The whole thing came to my attention at a diving course for kids. I lectured them on equalization. Most of the kids though appeared to equalize hands-free, while in freediving this is rare, although the inner tiny muscles involved are the same, please see part 1.
There are some issues with hands-free in real life. Equalizing hands-free often involves useless muscles. Some of those are "helping" by creating additional pressure up from the larynx to nasal cavity. This "help" makes us lose air through the nose, bubbling it from under the mask, or swallowing it. Divers have plenty of air, but in freediving this may become a problem. Also the vocal fold gets a bit more tired with additional air pressure equalization while holding the lungs sealed for mouthfill.
As competitive freedivers we are no different from all freedivers, we all have equalization issues and early turns. So it would be nice to improve every aspect of equalization. After feeling somehow lost, we went digging this hands-free thing.
A simple DIY gadget helped to unlearn useless efforts involving unnecessary muscles. This is sort of an equalizemeter [picture]. I made it out of an olive-shaped nasal-wash nozzle and an old-style blood pressure gauge.
Connecting one nostril through the nozzle to the gauge and pinching the other nostril and keeping the lips sealed, and making the equalization movement, while the gauge needle is still, - that'd be evidence of the right way to equalize hands-free. On the contrary, if unnecessary muscles of the throat, tongue, cheeks get involved, the gauge needle will move.
Learning hands-free equalization we want the needle to stand still, as we observe and eliminate all unnecessary muscles involvement.
Obviously the wrong way to make the needle stand still is to not do any equalization at all. In this case we won't have the usual feel of equalization in the eardrums at all. That's the wrong option: no equalization, no needle movement. No equalizing muscles at all are tensing.
The right option for the standing still needle and thus for saving air for deep dives is to open the tubes but without overblowing the eardrums outwards. During a dive, the inward-buckled drums would flatten, without going further out.
Often freedivers do over-blow or push air into the ears, making the drums buckling outwards. In diving or in relatively shallow freedives that's o.k., while in deep freediving it makes us lose the air much needed for deepwater equalization. So it is useful to carefully re-learn equalization muscles movement, eliminating all pressure-building and drums 'outwardnness'.
Here is an exercise we imagined to learn precise hands-free equalizing on land: 1 - Make a negative pressure in the ears and drive drums inwards by moving down the jaw and the larynx while holding the nose pinched and lips sealed. 2 - Relax throat, jaw, vocal fold. Despite that, the drums will stay buckled in. 3 - Use your equalizemeter while hands-free equalizing: try to feel the drums flatten without any movement of the gauge needle. 4 - Repeat and repeat until you learn the feeling of the eardrum flattening. 5 - In dives you'd look for this flattening feel instead of outwards drums feel. If the auditory tubes open up only a little, instead of pressure-blowing air into the ears, try to move the jaw down and forwards, it may help opening the tubes some more. This movement is more efficient than flexing your pressure-blowing muscles. The next issue in hands-free equalization is often the control of the soft palate detailed in the part 1 of this post. The soft palate is visible in the rear-up of the open mouth and it provides an opening from mouth to the nose from where the auditory tubes link it all to the ears. We will address this issue in the next post. And eventually in the next post we'll look into continuous vs. intermittent hands-free equalization.