I have been experimenting with Breath work a lot lately. I read the book Breath, by James Nestor which really got me thinking about the importance of focusing on breathing. Nestor posits that throughout history, breathing through the nose increased health and well-being and simultaneously guarded against disease. He also examines the many different styles of people and the methods they use to experiment with the effects of breath work.
Nestor visits a variety of practitioners of the art of breathing. Everyone from Wim Hof (discussed more soon) to runners that hold their breath, to Vinyasa yoga instructors who teach the breath of fire, to people who experiment with psychedelic trips triggered solely through breathing. Needless to say there is an underworld out there experimenting with these things.
Wim Hof is a dutch extreme athlete who has a lot of very impressive world records under his belt. This list is very long. To me the most impressive is that he and his students managed to activate their autonomic nervous system to kill off endotoxins (e-coli) injected into their blood stream simply through breathing. Mind you, this was done in a lab by scientists who cannot explain how he did so. Hof, focuses on breath work, cold therapy, and commitment to the practice of both. Hof’s followers can be found throughout the world plunging into near freezing water, and following a daily practice of the Wim Hof breathing method. This method is provided for free on his website and below.
It is hard to describe what happens during this process because it feels so unique and at times euphoric. During the first round of the breathing it is actually slightly uncomfortable. Your nostrils may hurt slightly, and frequently I feel my sinuses clearing during this process. After the final breath I am always surprised at how long I can go without needing to breathe again. As instructed in a few books I have read on the subject, I generally push this breath hold as far as I can until I feel as though my lungs are about to burst.
After the first breath in on your second round you get an immediate rush from what I assume is the oxygen your body is yearning for. The subsequent rounds of deep breaths in become much easier from what I assume is the heart regulating to this new breathing pattern. The breath hold after the second and third rounds is even longer and easier, surprisingly. During the second and third rounds of this process you begin to see wild patterns emerging on the back of your eyelids.
At times I see stars as though I’m about to fall asleep. I often feel a tingly sensation in my extremities and experience a slight sense of light headedness. Some people experience a slight head ache after the first few times but this dissipates quickly (I am told). When you are complete with the process you feel similar to the way you feel after coming down from a runners high. Frankly, it’s oddly refreshing how wonderful you feel afterwards.
Recently, I’ve tried stacking this process directly into a 20 minute meditation. It takes me just under 15 minutes to complete the breath work and then I meditate for 20 minutes after. So to accomplish this I set the Oak app for a 35 minute meditation. It has a tremendous impact on my ability to meditate and clear the mind. I’m a very active thinker, and often times I struggle to silence the thoughts in my head and focus on my breath which is the goal of meditation. Stacking a meditation with this breathing method, completely clears my mind and allows me to enter what Steven Kotler describes as a symptom of entering a flow state. A loss of a sense of time.
I’m still in the early days of looking at the impact of this daily habit in my life. I can say it has immediately had a positive increase in my mood and my heart rate variability and resting heart rate (monitored on my Whoop Strap) have increased and decreased respectively. Additionally, I achieved 5 minutes of sustained time at 90% of my maximum heart rate during a 45 minute workout today. I cannot isolate these improvements solely to breath work as I’m also meditating, doing cold plunges, and staying away from processed foods and alcohol. Regardless, I love the way I feel post breath work, and find the process slightly addicting due to the euphoric feelings it induces. I recommend trying it out and seeing how it impacts you. Stick with it for at least 3-5 days to really feel the effects.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.