If you read my post from last year about my idea that Jeju Island, South Korea’s famed haenyo or women divers have been using some version of the method world record-holder Wim Hof uses to withstand extreme cold, you know that I promised to look into the matter more and do some interviews with the divers themselves. I have done so, and thus far have heard some interesting things from divers around the island. As this isn’t the main focus of what I have been investigating here on Jeju Island, I haven’t allocated a lot of time. But I have made it a point to ask divers about their breathing and cold exposure techniques when I’ve had the chance. I did a number of interviews on the topic itself.
First, I want to say what I am not claiming. I’m not claiming that Jeju Island’s now Unesco-recognized divers use a deliberate method of breathing and meditating before entering cold water in the winter months like Wim Hof does. Some people who have corresponded with me have assumed this is what I am saying, though clearly in the original post I specified that is not what I’m saying. Also, I’m not trying to discredit Wim Hof or the divers. Wim Hof is well aware that certain cultures around the world have developed techniques for cold resistance such as the Tummo monks of Nepal. And no, I’m not saying that the divers are using the exact Wim Hof Method. It would be ridiculous to claim that, as most of the elderly divers have been working since Wim Hof was just a child or before his birth even.
What I’ve learned thus far, what I have gleaned from conversations with the haenyo, has been interesting. The haenyo have told me that they execute their breathing pattern every time they dive, including the well-known, but historically rarely captured on film ‘sumbi-sori’, the whistling sound they make upon exhaling when they break the water’s surface. In the present era, each diver’s sumbi-sori sound is distinct. In fact, divers can recognize one another by the precise sound they make when they break the surface. The sounds range from a huffing, strong but short exhalation to the classical whistling sound that the haenyo are known for. In the present era, the whistling sound is actually quite rare. Most divers have more of a huffing sound, but there are villages where almost all divers still use the whistling sound.
Here’s what I’d like to say about the sumbi-sori sound. It seems to me from interviews that there are two types of breathers amongst the divers. There are those who studied the whistling technique from their mothers or someone else in the family and then there are those who use the huffing method. Divers have told me that the women who use the whistling method are often the best divers who can catch a lot, and work for long periods. This comes from interviews with just several divers, but it has led me to guess that the whistling sumbi-sori, not the huffing sumbi-sori, is sort of a classical method that the divers probably all once used. So far, my interviews have not been with the actual whistlers but only with women who use the huffing technique. In the original studies done on the cold water diving of the haenyo, before the use of the modern wetsuit, when divers stayed in cold water up to an hour in the wintertime, it is noted that there are some women in each village who had an ability that far exceeded the ability of the others. There are also exceptional things shown in the studies of the blood work of some women, that show a very special adaptation to cold exposure. Much like Wim Hof. Next, I’ll need to be interviewing women who use the whistling technique and have been diving since the time before the use of the wetsuit began in the 1980s.
As long as I’m on Jeju Island, I’ll keep looking into this and will follow with some ‘official posts’ on the topic. I know nothing about diving and I gather that every free diver is extremely careful to make use of proper breathing technique. I have seen that some free divers around the world even adapt a sort of whistling sound when they come up for air. It may even be a natural tendency. Yet the whistling of the haenyo seems to be formalized, and the real kicker is the cold exposure plus breathing method, which is key to what Wim Hof does. The haenyo are one of only a handful of people in the world who have developed cold water resistance and were studied by mostly Japanese scientists for over twenty years. To see what their research says and why I think the haenyo might have been using a breathing technique that aids in their cold-exposure tolerance, check out my original post. It’s a bit technical, but it lays out the theory.
Orignal Post below:
Wim Hof demonstrating his breathing method: