How to Hold Your Breath Like David Blaine, World Record Holder (and Now, Me)

222 Comments

Last night, world-famous magician and endurance artist David Blaine taught me how to hold my breath.

For four months, David held the Guinness world record for oxygen-assisted static apnea (holding your breath after breathing pure oxygen): 17 minutes and 4.4 seconds. His record was then surpassed by Tom Sietas on September 19, 2008. David’s record for doing what I’ll describe is between 7 and 8 minutes.

I was born premature and, unlike David, I couldn’t then remember the last time I held my breath for more than one minute. It has always been my physiological Achilles heel.

What were the results of his training?

My first baseline test: 40 seconds.
15 minutes later: 3 minutes and 33 seconds (!!!).

Out of roughly 12 TEDMED attendees he also taught, all but one beat Harry Houdini’s lifelong record of 3 minutes and 30 seconds. One woman held her breath for more than 5 minutes. Here is a photograph of the session. I’m sitting in the vest, four people to the right of Roni Zeiger, MD, Google Health product manager.

Here’s how we did it…

The David Blaine Method

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT ATTEMPT IN WATER OR WITHOUT PROPER SUPERVISION.

First and foremost, this is not a joke. David himself has almost died on several occasions. See 2:15 forward for a warning:

Moving onward to the method, which we did seated.

These notes were taken on a scrap of paper while performing the exercises. Much of it was written after I lost almost all sensation in my hands following the purging exercises, and after colors began to morph. After 3:20–I really, really wanted to beat Houdini’s record–I was shaking. Needless to say, this means these cliff notes are a bit shaky and may not be 100% accurate.

FYI, the above side-effects are common.

Definitions:

Deep breathing: “Deep breathing” involves taking a big breath in through the mouth, holding for one second, and then exhaling for 10 seconds through your mouth through your almost-closed mouth with tongue pressed against your lower teeth. It should be a hissing exhalation and make a “tsssssss…” sound. All breathing and exercises are performed though the mouth.

Purging: “Purging” involves a strong exhalation as if you were trying to blow a toy sailboat across a pool, followed by a big but faster inhalation. David’s cheeks were puffed out as he demonstrated the exhalation (imagine the big bad wolf blowing the pigs’ homes down). Be careful not to heave or rock back and forth, which wastes oxygen. Keep as still as possible.

Semi-purging: Breathing between the above two. More forceful than deep breathing but less forceful than full purging. Used for recovering after each time trial.

The Steps:

1:30 deep breathing
1:15 purging (if you feel like you’re going to pass out, do it less intensely)

Hold breath for target 1:30, no more
After 1:30:
Take 3 semi-purge breaths

1:30 deep breathing
1:30 purging

Hold breath for target 2:30, no more
After 2:30
Take 3 semi-purge breaths

2:00 deep breathing
1:45 purging

Hold breath for as long as possible
After exhalation:
Take 3-10 hard semi-purge breaths until your recover

Other Observations

David’s record using the above method: 7:47. His heart rate dropped below 20 beats per minute

He had us move our right index finger slightly every 30 seconds or so while holding our breath to indicate we were alright. More motion would waste O2.

He also suggested, and this was incredibly useful, going from A to Z in your head during time trials, visualizing a friend for each letter whose name starts with that letter. Use celebrities or historical figures when needed. This serves to distract you from the fact that you’re holding your breath.

If you continually check your time, it seems you hold your breath for less time. It is the opposite of the above. Too much focus on the time creates tension. All of the test subjects, myself included, had a harder time holding their breath when David announced the time every 5 seconds vs. 30 seconds. If I do this a second time, I will have someone else watch the time for me.

Do not let any air out whatsoever after taking your big inhalations for the time trials. This is important protective training for water-based breath holding. Why? If you pass out in the water (not good), you want the uncontrolled release of bubbles to indicate to those supervising that you’ve passed out.

It is easier to hold your breath if you haven’t eaten for 4-6 hours. It is also easier to hold your breath if you have less body mass to support. David will purposefully lose 30+ pounds during serious training to improve his lung-to-body volume ratio.

Want More?

I’ve finally met someone who screws with their body as much as I screw with mine. There are some incredible possibilities.

Would you like to see more on this blog with David Blaine? If so, follow him here on Twitter to let us know. He has a hell of lot to teach, and I’d enjoy more body hacking and mischief.

###

Odds and Ends:
Tim Ferriss – Most Popular Blog Posts
Tim Ferriss on TED – Swimming Hacks, Dancing, and More

Posted on: October 30, 2009.

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222 comments on “How to Hold Your Breath Like David Blaine, World Record Holder (and Now, Me)

  1. Fascinating article, Tim! Just found your blog and your twitter and can’t wait to read more from you! Interestingly, my priest just gave me a copy of Letters From a Stoic a couple of days ago.

    Like

  2. 17 minutes? That’s crazy! I can’t even imagine how painfully agonizing that would be.

    Maybe I’ll give this a try when I need a fun party trick (or want to pass out).

    Like

    • You will find that freedivers have quite a good explanation for what Mr. F is doing there. It is called hyperventilation and considered the most dangerous practice in freediving right after diving alone.
      If you are looking for structured information and training for longer breath holds, then consider taking a freediving course with one of the established agencies worldwide (AIDA, Apnea Academy, SSI, FIT, …) . That way you will be less likely to risk you life unnecessarily.

      Like

      • Yup, hyperventilation is very dangerous for freediving. You exchange risk for performance. From what I understand, Hyperventilating not only oxygenates your blood but also drops your CO2 levels really low. The strong urge to breath is caused by High CO2 concentration in the blood before low oxygen causes the same reflex. This allows you to get into more dangerous territory with more likelihood of passing out.

        Like

      • JP,

        This is mostly true, however it is a common misconception that hyperventilation saturates your body with O2. Regular breathing provides 98-99% O2 saturation. You’re correct in that what hyperventilation does is depletes CO2 so that the urge to breathe comes much later than it should, sometimes too late (when freediving). Although there are certain rare occasions for very few people, it’s quite accepted that low O2 does not offer any type of reliable feedback with regards to the “urge to breathe” or any reliable physiological messages with respect to how long is too long without O2. Elevated CO2 is what gives us the “need to breathe” message” and hyperventilation skews this to an unsafe level when underwater. For this reason hyperventilation should never be practiced for any apnea practice where water is involved.

        Like

  3. Makes me think of Kundalini yoga. I’ve never tracked time while practicing breath retention (kumbhaka in yogic terms), but have experienced all kinds of physical sensations similar to what is described above. It usually makes me euphoric, with a pins and needles sensation throughout my hands, head and face. Other than during Kundalini pranayama, I’ve experienced these sensations only once when having a deep tissue massage done on my abdomen targeting my liver, and on numerous occasions during particularly passionate love encounters. Fun stuff.

    Like

  4. There’s always a scientific way to make something better. I used to try to hold my breath longer just by doing it over and over. I got up to 2+ minutes. Amazing you got so far in such a small amount of time.

    Like

  5. Hi from Italy? Did you do it under water? My actual personal record is between 3 and 4 minutes, so I guess that with your method I could improve quite a lot :)
    Thanks for sharing great informations, as usual.

    Like

    • I can get 4 minutes without this exercise, or any exercise other than some slow, deep breaths for about 40 seconds before my huge gulp of air. so this method should help me out too, i’m a little worried that because i can already do it for an average of 3:30, that i might go past the safe limit for the brain.

      Like

  6. I once tried to do this in college. Every so often on the swim team we would do an exercise where we would swim 10×50 (fifty yards, ten times with roughly 30 seconds of rest in between) and attempt to do each one without taking a breath.

    I decided to take this one step further and see how far I could go while holding my breath. About 65 yards into it things started to go a little dark, but I was determined to make it to the wall and make the full 75 yards. I swam the last couple of strokes in darkness and then hit the wall. I stood up suddenly gasping for air. The sudden standing and lack of breathing caused me to momentarily pass out while I was standing at the end of the pool. I busted my chin on the gutter and had to leave practice.

    One of our female assistant coaches was really freaked out by the whole thing. (the obvious issues of trying to hold your breath in the pool) After this little incident our head coach decided to forbid future breath holding competitions.

    Like

    • Sounds like shallow-water blackout. Oxygen debt is part of the mechanism, but not the whole story. Hyperventilation reduces CO2 in the blood. Blood CO2 levels are the trigger for the feeling of panic which makes us want to breath. We experience O2 deprivation in the muscles, not the brain. Hyperventilation allows oxygen debt without panic. Oxygen debt is a necessary condition for shallow-water blackout, but it is apparently a drop in pressure that triggers the sudden loss of consciousness. Going black is a pretty good sign of oxygen debt, and you can lose consciousness through oxygen debt alone, but a drop in pressure leads to a sudden onset, even if you have a lungful of fresh air.

      If you are going to hyperventilate, you need to monitor you muscles. Sluggishness and heaviness in the muscles means you are on your way to trouble.

      Like

    • I could only ever get like 1.50 like and I was dieing and once in a hot tob got 2.22. But After doing this method. I got 3.01 and I trying it again yesterday and got 3.19 and I tried today and I got 3.38.I can get 2.30 without even hurting now. I am so happy. I can’t wait till I reach 4 mins even though my goal is 5.30 minutes

      Like

  7. Something else occurred to me.

    If you do this just sitting in a chair somewhere, is there any risk of something negative happening to your health? At some point wouldn’t you just lose consciousness and then start breathing again?

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    • It’s good for freedivers who are trying to better their breath hold, mermaids (not as rare as they used to be) and on that term, other underwater performers like the dancers of weeki watchi, and camera people who focus on ocean and other water environments. Oh, I also understand surfers need to be able to hold their breath pretty well, so training with this could come in handy I’m sure.

      Like

  8. That is crazy. Thanks for the notes. I think training like this would be particularly useful for some extreme situations in the water where you need to conserve energy (riptides, stranded, etc.) Probably dovetails nicely with yoga.

    Like

  9. Just broke 3:30 after only doing the 1:30 cycle. Amazing!

    And I didn’t even breath heavy afterwards, like I used to after about 60 seconds without those breathing exercises.

    Once again Tim, great stuff!

    Like

  10. I totally enjoy holding my breath underwater, what i found helped the most was spending a couple of weeks at altitude and then returning to sea level the results are amazing.

    Like

  11. “David holds the Guinness world record for holding his breath”

    Actually, no… He held one of the records (there are multiple types) for a brief period though…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Blaine#Guinness_World_Records

    “Ultimately, Blaine held his breath for seventeen minutes four and a half seconds, surpassing Colat’s previous mark of sixteen minutes thirty-two seconds. This was Blaine’s first Guinness record and it stood for almost four and a half months, until surpassed by Tom Sietas on September 19, 2008.”

    Like

  12. I’d definitely love more body hacking. I can’t wait for the book as well.

    We used to play a fun game in the pool. In circular pool (usually above ground) you can get the entire pool spinning by simply running around it in circles for several minutes. Then by hyperventilating before hand you can hold your breath for long periods of time (we weren’t quite as sophisticated in technique). Then you can basically surf under the water as the water spins.

    Like

    • Definitely a “no” for extending tank time. This is known as “skip-breathing” among scuba divers, and is one of the things you are taught not to do. Too dangerous. Stillness and calm are the secrets to save extension of tank time.

      Like

  13. Thanks for another great technique Tim!

    There is a grand competition going on here right now for the best time. I had never gone past about 2 mins 30 secs before and I just hit 4 mins 6 secs on my first try.

    There is nothing like a bunch of geeks locked in breath holding combat to bring in the weekend.

    Like

  14. Cool post.

    I actually just started messing around with this myself. I’ve been taking baths – just laying there vegetating – but I usually dunk my head under and hold my breath for a while. I can do it comfortably for 40-50 seconds.

    I’ve suspected “purging” could be helpful. A couple years ago I was reading Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson and he gave an exercise to try the yogic “breath of fire” for 100 breaths, which is basically hyperventilating, followed by 100 slow deep breaths through the nose. After maybe about 10 breaths through the nose I thought to myself “I could be here for hours if I actually finish this exercise” because I just barely felt the need to breathe anymore.

    Like

  15. Absolutely love this. It’s just one of those wacky skills you don’t really need but are awesome anyway. It’d be neat if it could be done on demand (without that small bit of preparation) but cool nevertheless.

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  16. Cool stuff Tim. Strangely, as I read through the article, I lost my desire to try it for myself. Maybe someday.

    We as a generation, are just scratching the surface of our physical capabilities. Definitely there are limitations, but they are nowhere near as limiting as most people assume.

    I think your book will be a catalyst in this area- the “average” person stretching the boundaries of their physical and mental limitations.

    Like

  17. David Blaine never ceases to amaze me. Not so much with what he’s done and can do, but with what he’s WILLING to do and his methods which always seem to include some sort of meditative state that gets his body through the madness.

    What I’d like to know about this particular exercise (before I try it) is what the effects (besides the immediate) of holding one’s breath for so long are on the body. I mean, I assume there’s gotta be some loss of brain cells and who knows what else. So… who knows what else?

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  18. Very cool. Thanks for the information, Tim.

    I recollect seeing a documentary of Navy Seal BUDS Training in which one of the drills was a no-breath 50 yard underwater swim. Dudes were passing out left and right before making the 50 yards. But each swimmer had a masked diver trailing them in case they passed out. Many did pass out underwater, and had to be dragged out onto the deck to be revived. [As a side note, how hard core are you, when you pass out underwater, rather than rising to the surface for air? Navy Seals are my heroes!}

    I tried to do something similarl, but in spite of my best efforts (I’m 46), I kept quitting at about 40 yards. My best effort – I fell short by about 3 yards, simply because I could not see how close I actually was to completion, and I lost my nerve. As you prepare your new book, I’d love to learn how to increase my ability to hold my breath “while moving” so that I could truly test my mettle, and swim that 50 yards without a breath. Tim you’re the best…sick & twisted sometimes, but still the best! Keep up the great posts!

    Like

      • Just a side note Tim, great article however the whole “David Blaine did 2 lengths” thing. Depends how good a swimmer he is? I’m a swimmer and I can do 3 lengths under water without any deep breathing training or techniques. Not belittling his achievement, just stating that the strength or ability of the swimmer makes a huge difference.

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  19. Just tried it. It works. Amazing.

    I didn’t do the whole exercise, but I got through the first couple of stages, and was able to hold my breath quite comfortably for two minutes – which I don’t recall being able to do.

    Like

  20. Very fun. I made it to 3:35, though had I not been so paranoid about the time I think I could have made it longer. I’ll have to try again sometime with a bud.

    Like

  21. Wow, I was holding my breath for that whole post lol.

    I wonder what the health side effects are to this? It would be interesting to do some brain activity tests on David B. for that 17 minutes and see if anything abnormal happens.

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    • To test himself and the upper limits of human potential, I suspect. What’s the point of climbing Everest? Many of the amazing feats in the history of humankind lack clear points other than: it was there, so I did it.

      Tim

      Like

  22. Just did my base line test and I managed 3mins first try, granted I was on the swim team for most of my life and was able to hold my breath longer than I can now a few years ago, but still pretty good! When I get a bit more time I’ll try out the breathing techniques and see if I can reach 5mins :)

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  23. I used to do lengths underwater for fun, I think my best was 4 – just a normal sized pool, not olympic.

    Sounds like it’s basically hyperventilating? The body only measures Co2 in your blood, not oxygen, so if you purge yourself of it you don’t feel the urge to breathe for a longer amount of time

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  24. Three cautionary words: Shallow water blackout.

    My understanding is that this purging greatly diminishes the urge to breathe when you’re running out of oxygen; you won’t get proper warning.

    The mention of Mr. Blaine’s low pulse rate is the key to safe, useful breath holding.

    When I did free diving, there were two easy, effective ways to do this: being relaxed, and taking advantage of our dive reflex; this being the changes to heart rate and circulation when our faces are immersed in cold water.

    Relaxation is the biggest part of it; if you’re already reasonably fit then I believe it’s more important than physical training; yoga really helped my uncle enjoy his diving. Stop worrying about what monsters might be swimming in that big ocean and enjoy yourself.

    A little body fat helps in cold water; being comfortable helps with being relaxed. A buddy I swam with was a better athlete than me in every way but suffered because, in spite of being well muscled, he was too lean.

    Take it easy and be safe. Look around for a local free diving club.

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  25. Just quick note – the purge breathing is also known as hyperventilation and thanks to this method you can get lot of CO2 from your body… which is really dangerous, because your body does not give you signals to breath (diaphragm contractions), you feel OK all the time and you can pass out (blackout). NEVER try this in water, because this is the easiest way to blackout and NEVER try this alone. Few weeks ago my friend blackout during his third static apnea after only 3 purge breaths (!). No freedivers use hyperventilation during breath-up, only 2 purge breaths, but not more!

    And about the record – Didn’t David use pure oxygen before breath hold?
    Check these WR times – http://www.apneamania.com/code/worldrec_main.asp?typeID=spr&specID=amap

    Like

  26. Hi Tim,

    this blog post is either the one you did the least research on or you left out a couple of things just to make it a little more exicting…

    The commenters before me already pointed out that
    A) David Blaines World record was already broken
    B) He used pure oxygen before the breath-hold. Comparing it to a normal breath-hold is like comparing a bicycle to a motorcycle.

    If you really want to learn about holding your breath, go to the people who coached David Blaine => (http://www.performancefreediving.com/).

    They got me from nothing to 5:30 in two days.

    Like

    • Hi Roland,

      Thank you for the comment.

      I’ll certainly check things out and revise. I was basing the “world-record holder” part on his introduction and speaker bio for TEDMED. I do make it clear, though, at the bottom of this post that his record using the described technique is 7-8 minutes. I’m not making an attempt to compare static apnea without oxygen to with oxygen, as I agree that would be ridiculous.

      Thanks again for the feedback…

      Best,

      Tim

      Like

  27. Hey Tim,

    If you’re a Monkey Island fan like me, then you were thinking one thing: Guybrush Threepwood ain’t so hot anymore with his ability to hold his breath for 10 minutes underwater :)

    Impressive as always to see humans push their bodies to the edge. Reminds me of Dean Karnazes – you do it because you can, to know you’re alive and capable of these feats.

    Should come in handy when a) Impressing friends or b) Escaping from life-critical situations.

    Thanks for sharing your notes,
    Oleg

    Like

  28. Really neat stuff Tim. Thanks for laying down the technique. I think Tom Sietas actually holds the record for breath holding underwater at 17 minutes, 19 seconds. He broke David’s record on Regis and Kelly. I bet if David could get his heart rate down on his next attempt he can beat it no problem.

    Like

  29. Cool stuff Tim! Thanks for sharing, much appreciated!

    As mentioned above by others and yourself, the theory goes that some people’s brains (maybe 10% or so) are more regulated by O2 than the standard CO2 and may alter their response to long breath holds (may “blackout” during long extended holds without warning).

    Another option is the use of the Earth Pulse unit, which (as odd as it sounds) is a powered pulsed magnetic field that you sleep with under your bed. I’ve tried it and without using any of the cool techniques above my forced breath hold went from 43 seconds to a best time of over 2 minutes several weeks later. May give you an extra edge combined with the techniques above. The Earth Pulse works great for increasing cardio (cardiorepsiratory fitness). .

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson

    Like

  30. Hi,
    I tried this this morning. I was amazed that I could hokd my breath for over 1 min. It works.
    My only problem was that I got a blackout. I was pulled up the water after 3.30 by the coach. .So remember to do this supervised.
    In the process of being pulled up I was unfortuned enough to have my shoulder dislocated.So it involved too much pain.

    daniel

    Like

  31. Hi Tim,

    Have you ever experimented with improving the strength of your connective tissue like ligaments in places that are normally weak… Such as the ankles and wrists?
    Just curious

    Love your blog and book, keep it coming!

    James~

    Like

  32. I’m amazed (positively) that so many of your readers like this stuff.

    Anyway, having done a lot of windsurfing in the huge huge winter waves of Hawaii I have had some underwater fun myself. Imagine working super hard, completely exacted out of breath working the wave, and wham, you get slammed by the giant wave and you are under water, the water is swirling and you are like an underwater propeller, there is no way you can get up, you might hit the reef anytime, there is no use swimming, the body is screaming for air, you have done this before (in bigger and bigger waves) so you just relax, kick back and observe what is happening. Sometimes you start blacking out, you know that you can only be couscous (and alive) for a few more seconds, you wait, but somewhere you know it will end. Then the swirling stops, you swim up, head over water breath in, only to discover that the foam from the wave is 1 foot high and you breath in the foam water (this absolutely sucks). You cough and then comes the next wave behind it. Nothing in you want to go under water again, but you take a deep breath and dive as deep as you can.

    Have fun, stay out of the water when playing this game.

    Like

  33. Did two cycles of deep breathing and then held my breath for 4 minutes and 15 seconds. I think I could go quite a bit more but didn’t want to push it as I was by myself. I think different people have varying lung capacities and ability to tolerate high CO2 and low O2, it’s always been not too difficult for me to hold my breath for some reason?

    “what’s the point of holding your breath” … as soon as we start going down that path it’s not far to get to “what’s the point of anything”. And the answer is, the point of anything (ie. the meaning of life) is whatever you make it (by definition since meaning is made up in your mind) …. ahh this breath holding is making me all philosophical ….

    Like

  34. Tim,

    I did it.
    Followed your steps and got bored after the 2.30 round so I went ahead and kept on holding it.

    I got to 4.15! I really suprised myself. I did the alphabet name thing and kept my eyes closed as you suggest. By the time I opened my eyes 3 minutes had gone by.
    This is so very cool. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  35. Hi, Tim!
    My name is Ramil. I am from Russia.
    I recently read your book. I must say that this is fantastic! You changed my whole view of life. I decided to change much. Even more. I already do it! Thank you for this.

    I have a business question. I would like to import to Russia, your product bodyquicken. However, on your web site, I could not find the necessary contacts. You would not write anything like this can be done? or to whom I contact.

    Thank you! You’re great!

    Like

  36. Very cool article. Love it when you model people with extraordinary physical abilities and I’m really looking forward to read the book you are working on at the time.
    My score after 20 minutes of training was 3m40s. Initially 1m20s =P thats an imrpovement of more than 280%!!!

    Keep up the good work Tim, it’s very appreciated.
    //Marvin

    Like

  37. Question as to health risks:

    Doesn’t the brain need fresh oxygen after 2-3 minutes? Isn’t this causing the death of a lot of brain cells?

    Like

    • Hi Ronald,

      I am sure this is not good for your brain. I’ve been foggy-headed for the last 48 hours. It’s a cool example of human potential, but I’d treat it like whippets (sp? not the dogs) or binge drinking. Probably not good for you, but if you choose to experiment, do it seldom.

      Tim

      Like

  38. There are a few skills it seems would be wise to learn and practice, just in case you ever need them. I think about this as a mother who home schools — education consisting of a much broader range than traditional American public school.

    Funny that I was thinking about this particular skill within the past two weeks, and your post shows up here.

    The most shocking thing is that anyone can learn it very quickly.

    Fifteen minutes of practice for something that could save your life?

    I’d like to see a video demonstrating this process.

    Also, loved your TEDs vid in your odds and ends. I’m particularly interested in your “improve or replace” experimentation with American education. Do you have information on your experiments yet somewhere online?

    Like

  39. I have used the same breathing techniques (hyperventilation followed by slow breaths). In the slow breathing part I can get heart rate down to low 30s (normal resting around 55), and also have less sensitivity to discomfort. The slow, forced breathing together with tensed core helps me stop shivering when cold, and to deal with painful first aid procedures like stitches or having a wound cleaned.

    Like

  40. I tried this and it worked! Amazing technique. I think if I practice it on a regular basis I will be able to hold my breath longer and longer. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  41. Did you speak at this event, Tim? Are you able to share with us some of your upcoming schedule, as I am living in California and would like to attend some of these events. Thanks.

    Like

  42. Nice Article Tim!
    I cannot hold my breath for long – however a good mate of mine trains to be held underwater by massive waves – as a bif wave surfer..
    In this clip he blows out all his air, sits on the bottom for 1:30 then swims 50m.
    He trains – sprints up hills etc – after blowing out his air which trains his body to get oxygen from other things like his quads etc… Amazing

    Thanks for the post – I will fwd this onto Mark also..
    Catcha
    Michael

    Like

  43. Awesome I am gonna read that really slowly and learn from it. I was talking about it with a magician friend and was really interested in seeing David talking at TED about this record and give tips. Awesome !

    Like

  44. Considering that David is a master of illusion, do you think that he might be using some type of trick? He also levitates and reads minds. Comming up with an illusion to hold your breath does not seem like that big of a stretch.

    Like

  45. Tim, great post – I like to believe the stories of monks that could do this for 40 minutes by literally controlling heartbeat. I’m convinced they could after watching an amazing doumentary on tibeten monks. Although it didn’t show the breath feats, I did show some otherworldly feats of strength/endurance.

    My entire life has been a continuous series of Flu/Strep bouts several times a year since birth. I’ve been taking a popular greens supplement every day for the last two years and haven’t had so much as a sniffle. This green powder I’ve been taking includes Astragulus, an herb used since ancient times in Asia to strengthen the immune system. I have seen a seismic shift in health since taking this stuff daily. There are many other ‘forgotten’ superfoods like this that should be hoisted into the spotlight

    Like

  46. Sorry – I fail to see how this is an achievement. The loss of brain cells is too heavy a price to pay for any bragging rights associated with extended self-imposed oxygen deprivation. Seriously, how much Macallan scotch can you drink before you pass out? That too could be viewed as competitive with one person “out-achieving” another person in quantity, but at what expense?? One’s physical well-being??

    This is very unlike climbing a mountain which some people might deem unproductive. At least when you climb a mountain, you must muster every fibre of human spirit to overcome big obstacles (literally and figuratively!).

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  47. Paul, I tend to believe that we exist for a genuine purpose and that part of that purpose is to live and experience, to test ourselves, to strive and suffer and overcome, and that by so doing we are enriched and enlarged.

    I’ve enjoyed Tim’s book, because it seems rooted in the idea that we are meant for more than living the daily grind while dreaming of greater things. The 4HWW encourages us to create our lives in such a manner that we can experience more, learn more, LIVE more. And, as I see it, testing the limits of our abilities is indeed living more. One of my favorite quotes is from George Bernard Shaw:

    “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

    Sorry for waxing so philosophical. Thanks for the forum Tim.

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  48. Pretty interesting stuff. It reminds me of a technique for high-altitude hikers. One problem with low atmospheric pressure is that the alveoli in your lungs can collapse either entirely or partially. By inhaling deeply then exhaling through pursed lips (like deep breathing), you create extra positive pressure inside your lungs, keeping those alveoli open so your body can get oxygen from the air and release out its carbon dioxide. This trick helped when I went to see the Bristle-cone Pines recently.

    Lots of crazy stuff happens with respiration and acidity in our bodies. Ask a scuba expert or a doctor if you really want to know how the technique works and what it’s doing to your blood.

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  49. Tim, I have been waiting for you to write about apnea and or freediving for quite some time now! I hope this info will make at least a small appearance in your new book on being super human.

    I’ve been freediving for several years now and it is one of the most rewarding things I do. I know your post indicates not to try this in water, but if trained properly, you can safely dive to depths of 75-100 feet on one breath. The feeling of accomplishment you get after a deep freedive combined with the runner’s high-like sensations are often indescribable to someone that has not tried it. Add beautiful under water scenery and you have a recipe for ultimate happiness.

    I’m sure you have no problem finding the resources to get into freediving, but to anyone wanting to learn more about it, I started with a great book called Manual of Freediving: Underwater on a single breath by Umberto Pelizzari and Stefano Tovaglieri. It give a nice overview of apnea and freediving and provides some great exercises for building skill.

    Anyway, thanks for all the great work and most of all thanks for sharing it with everyone!

    Cheers,

    Chris Claxton

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  50. some feat of endurance, it’s pretty amazing what the human mind can do when called upon… I can hold my breath for very short spaces of time, but i will look at the ideas above…

    not to attempt long periods in water, but to simply improve my bodies ability to process O2 better…

    it will have to wait for a bit though as I have swine flu at the moment… aaaahh

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  51. Hey Tim (or anyone that knows their stuff), do you have any idea whether this kind of excercise will improve lung capacity? Good post. Would love to hear more about China though.

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  52. sweeeet! this was fun- i just held my breath for over a minute!

    also, a while ago i added you on twitter when you were bribing us with dropbox (honest i am) and i never saw any more info about the dropbox acct. ? did i miss something?

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    • Hi Cate,

      Thanks for the comment. You might have missed the sign-up link. I protected my updates and send the link out to all of my followers for about 12 hours, then I deleted it and went back to unprotected. I really apologize if you did. We did, however, donate $3 on your behalf.

      There will be more fun coming :)

      All the best,

      Tim

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  53. Lol. Hey Tim,

    You finally found your partner in crime?!, that’s awesome. Saw a couple of David’s old school shows about a month ago. I love what he said about reaching the stage of bliss and emptying his thoughts to reach perfection. What a nirvana experience :-)

    Have a blast and keep it up.

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  54. Just tried this- I went from 50 seconds to 3:00 without feeling like I was pushing myself. (Going all out doesn’t seem worth the side-effects to me!)

    I am an opera singer so this could have practical implications for me and my colleagues. I am accustomed to doing breathing exercises, but ones that are more directed at controlling exhalation speed and pressure than holding the breath.

    That’s why I asked about lung size- I’ve never had my lungs examined but at least my rib cage is unusually large from singing opera since a young age- it gets stretched out. So I was wondering how much difference something like that would make. (PS I was born borderline premature, I don’t see that it makes any difference…?)

    BTW, Tim- I checked and it looks like your match.com profile is gone. Does that mean you’re off the market, or are you making other date-hacking plans? Do keep us posted! ;)

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  55. Tim, You mentioned you thought breahting was your achilles heel and that it was due to being a premature baby. I thought of you immediately when I read this NYT article a few days after reading your post. It describes a breathing method that is used to reduce reliance on medications and prevent or reduce the number of asthma attacks. It is used in Russia and in Australia Insurance will reimburse for training people in its use. The NYT journalist was reluctant to write about it because it is seen as alternative treatment. Thought you could use it if you still suffer from breathing problems like asthma or for your upcoming book. The method is called Buteyko method. The link to NYT article is here

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/health/03brod.html?em

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  56. Heh, I got bored before I ran out of breath. But I did double the amount of time I can hold my breath for. That’s just nifty is what it is.
    ~LX

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  57. Tim this was a great article. It may or may not be related, but do you have any insight on breathing techniques that help slow down your heart rate a lot in a way that would be beneficial for athletic performance? Perhaps this is something you will be covering in your book.

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  58. Tim you mention that you thought breathing was your achilles heel since you were young and I wondered if you suffered from asthma? well I saw this New York Times article in called “A Breathing Technique Offers Help for People With Asthma” shortly after reading your post here and I thought you and those interested in another breathing technique maybe it could be part of your upcoming book even?

    The article describes a method for controlling your breathing to prevent or treat asthma. Seems the method has some scientific support to it. The technique is called the Buteyko method it teaches people to breathe slow and shallow through their noses, which then breaks the cycle of rapid, gasping breaths,and airway constriction all of which which hyperventilating during asthma attack just worsens because blowing off too much CO2 will increase airway constriction.

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  59. There is no way he held his breath for 17 minutes.

    He has misdirected Oprah and the rest of us. Crazy magician trickery.

    If in fact he did hold his breath for that period of time…WOW.

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  60. Tim, This was amazing, but I also followed your lead on swimming and the total immersion swimming techniques in order to prepare for my first triathlon (another thing you indirectly inspired me to get into). My swimming practice was killing me and I was quite worried about the swimming portion of the race. Then I starting using the swimming techniques you found so helpful. Wow! Swimming became easy and fun (and faster). Thanks for linking me to that information. The only problem – the swim portion of my triathlon was cancelled because of poor water quality… agh! Oh well, more time to practice!

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  61. It is amazing that you could go from under one minute to over three and a half with those tips. I used to like doing long dives in swimming pools, but after having read the recent study called “Holding Breath for Several Minutes Elevates Marker for Brain Damage”, I do not dare doing breath holding experiments anymore.

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  62. This reminds me of the childhood fun of passing out on purpose. I had a friend who was able to do this on his own, just by holding his breath and squeezing two points on the front of his neck. I never mastered the technique, so he would employ a choke hold of sorts.

    I’d wake up, a few seconds later, drooling, able to muster things like “Why didn’t you do it yet? Oh wait. You did.”

    The science of breath is a world in itself. I’d like to see you go deeper into this realm. Perhaps see how different ways of breathing affect cognition and focus.

    Thanks for the post, Tim.

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  63. I am 82 years old and have pulmanary problems and nueropthy. During a visit with my doctor he suggested swimming to help my lungs and excerise, I joined a Health Club and started at 0…Now a year later I can swim 25 yards under water which was huge as I had to hold my breath for over a minutes and using a lot of energy getting there makes it more difficult….I also can swim a mile on my back going back and forth…so all of this has helped my condition and increased my energy level and being able to hold my breath put me on that path….Uly Vlamides

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  64. Hi Tim!

    Love this! Just made 2min40secs. Not bad!!! I noticed my body start to convulse after a while. I’ve been fascinated by freediving for YEARS but never ever did it. Now I live in London, the time’s perfect! I found a class the other day after I read this article and am going for the first time this week!

    Thanks for the reminder ;)
    Marc

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  65. Awesome post Tim. Got over 3 minutes on my first shot.

    Do you know any good exercises to practice for truly increasing lung capacity? Do you think this method contributes, or is it more of something to do as an occasional trick?

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