in Panormos.

Diving has only been allowed here since 2018, so the wreck is very well preserved and a real treat to dive.  Permission to dive here was granted by the authorities after lots of incredibly hard work by the Skopelos Dive Center staff.  Having a fantastic wreck in such an amazing location and in excellent condition is a real privilege.

Of all the sites in Skopelos this was the site Mike and I were most keen to experience.  Having kitted up and zipped across the bay to the mooring, we left the surface and followed the descent line until the wreck emerged spectacularly from the blue at 15m.  She is a big and beautiful wreck, sitting as though calmly continuing her journey along the seabed.  With most of her original features still intact there were points of interest everywhere, including the anchors, winches, ships telegraphs, the wheel and RDF antenna.  

We found that aquatic life had colonised the ship, with schools of fish, electric blue nudibranchs, a large moray eel and the resident scorpionfish lurking inside the bridge.  The Christoforos was truly a stunning wreck and despite maximising our time at depth we eventually had to say our goodbyes and begin the slow and steady return to the surface. 

After a superb morning dive we had the afternoon to do a little sightseeing of the island, with a trip to the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri made famous by the blockbuster movie “Mamma Mia!”. Mike and I spent a happy afternoon pootling around in our little hire car before meeting up with Lina from Skopelos Dive Center.  An underwater archeologist as well as a dive professional, Lina had offered to show us a rather special attraction, the Christoforos shipwreck Digital Spot public information and awareness centre.

A fantastic initiative made possible from the collaboration of the government and hard work of the staff at Skopelos Dive Center is the “Digital Spot” in Agnontas port.  This information center has a number of displays on the history of the Christoforos wreck, the process by which the wreck was allowed to be opened to the public for diving tourism, other sites of historical interest in the area, a video of the wreck and the best bit, a virtual reality dry dive experience!  The beauty of the VR system is that non diving members of the family can see what you have seen on the wreck, or you can see areas that you may not have explored during the dive due to time or depth limitations.  It was a truly immersive experience and a great addition to the dive itself.

After a wonderful day we celebrated our last evening on the island with an exquisite meal in Skopelos Town with fabulous views over the town and bay, washed down with the excellent local wine.  The lamb with lemon and potatoes was a meal which I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life! 

Skopelos is an island that truly has it all.  The diving is excellent, the landscape is beautiful with plenty of non diving activities, the locals friendly and the food and drink superb.  Given how accessible it is as a holiday destination it has avoided becoming overcrowded and even in peak season offers a fun yet relaxing atmosphere.  We highly recommend giving Skopelos a visit.  We will certainly be back again!

Thanks to:

Municipality of Skopelos (https://skopelos.com/

Skopelos Dive Center  (https://sporadesdiving.gr/)

Ionia Hotel (https://www.ioniahotel.gr/en)

Dolphin of Skopelos (https://dolphinofskopelos.com/)

Ta Kymata restaurant (@takymata)

The Muses restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/TheMussesMousses/)

Aktaiov resturant (https://skopelos.com/listings/aktaion-taverna/)

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