In this short article, I wanted to share with you all a couple of tips regarding breath preparation before Freediving (holding your breath).
Before we move on to the good stuff, it is very important to cover some physiology basics: a huge common mistake amongst breathworks practitioners is that deep, active breathing (both inhale and exhale) actually helps oxygenating the body, thus allowing more oxygen to be carried and therefore leading to more comfortable, longer breath holds.
The truth is that, even if we are doing hard breathing or tidal breathing (which is the way our body naturally breathes, calmy, barely perceivable, like when you are asleep), the oxygen concentration in our blood will still always be 96-99%. Our muscles are also usually at their full oxygen-carrying capacity.
What changes when we start breathing fast or more actively (hyperventilation), is that we start releasing more carbon dioxide from our body, which is basically our natural, primary indicator of the “urge to breathe” as we keep holding our breath.
When people start feeling that initial “physical discomfort” during their breath holds, this is not due to the lack of oxygen or “lack of air in the lungs”, but rather the accumulation of Carbon Dioxide, which triggers different alarms in our body as a response to the increasing levels of acidity.
To make it short, breathing hard before a breath will only get your Co2 levels down critically, which means you will not have your natural alarms to guide you and give you an idea of what stage of the breath hold you are facing, which might lead to a mild hypoxia scenario or even a blackout.
Now that you now a little bit more about physiology, lets quickly jump to our small list of tips for you to practice next time you hold your breath, in order to achieve the safest, longest and most comfortable breath holds.
HOW TO BREATHE BEFORE HOLDING YOUR BREATH
1. Longer exhalation than inhalation – when we exhale, our heart rate decreases, so extending the length of the exhalation, even for a brief moment, can help calm the body and mind and reduce oxygen consumption.
TIP: Try first practicing a gentle breathing pattern, inhale in a count of 4 seconds and exhaling in a count of 12 (exhale three times longer than the inhale)
2. A pause at the end of the inhalation and exhalation – this helps slow the breathing rate when the tendency is to increase it..
TIP: The pause at the end of the exhalation should be longer than the one at the end of the inhalation
3. Relaxed – a passive inhalation and a passive exhalation so there is no strain on the intercostal or stomach muscles and the heart rate is kept low.
TIP: Try slowly feel your eyes getting heavier, check your body and make sure every part of your body is soft. Keep breathing as relaxed and passive as possible, as if you were about to fall asleep.
4. Usually through the mouth, if we are wearing a mask
TIP: Experiment with your preparation: try breathing only through your mouth, with the snorkel if you are facing own, only nose, nose-mouth. Find your own relaxing breathing.
5. Belly Breathing – Expand the stomach, filling the lower region of your lungs completely. Your rib cage and chest shouldn’t move
TIP: Put one hand on your belly and the other one in your chest. Make sure that, as you breathe, belly rises and ribs and chest remain flat, without moving at all.
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