It is no longer a secret that the key to unlocking our potential—for healing or for increased well-being—can be found in our breath. Despite the multitude of breathing techniques available on the market, there is one technique that is often overlooked: holding your breath. 

Do you find the idea of purposefully holding your breath reckless? Although it may seem uncomfortable, breath-holding can be a powerful tool to unlock your potential and has a lot of positive effects. 

When practiced with the right techniques, the improvements to your health and well-being can be significant. Let’s explore this idea and some of the positive effects of holding your breath.

What Is Breath Holding?

Breath holding refers to the act of suspending inhalation or exhalation for a brief period of time. Practicing controlled breath-holding techniques promote a series of positive physiological and psychological responses such as the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response.

The Science Behind Holding your Breath

Our bodily functions are so closely linked to our breathing patterns, and breath-holding can play an important role in regulating these functions. 

Here are some of the responses that occur when you hold your breath: 

1. The respiratory system

When you hold your breath, the oxygen levels in your blood decrease temporarily while carbon dioxide levels rise. 

What happens next is referred to as the “mammalian diving reflex”, where your heart rate and blood flow slows down to conserve oxygen for the organs that need it most. 

This reflex is something that can be trained with breath-holding techniques, resulting in improved breath control and lung capacity.

2. The cardiovascular system

Breath holding can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure as the body tries to compensate for reduced oxygen. 

However, research indicates that with consistent practice, breath holding can lead to a more efficient circulatory system and improved cardiovascular health.

3. The nervous system

Naturally, when you hold your breath the body is meant to perceive a state of mild stress thanks to your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight). 

With the help of regular breath holding practices, studies indicate that you can train the nervous system to adapt and enable you to manage stress more effectively.

4. Diaphragmatic strength

The diaphragm is the primary muscle responsible for breathing, which means you can strengthen your diaphragm as you can train any other muscle. A strong diaphragm means deeper, more efficient breaths. 

Breath-holding strengthens this muscle, leading to increased lung capacity and enhanced physical performance. 

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3 Breath Hold Techniques Beneficial for your Health and Well-being

With regular practice, the positive effects on your health and well-being are immense, and the best part is that you can practice from the comfort of your own home.

Here are three breath hold techniques that are beneficial for your health and well-being.

#1. Basic Breath Hold (Voluntary Apnea)

This is the most straightforward of the breath-hold techniques, but it should be exercised with caution. 

It involves breathing in deeply through the nose, then holding your breath for as long as is possible without causing too much strain. 

Once you’ve reached your limit, continue with a slow, controlled exhale out the mouth. 

Benefits

Drawbacks

Strengthens diaphragm, improves carbon dioxide tolerance, and evidence suggests that it may positively impact inflammation.

Holding your breath after a full inhale can put strain on the lungs, and can result in a loss of consciousness due to oxygen deficiency. 

For beginners, this exercise should not be practiced without supervision. 

#2. Cyclic Hyperventilation or Wim Hof Method

This technique involves cycles of rapid breathing where you inhale deeply followed by a passive sigh 25-30 times. 

Once the cycle is complete, finish with one last exhalation, and then hold your breath for as long as is comfortably possible. 

The cycle can be repeated for up to five minutes for increased results. 

To avoid fainting or dizziness it is essential to practice this technique while sitting or lying down. Cyclic Hyperventilation should not be practiced while in water.

Benefits

Drawbacks

This method boosts immunity, enhances focus, improves energy, and promotes stress reduction.

The rapid breathing can be uncomfortable or overwhelming for beginners. With time, it can also affect CO2 tolerance which could reflect in your everyday autonomic breathing pattern.

#3. Box Breathing (4-4-4-4)

Box breathing is a simple practice involving four steps, all set to a four second count. This technique is used by the Navy Seals to help soldiers manage stress. 

Begin by breathing in slowly to a count of four, hold your breath for four seconds, then exhale slowly for four seconds, lastly hold your breath for four seconds before repeating the cycle. When you are adapted to this technique, gradually increase the duration of the 4 phases, for example do a 5-5-5-5, then 6-6-6-6. Keep going step by step, letting your body and mind cope and improve their abilities.

Benefits

Drawbacks

Physiologically box breathing helps regulate breath, increases oxygen intake, and lowers blood pressure. Psychologically, it is known to help with controlling and managing emotions. 

There don’t seem to be any. However,  be mindful of the strain level you expose your body and mind to. Holding your breath requires a gentle approach and should always be guided with pleasure. If not, your brain will enter in protection mode and holding your breath will have more negative effects than positive ones.

Also read about: How Square Breathing Can Help Relieve Anxiety and Stress: A Simple Guide

The Oxa Life Advantage

While holding your breath may seem like an unusual practice, the science behind it reveals an array of potential physiological and psychological benefits. Oxa’s device enables you to practice breath-holding safely and effectively, whilst learning on the way. 

In order to unlock the true potential of your breath, you can also use the Oxa breathing device to generate live biofeedback.

FAQ

Q: Can I perform breath-hold techniques anywhere?

As long as you are in a safe and comfortable environment, breath-hold techniques can be performed in most situations. You may be seated or lying down and you must never perform breath-hold techniques while  driving, or in the water if nobody, with breath holding experience, watches you.If you are a beginner, supervision is advised. 

Q: What is sympathetic arousal? 

Sympathetic arousal is the body's "fight-or-flight" response, triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. It increases heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure to help you deal with stressful situations.

Q: What is biofeedback? 

Biofeedback is a technique that uses devices to measure your body's functions (like heart rate or muscle tension) and provide you with feedback in real-time. This can help you learn to control these functions.

Q: How long does it take for results to show with breath holding exercises?

For certain individuals, results such as improved energy and increased calm may be evident immediately. Regular implementation of these breath holding exercises will yield greater and more sustained results. 

Published:
July 15, 2024

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