Loïc Vuillemin: the freediving champion monk

- through Sophie Solere

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One can be a Buddhist and become a real sporting champion. The monk Loïc Vuillemin is the best example: certified Zen Master in 2013, he is now one of the best freedivers in the world. Listening to him, there is nothing contradictory about it, quite the contrary.

On his t-shirt, the Japanese pictograms are translated into Roman letters, just below – deep zen – with white writing on a black background. As a symbol: black is for the underwater depths that Loic Vuillemin travels regularly and where he discovers a world more opaque than any of the darkest nights he has ever known. White, for the meaning of this journey and for the smile he draws from it, once brought to the surface: "Apnea is one of the most liberating experiences that I have been given to live", sums up he simply.

Not for lack, however, of knowing a ray of it in the quest for Awakening and in the search for oneself. Because, on a daily basis, Loïc Vuillemin has been Master Kosho since 2013. This does not prevent him, once underwater, from becoming a true champion, one of the best in his category. At the world championships which were disputed in Villefranche-sur-Mer (Alpes-Maritime), in September 2019, Loïc Vuillemin competed with the national team of Switzerland, where he grew up in the 1980s. Result, a 9th place in the competition without palm, more than honorable for a first participation. He also still holds several national records, in constant weight, monofin and bifin, and in free immersion, where he reached 84 meters. Enough to make him say, with humor, that he is "the deepest monk"!

“If you're tired of losing your breath, learn to hold it. »

A way, for Loïc Vuillemin, to recall that Buddhism and apnea are two closely linked practices. Moreover, the 84 meters of his record owe nothing to chance: 84 is also his rank in the line Deshimaru, which he claims. With a Zen monk father – Master Keisen Vuillemin – and a Taoist mother, his Buddhist destiny was written from childhood, experimenting with samu and sangha from an early age. It is therefore quite logical that he received the ordination of a monk, at just twenty years old. Apnea, meanwhile, is revealed to him much later. In 2012, precisely, when, suffering from the heat on a beach in Thailand, he was challenged by a leaflet with the devastating message, “if you are tired of losing your breath, learn to hold it”. This invitation to discover freediving is a trigger that actually awakens an old dream, dormant for much longer: Loïc Vuillemin remains marked by the film The Big Blue, with these scenes where Jean-Marc Barr (playing Jacques Mayol) trains with a monofin… “I found it wonderful to be able to swim like a dolphin. But for a long time I believed that it was not accessible to ordinary mortals, that predispositions were needed! recalls Loïc Vuillemin.

“Holding your breath is a moment of intimacy with yourself that allows you to get to know yourself better. It is the embodiment of mind-body practice. »

Since then, he has changed his mind and repeats it like a mantra: you are not born a freediver, you become one. He was convinced of this from his first dives, where strange feelings collide: if he says he immediately caught the "virus" by living an almost mystical experience - "We dive into an elusive horizon, we don't see nothing, but you have the impression of being in the presence of the entire cosmos, it's a very special feeling" -, Loïc Vuillemin also admits frankly that he needed to face deep and unexpected fears, at the moment throw it into the water: "It shook me up, I felt that it was not normal to have archetypal fears generating this feeling of limit, it is precisely necessary to know how to transcend them as a monk... This requires great self-involvement”. Rich, therefore, is the confrontation of this new practice with his teachings as a monk: "Apnea implies a mental peace which makes it a deep form of meditation", write Nik Linder and Phil Simha, authors of a book by reference on question (1). The legendary Umberto Pelizzari also said: “Scuba diving is for looking out, freediving is for looking in”.

Today, the revelation of apnea has become a certainty: "It's obvious", he says, convinced that mastery of breathing opens up great discoveries. “We still know too little about the physiology of the human body in such circumstances, but I think that apnea can become a real healthy lifestyle and a very good therapy. At the Caroux Zen temple where he was then living, near Montpellier, Loïc Vuillemin spent some time training monks in different pranayamas, these breathing exercises that he directly compared to anapanasati, a Buddhist meditation technique: “Straightening the posture, controlling the diaphragm, all this allows us to better understand the vital principle which resides in the breath. And what it really means to breathe”.

“Apnea is merging with water, the most powerful of all elements. »

Sometimes, his enthusiasm for freediving clashes a little in the more traditional circles of Buddhism. But Loïc Vuillemin likes it. And he assumes it fully: as a Buddhist monk, it must be said that the colossus (1,98m for 93 kg), bald and with a grizzled goatee, does not quite have the look, with his sports sunglasses and his black and yellow jacket in the colors of the Lakers, the famous Los Angeles basketball franchise. Married and the father of an eleven-year-old daughter, he does not hesitate to attack a "clergy" sometimes too austere for his taste, as well as "the sweeteners that have been added to the life of the Buddha to make it a new fashion. “: “All forms of organized religion involve these risks of abuse”, sums up the one who readily defines himself as a “post-modern” free electron.

However, the teachings of "Shakyamuni" remain his first compass, and Loïc Vuillemin today praises the wisdom of Matthieu Ricard, "probably one of the most altruistic beings on this planet". For Loïc Vuillemin, his path in Buddhism was simply enhanced by the practice of apnea: “Holding your breath is a moment of intimacy with yourself which allows you to get to know yourself better. It is the embodiment of the practice of the body-mind”, he sums up. An approach that has more to do with meditation than with sport, according to him: that's good, at forty-three today, he did not necessarily envisage a career at the highest level... This n is not the competition that he came to seek in the practice of freediving: “The universe of freedivers is a community filled with gentleness, delicacy, emotions and sharing (…) Practicing freediving, c is to merge with water, the most powerful of all the elements. Freediving is a hymn to the joy of living fully,” write Nik Linder and Phil Simha at the conclusion of their book. A definition that suits Loïc Vuillemin perfectly.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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