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The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human (ersjournals.com)
392 points by luu on Oct 22, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 270 comments

"You're only ever 15 minutes away from peace" - a sticky note on my desk. I regularly slowly breathe in and count to 4 then out while counting to 4 for 15 minutes and find that it leaves me in a peaceful/content state.

If anyone is interested, I made an hour long mix of lots of waves and wind sounds, paying special attention to panning and levels to create a wide, enveloping, slow pulsing feeling that I use when doing heavy concentration work [0].

[0]: https://soundcloud.com/syn_nine/waves-and-wind-1-hour

I interpreted your sticky note as giving a more morbid suggestion of you achieving (final) peace if you stop breathing for 15 minutes...

There's this sorta humorous saying that goes around. Paraphrasing it here:

"We always have about two minutes to live, but breathing resets the clock."

Related and terrifying: CHS, also known as "Ondine's curse". Essentially, all breathing is manual and under conscious control. If you forget, or fall asleep when away from a ventilator, you fail to reset that two minute clock.


OK you're off my Christmas list

Another way of saying is that the closest relative for anyone alive is death. Its always between your breaths.

In 2012, German freediver Tom Sietas held his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds


After breathing pure oxygen for up to 30 minutes. Still insane, but he’s ‘only’ 4th/6th in the all-time list (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Static_apnea#With_pure_oxygen_...)

Unaided, the record is about half that. Don’t try either at home. Freediving is extremely dangerous, even this version, where aid can always be at arm’s length.

Nothing inherently dangerous about practicing breath holds at home, as long as it's done sitting in a bed or so in case of dizziness. Unless you hyperventilate (don't!) the pain will be too great for most people to hold until they black out. And one can always just start breathing before that, never beat your own PR by more than a few seconds at a time.

Of course, when setting records it's done in the water (because of the diving reflex), which should never be attempted alone.

I recommend apps for "co2 tables" when practicing.

Josh Waitzkin, chess prodigy, learning guru, almost killed himself by accident through breath holding work[0]:

"Josh Waitzkin: The 30-second version is that I was doing some Wim Hof-inspired breath hold work. I made the mistake of doing it during lots of reps of underwater swims, 50-meter swims, at a pool in New York City. And on my eighth or 10th rep, I blacked out in a bliss state and I spent four minutes in the bottom of the pool after blacking out from oxygen deprivation. This old guy pulled me out and, which I’m eternally grateful for, and I basically drowned. All the doctors said after 45 to 60 seconds I should have been brain dead or dead, but it was four minutes on the bottom of the pool and that my training saved me. Also, you could say, put me there—but that’s a whole other conversation!"

[0] https://tim.blog/2020/03/14/josh-waitzkin-transcript-412/



This phenomenon is well-known, probably more so than Wim Hof. You’d think a ‘learning guru’ would learn about the potential risks of holding ones breath underwater while hyperventilating before attempting it!

sometimes you gotta learn the hard way =D

Hyperventilation passing out mechanism, for those interested:

Although the body requires oxygen for metabolism, low oxygen levels normally do not stimulate breathing. Rather, breathing is stimulated by higher carbon dioxide levels. As a result, breathing low-pressure air or a gas mixture with no oxygen at all (such as pure nitrogen) can lead to loss of consciousness without ever experiencing air hunger. This is especially perilous for high-altitude fighter pilots. It is also why flight attendants instruct passengers, in case of loss of cabin pressure, to apply the oxygen mask to themselves first before helping others; otherwise, one risks losing consciousness.[143]

The respiratory centers try to maintain an arterial CO 2 pressure of 40 mm Hg. With intentional hyperventilation, the CO 2 content of arterial blood may be lowered to 10–20 mm Hg (the oxygen content of the blood is little affected), and the respiratory drive is diminished. This is why one can hold one's breath longer after hyperventilating than without hyperventilating. This carries the risk that unconsciousness may result before the need to breathe becomes overwhelming, which is why hyperventilation is particularly dangerous before free diving.


Yes, because he did it while swimming. Parent is talking about sitting on your bed.

Obviously, when you combine such exercise with activities that require full attention, like swimming, frying a steak or driving a car you add a dimension of serious danger.

I've argued against Wim Hof elsewhere here, doing his hyperventilation breathe up in the water is almost begging to black out.

Wim Hof's breathing exercise is not designed for underwater dives, and he always urges people to do it somewhere safe, like in bed or lying on the ground. Maximizing breath hold time isn't really the point of the exercise.

My sister used to hold her breath and pass out whenever she didn't get her way. She took stubbornness to the next level!

Underwater hockey, played in most largish cities, is a decent way to practice breath holding without the boredom.

I played it for a few weeks, and (at least where I played) it looks like when you are at a pond with fish and somebody throws in bread, except with humans instead of fish.

It's a good day when I learn about something so weird and wonderful. I'm from Canada, where the first world championship was held in 1980, yet I was completely unaware this sport existed.

My favourite facts from the Wikipedia page are: it is originally called octopush and was played with an uncoated lead puck.


How does training for and completing these records not produce brain damage? Isn't an extended lack of oxygen...bad?

Freedivers and mountaineers both tend suffer from crippling effects of brain damage early in life due to prolonged oxygen deprivation. The dementia and alzheimer's usually come about in professionals, as they spend much more time without air compared to a hobbyist. I am unsure what the exact relation is between dive profile, brain degradation, and the long, poorly documented list of other biological variables. I don't think any of the major global war criminals ever thought to study the effects of freediving on the human brain, though there's probably some study on oxygen deprivation itself.

Now that I try to think of all the countries who have performed illegal medical experiments on prisoners... I didn't expect the list to be this long in my head... I thought it would be shorter.

This might be a bit relevant or maybe not but I find this freediving exercise very peaceful [0]

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqZbF546JNo

Those guys are awesome. This is a video of Guillaume Néry, another "monster":


This video of his from last year might be the most incredible YouTube video I've ever seen, both in composition and achievement:


While hilarious, really goes to show you how important context is to anything. It's super easy to misinterpret something based on your current personal frame of mind.

In my most stressful jobs I often found myself leaving the office and walking around the block while taking ten deep breaths. It sounds silly and simple but it really does help at least bring things closer to baseline.

Another fun hack is to splash your face with cold water.

It activates the "dive reflex" in humans which reduces psychological arousal. (Or something like that -- it is a non medicinal chill pill.)

We (and many other mammals) have what is known as the mammalian diving reflex. It’s a hard-wired psychological response to immersion in cold water. When triggered, our heart rate slows, blood is redirected towards our core to protect critical organs, and a host of other energy and oxygen conserving mechanisms come into play in anticipation of us holding our breath for an extended period underwater.

This seems contrary to my experience. Splashing water on my face wakes me up, ie increases perceived mental 'arousal'.

I assumed it was a 'avoid drowning' response. Like if you fall into water, you don't want to stay asleep, you need to wake up really quickly!

Well, I can't comment on the exact psychological and physiological effects. It definitely wakes me up if I'm sleepy too. But it can be helpful if you're anxious.

At the end of the day we all react differently to different stimuli so try things out and do what works best for you.

"you do you" post-modernity doesn't fit at all with how you wrote your comment above.

If it's just your opinion then say that, don't try and make up some pseudo-scientific reasoning.

Originally you claimed a scientific response and that you knew the reason for it, now you're just commuting that to "well splashing water on my face wakes me up". Well, no shit Sherlock.

Let me break this down for you:

1) There is well established science that links the dive reflex to physiological changes in the human body.

2) Using the dive reflex as an anti-anxiety measure is well established in psychology.

3) Humans do respond differently to things and if they don't make you feel good, don't do them. There is nothing postmodern about arguing "some people enjoy a hot sauna and others find it miserable." My wife, for instance, will not do the dive reflex thing because it ruins her makeup. Individual variation is a thing.

4) I am not attempting to write airtight arguments to win a debate, but writing very loosely to share what I've learned with others.

5) If you're not sure about points 1-3, you are welcome to research them yourself instead of insisting I present them to you as formal arguments.

There's more than one state of arousal. Anxiety and concentration are both forms of arousal but the latter has an associated feeling of calm.

I would've also thought the "Or something like that" should allow for more a charitable response, and that's before we note that you're comparing two different starting states.

Not everyone has this flexibility but if I had a job that made me feel like I needed to do this, I’d hand in my badge that day.

Haha. Just made a change actually. I was chasing money and realized it's not worth it if you hate the rest of your life.

I often use this to create the background sound I'm in the mood for when working: https://noises.online/

I seem to get a lot of good work done if I think it's rainy and stormy outside!

Ha ha, sounds like a cool app idea. Will check it out.

I had blogged about my own favorite music for working by:

Music video: Sitar - Vilayat khan - Rarely Heard Ragas:


We called these 'breathing exercises in 80'. We learned them in school. It was 4-4-4. 4 seconds or count breathe in, 4s hold and 4s exhale. There were no rules on timings. Do it as long as needed to come to 'normal'.

They work for me when needed.

I like this idea. Am going to try it right now. Thanks!

Mindfulness meditation in a nutshell.

I think that's one of the reasons that smoking ciggarettes is such a popular addiction around the world: it's basically a breathing exercise that helps you relax.

Haven't been a smoker for a decade now and don't miss it, but what I do miss are those breaks and the bonds developed chatting with smoker colleagues during them. Discussions both work and non-work related seemed to come about more freely outside the confines of the office, and solutions to more than one technical issue came up during those breaks through bouncing ideas off of each other.

At our office, we started doing "stair climbs" mid morning and mid afternoon. We got a small bell and whoever got to the bell first would ring the bell and then head to the front door. Anyone who was free and wanted to join would join at the sound of the bell. It was simple, no pressure to join, most people can't join everytime anyway so that was totally acceptable. Some days it wouldn't happen at all, but it was always good to try to break free and make it happen.

Most of the time it was a group of 2-5 people. When the group was only 2 or 3 people it often became similar to a smoke break where you could have a good discussion as you climbed up/down the full set of stairs.

The beauty of it was that almost everybody felt comfortable participating in it. If you have non-ambulatory coworkers who want to participate, perhaps a walk would be better. Management also liked it better than smoke breaks because they were always trying to lower health insurance costs so it was beneficial to encourage people to be more healthy.

Our building is 12 stories, so 1 complete up/down was pretty good and even the less healthy people could do it well after a few tries. If you're on a middle floor, go up/down/up (or the reverse) until you get back to your floor. If your building is taller/shorter then you may want to adjust the number of cycles. People who get tired can always exit at any floor and take the elevator back, but peer pressure usually pushes most people to exceed their comfort limit a little bit.

It was also a great team bonding experience because everyone wanted the whole team to make it and it was exciting when someone new joined or when you saw someone's physical ability improve. It's still not a smoke break, but it's the next best thing I've found... other than maybe grabbing a coffee/tea with someone.

I’m not sure why you’re being downvoted, I think that’s definitely partially true. The “cigarette break” becomes a sort of zen moment in the work day

it's also a (decreasingly) culturally normalized break. it can feel strange to stand still or wander about aimlessly otherwise.

Definitely won't work everywhere, but stepping out for a coffee is how I take a break. (Though it's usually iced tea instead of coffee for me.)

Can also just take a walk. It's aimless, but still good for the mind.

>It's aimless, but still good for the mind.

It's because it's aimless that it's good for the mind. Or rather, good for you (because you are not the mind), because you get a break from your "crazy monkey mind"[1].

"You" meaning anyone who does it, not literally you, of course.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_mind

Also see YouTube videos by Tibetan Buddhist monk Mingyur Rinpoche such as "Calming the Mind".

In that video he shares a great insight right near the start, which proves that everyone has awareness, even if they think they don't.

Watch "Mingyur Rinpoche ~ Calming the Mind: The Practice of Awareness Meditation" on YouTube:


It's a culturally normalized narcotic.

The downvoting, or the smoking?

Also a great way to meet random strangers..

That's the double-edged sword however. Many "random strangers" will be homeless people who notice that you are smoking and will ask you if you have a ciggarette to spare. My ex girlfriend used to carry an empty ciggarette box for that very reason: she will show it and tell "sorry, that was the last one I had" :)

My experience has always been the opposite, it's the well heeled guy/gal who has had one too many drinks and wants to bum a smoke. Go, buy a pack, not giving you any! But if a homeless guy asked, always gave one.

Heaven forbid underprivileged people attempt to feel joy!

more like consuming unnecessary substances and engaging in recreational activities that you can't afford is a good way to become "underprivileged" and cigarettes aren't really going to bring much joy regardless. but there's no harm in asking. just don't expect people to answer any way other than how they choose to answer.

Back in the dim and distant days of offices, we used tea breaks for similar, albeit internal, breaks.

Since March, I've slowed down my breathing, to the point that in public spaces, I don't breathe at all. I've travelled afar, in crowded airplanes, trains and buses and have so far avoided covid. Please send me $99 and I'll show you how.

LOL. I don’t know why you were downvoted.

Reading some blog spam and learning about 'Box Breathing' really helped me. Apparently it's used by Navy Seals, but it really helps me get to sleep if I can't. Or in stressful or sudden situations, it really helps clear your head.

Just a simple breathe in, hold, exhale, hold. Taking 4 slow seconds for each step.

I was very, very skeptic of breathing techniques and meditation. However after learning this technique things kind of 'clicked' and meditation started to make sense, and see why it's thrown around so much.

For those who are curious, it's called "Box Breathing" because, if it's helpful for you, you can picture a box and then trace the edges of the box in your mind as you're counting for each of the 4 steps (inhale, hold, exhale, hold). That visual can help take your mind off whatever is making you do this in the first place.

Thanks for sharing that since I did not know the reason for the name.

But a box is a cube. Since there are four steps, shouldn’t it be called square breathing?

"Box" is used often enough in natural english to refer to a square, particularly in the context of diagrams. "Draw a box around it", etc.

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A 3d box is a cube, a 2d box is a square.

Does tesseract count as box too? ;)

In parallel computing, similar topologies are known as the Hypercube architecture. And in English, "boxes" can refer to computers or networking devices in general, so yes? ;-)

> But a box is a cube

only for some definitions of box

I don't know why box breathing always gets credited as a Navy SEAL invention. This is a centuries-old technique and the SEALs got this from yoga/pranayama.

There is a huge demographic that would buy yoga pants if you explain they are tactical seal team 6 pants.

LOL, you are not far off. I can't remember where, but a while ago I saw an interview with some guy who did pretty much that: he opened a studio but instead of calling it yoga he came up with some 'cool' name like 'RX+fitness' or whatever (you get the idea) and marketed to 'tough guys'. He even said in the interview it was mostly yoga with some cardio, but that the whole ambiance was designed to make males feel secure doing it. He was making a killing.

While I also believe what you’d at to be true, I fail to see how this is any different than Tim Ferriss or many other people like him.

If Tim says X works, how many Silicon Valley types suddenly start doing it?

In fact, given that former Navy SEAL Jocko Wilnick is all the rage in the business world and Tim Ferriss is also followed by the same crowd, the crossover between those two groups is probably larger than you think.

Is it? I always read about it as "used" by Navy SEAL, not "created" by them.

It sounds a lot cooler for some people to say they use a technique that Navy SEALs use instead of calling it a yoga technique.

It's like the moon walk[0]. Michael Jackson made it popular but it had been around well before hand.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonwalk_(dance)

technically, in pranayama you never hold your breath after exhaling. also a 16 second cycle is quite fast for a pranayama technique.

Yes, you do. It is called Bahya Kumbhaka.

It does not play any significant role. That you can hold breath after exhaling is obvious and yogis probably talked about it. Doesn't change the fact though that Pranayama is all about holding breath after inhaling. That is basically the core goal.

No, that is not the only core goal. Pranayama has many breathing exercises with many different goals.

And cronopios is right:


Different pranayamas have different goals. Check out Bhastrika pranayama for instance.

okay, I'll have another look at it. anyway - my intention was not to disregard breathing techniques where breath holding after exhalation plays a role. I do a few of them on a regular basis. I just don't like the Navy Seals practice Pranayama sentiment. can't even say why exactly.

> I just don't like the Navy Seals practice Pranayama sentiment.

Me either, its like two annoying memes are trying to breed a memeplex together.

They might have created boxed breathing in training / unboxed breathing on the mission paradigm.

I'm on a local fire department, and we've had this taught as one option to try and manage air use with the SCBA packs. I find it useful, but since I'm already conscious of breathing (with some slight effort to inhale), I tend to feel the need more than without the pack.

It does seem to help to hum (for some) or at least purse your lips (for me) to drag out the exhalation step without having to inhale right away. I would certainly like to be better at this though, those packs don't last that long.

slow breathing is one of the things that helps with breath-focused meditation, but there are other techniques with varying intentions and benefits.

Broadly speaking, mindfulness-type meditation can make you aware of thoughts or emotions that you weren't previously aware of that could be affecting you. Has something ever bothered you, and you didn't realise how much until later on when you got irrationally annoyed at something else and thought "wait a minute, this shouldn't bother me this much"? Mindfulness practices can make you more aware of that emotion sooner so you're not carrying it with you all day. There's nothing inherently odd about it.

There are also other forms of meditation that are intended to increase your sense of love and gratitude (metta), to come to grips with your own mortality (maranassati), and surely other psychological exercises I'm not aware of.

But often mindfulness of breath instruction will suggest not trying to force your breath to be fast or slow, but to be attentive and aware of the character of the breath.

true, but in deep meditation breath tends to slow down quite dramatically. It's not a case of "hold for 4", more just a natural rhythmic slowdown.

There’s a similar yoga technique called 4-7-8 breathing. Breath in for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8

Scalene triangle breathing?

4-7-8 is better than 4-4-4-4 to help fall in sleep to my experience.

I really like this technique. Sometimes it gives me a pleasant head rush which instantly relaxes my entire body. It helps me to fall asleep or to relax in every day life.

There's a nice dynamic with this technique where you end up using more of the oxygen in your breath, since you inhale for less time (4 seconds) than you hold & exhale (7+8 seconds).

With box breathing, on the other hand, I find it really unpleasant to hold the empty lung position, and also four seconds feels like it's really not enough to use my full breath.

The "standard" count in Classical Pranayama is usually 1:4:2 i.e. breathe in for x secs, hold for 4x secs and exhale for 2x secs.

In my training it was usually the exhale that was lengthened. Though my training was more physical yoga focused (Asana) so perhaps classical / more advanced / different purpose pranayama is different. Usually it was 1:1:2 inhale, hold, exhale.

One of the things which bothers me is that, with the explosion of interest in all aspects of Yoga, there has been a concomitant dilution/muddying of its original teachings by Self-styled, New-Age, Half-baked gurus and plain old Charlatans. They simply lack the knowledge, which is unforgivable when you realize that the original sources are just a "google search" away.

For people interested in the Original sources, i highly recommend starting with; Roots of Yoga by James Mallinson and Mark Singleton to know the primary sources and then actually reading them.

There's a video about it by a doctor (who is into these kinds of things, apart from his regular work) somewhere on YouTube. Saw it some time ago.

Edit: found it:

Watch "How To Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise | Andrew Weil, M.D." on YouTube


If that helped him solve Fermat's last conjecture, it can probably help me relax

I learned/practiced this in my martial arts. I guess I'm the same level as a navy seal.

We each have our own specific breath-rate, box breathing, 4-7-8 or other styles of conscious breathing attempt to slow down your breath-rate and calm your autonomic nervous system, and for many people calms them enough to fall asleep.

I have a very low breath-rate and find box breathing far too quick, and even 4-7-8 often feels fast.

We're building a sleep headband and one component is monitoring your breath-rate and learning what your breath-rate is as you fall asleep. Once we know what your optimal breath-rate for sleep is, we can then play sounds which you consciously follow with your breath, and this will guide you to sleep. It's almost like a personalized breath timing exercise.

Breath is only one of the ways we are working to improve sleep. If this is interesting to you, find out more at https://soundmind.co and sign-up for the waitlist.

I was taught this in my grappling sports as a child! We did it for 10 seconds each step, and it's just enough that it slows everything down and helps you fall asleep.

I learned and started using this from the game Wolfenstein, New Order.

And I use it all the time for falling asleep. Works amazing!

I am curious about the Navy SEAL connection because I was recently told by a scuba instructor never to do box breathing. Holding your breath while ascending from depth can cause over inflation of the lungs.

Regular deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing is what they recommend.

They tell SCUBA divers that because most people aren't aware enough about their airway. Those who practice breathing techniques can develop that ability/awareness and have it become second nature to hold safely.

There are two ways to hold your breath. The first, and what most people will do, is to seal off their airway at the back of the throat. If you ascend and your airway is closed at the throat, lung expansion injury is a definite danger.

But you can also hold your breath with your airway open and only seal at the mouth. This requires more diaphragm control because you're using that muscle to hold open your lungs. It's like the isometric version of breathing. If you ascend while holding your breath with your airway open, air will just be pushed out of your lungs and through the lips, since that seal isn't nearly as strong. This is why SCUBA divers are taught not to hold their breaths and to blow small bubbles when their respirators come out because both practices ensures an open airway. But those aren't the only ways to keep the airway open.

For SEALs, I would imagine it's important to learn to safely hold one's breath underwater. Exhaling bubbles make you visible to both other divers and those at the surface and there are times that a SEAL team would need stealth underwater. Some minimal risk of lung expansion is acceptable when trying to avoid getting killed in some other way. I had a diving instructor who had originally been trained by the Jordanian military's SEAL equivalent who would breathe roughly once per minute. He said it was second nature based on his training but that we should learn to breathe the way PADI recommends since no one would be shooting at us.

If bubbles were a concern for Navy SEALs they would use a rebreather which emits no bubbles.

You cannot conceal bubbles while on SCUBA.

I do a lot of cave and wreck diving, where box breathing is reguarly touted as a fantastic way to calm yourself if you get into a stressful situation. You do it while at rest if you find yourself disorientated.

Never hold your breate while ascending =/= Never hold your breathe underwater.

SEALs are mammals too; even they spend _some_ time on land.

And, said in a less snarky way: I can see why a diving instructor would say "don't hold your breath" when you're under water. Navy SEALs likely dive a lot, but they also do training and actions above the water. And they likely spend a lot of time in stressful situations (certainly more than me). I can imagine they might box breath _on land_ to help manage the stress.

A couple of years ago I met a guy who was training to become a SEAL and told me they use several different "consciousness techniques". As an example, he said when in stressful situations they are taught to recite: "go slow, slow is smooth, smooth is fast" over and over (like a mantra). He had last used it the previous day when jumping out of a helicopter into the ocean to then secure a boat - which didn't include any scuba diving, and for which they could have used box breathing as well.

As a former SCUBA diving instructor and dive master, teaching students not to hold their breath is simply easier than teaching people a technique that would take a considerable amount of time to master.

I have 5 classroom sessions of about an hour each and two pool sessions and 4 open water dives to take you knowing nothing to keeping you from killing yourself.

When I first got certified as a diver, I would suck down a tank in 15 minutes. By the time I became an instructor, my longest dive on a single tank was close to 1.5 hours and I had plenty of air left.

It would be pointless for me to try and teach breathing control techniques I was using by the time I became an instructor to an Open Water Diver student who will be lucky enough to remove and replace his regulator to pass the course.

We teach not holding your breath because most inexperienced divers will default to panicked fight or flight the second anything goes wrong.

Believe me, I’ve had to physically restrain students underwater when the reg fell out of their mouth and it took them more than 2 seconds to find it. They immediately want to shoot to the surface and 100% they’ll be holding their breath (another aspect of panic) if I don’t hold them down, put the reg back in their mouth, and calm them down.

I’ll also add to my previous comment and say that the reason you’re taught slow, diaphragmatic breathing is because your lungs impact your buoyancy in the water.

Breath in, you begin to ascend. Breath out, you will sink.

Your goal is to find a breathing pattern that allows you to stay neutrally buoyant so you’re not fighting the rise and fall by swimming against it.

Part of the instructor exam, at least when I took it, was a pool session where they tested your ability to achieve and maintain neutral buoyancy.

You would sit cross legged holding your fins for balance like a meditator half way between the bottom and the surface and you could not rise or fall more than a foot.

It’s something a lot of divers also practice when doing safety stops. Even if there’s an ascent line, many will simply stop at 15 feet, and watch their dive computer trying to maintain exactly at 15 feet using only their breathing.

The reason for that is often there will be no ascent line or you may have to do decompression stops in open water with no physical point of reference.

My understanding is that (in theory) box breathing is used to calm and focus the practitioner - it’s not something you do while exerting yourself at all. If you tried box breathing while running (or diving), for example, you would quickly need to stop running or pass out.

People also used to use constant box breathing in scuba as a way to conserve air. Although it was more a triangle breath, with no pause on the exhale. Turns out, doesn't really work for that. But it can still be a nice tool for calming yourself down.

that when you ascend.

In the emergency ascending you are suppose to constantly exhale all the way to the surface. otherwise your lungs might tear.

When doing next dive take a balloon with you and fill it with your air at the depth. Then go up.

Otherwise when at same depth you don't have to worry too much about it.

Disclaimer i am not an actual certified diving instructor.

How fo you keep track of 4 seconds? Do you constantly count until 4 in your mind?

I prefer the 3-5-7 technique.

I wonder how close this is to the breathing in the app on the Apple Watch.

the illustration prepended to this PDF shows a South Asian man using the one-nostril 'nadi channels' variation of some pranayama practice -- not enough info to know which.. personally I find that the single nostril nadi constriction is a distraction or worse, actually detrimental, for some people, some amount of the time.

The breathing rhythms and GENTLE retentions discussed in the comments, are powerful tools and do affect physiology immediately. I suggest a) working with an experienced person at first, b) know your own body, c) do no include fancy extras in the practice, like the nadi channel restriction shown in the photo, rather focus on steady repitition and stable surroundings, at predictable times of day.

This practice has helped me a lot and I trust it will bring health and stability to others also.

Probably nadi shodana. You shouldn’t start this one right away, but only after you’ve already slowed down breathing.

I agree there’s also other techniques first, and if it is uncomfortable, stay away from it. That said, it’s a pretgood technique to know.

I dropped in here to say this. There's a book that just came out related to this called Breathe. I looks at breath from a cultural perspective also.

For some reason, I find this GIF really relaxing. I have it bookmarked and match my breathing to it every once in awhile https://i.imgur.com/Huou7Gh.gif

That gif is about 20% faster than how I normally breathe. It stressed me out :)

I made this a while back: https://demos.samgentle.com/breather/

It's a 4-2-6 breathing pattern, but it's a single html file, so should be pretty easy to save and customise if you want something different.

No pausing on the end of the exhalation? Pausing there is the most relaxing part of breathing, IMO.

Oh interesting, the latest version of the Wim Hoff app (on Android at least) has that same type of visualization for the breathing coaching!

interesting idea but a slower gif would've been truly relaxing.

One thing I wonder is if the mechanism that underlies the physiological benefits of slow breathing is the same as caloric restriction.

This is very speculative, and I'm not even fully sold on slow breathing conclusively having benefits. But it's looking more likely, and there seems to be a deep parallel with the very well-documented benefits of caloric restriction. In both cases, a crucial metabolic input is being rate-limited to just above the baseline amount required for survival. Oxygen in one case, glucose in another.

Much of aging seems to be the result of oxidative stress caused by metabolic waste products. Sustainably reducing the total amount of metabolic activity seems to substantially slow the accumulated damaged accompanying aging. One way to do that is to simply set a hard limit on one of the critical ingredients in the process.

The most convincing explanation that I heard was that by building up a tolerance in your body to carbon dioxide, you actually train your body to oxygenate itself better. CO2 dilates blood vessels and helps transport oxygen where it needs to go so it's not just a waste product.

When you're short on breath, the feeling is not actually due to a lack of oxygen but due to an excess of carbon dioxide. This is why just by starting to exhale after holding your breath, you immediately feel better, despite not having inhaled any additional oxygen. By holding your breath all the time you teach yourself to tolerate more CO2.

For some weeks I'd practice holding my breath all the time say while I'm driving or working, holding on each breath (maybe 20-30 seconds until my diaphragm starts to try to breathe involuntarily), maybe an hour at a time or more, but I find you need at least 20 minutes or so to feel an effect that lasts longer than a few minutes. You do get to a point where you really feel different throughout the whole day and your breathing slows down naturally.

I don't see why science is so resistant to researching disciplines involving the breath. Breathing is literally your most important source of energy, common sense would tell you there is something there to unpack.

I've deeply wondered about the question regarding why science and modern medicine have largely ignored breath as a topic of health. Part of the explanation I believe is that it doesn't make anyone any money. But, this can't be the total explanation. It's frankly astonishing. Studying someone's breathing habits should be part of routine medical exams and general wellness check ups. No M.D. that I have ever been to has ever brought it up, and when I've asked them about it, they shrug and give me a weird look, as if I'd asked them about UFO sightings. It's phenomenally strange.

Slow breathing, unless you are doing it to an extreme, doesn't actually significantly alter blood oxygen levels. Mostly you are dealing with carbon dioxide levels. In fact, due to the dilation of the blood vessels caused by CO2, cellular oxygen levels can go up when breathing slows down, as more blood is delivered to the cells themselves. It takes quite a lot of stress for O2 to drop for normal people who haven't pre-trained themselves into getting comfortable with raised CO2, quite longer than any sort of remotely comfortable breathing technique. In other words, the urge to breathe is actually generated by increasing CO2, not falling O2. If you put yourself in a chamber with normal CO2 and abnormally low O2, you wouldn't feel an urge to breathe faster, you'd just eventually become delirious. So the analogy of caloric restriction to O2 restriction isn't actually applicable for gentle, even mildly uncomfortable, breathwork. But it's still an interesting idea.

Oxidative stress can be reduced by eating foods that produce less metabolic waste, e.g less unstable polyunsaturated fats and getting all the necessary nutrients that are protective against the damaging effects, e.g vitamin E.

If you just eat less, make less energy, do less, you get net neutral state of a longer life lived more slowly. Not worth it in my estimation.

"If you just eat less, make less energy, do less" I would wager the modern reality is that people do less as they eat more, not the opposite. The people on extended caloric restricted diets I would wager to be far more active.

Yes and that's the problem, you have people who eat too little and do too much that end up with stress related illnesses and people who eat too much and do too little who end up with obesity related diseases.

Ideally you want to maximize your metabolic throughput while keeping it as clean as possible and have an active life to use the calories.

Eating enough clean food is definetely the best, yeah. Even for losing weight I don't think eating a extremelly calorically restrictive diet is the way to go unless you are in immediate medical danger. Just didnt agree with the idea that people who really eat whatever they want in whatever quantity they want generally lead a very active lifestyle.

I’ve never understood how extended caloric restricted diets are supposed to work without continuously losing weight. I understand that if you eat under maintenance you may lose weight and have a lower maintenance level and stop losing weight but then doesn’t it stop counting as calorie restriction?

I've never done it, but I believe your body will adjust its metabolism to match your calories, eventually. Otherwise, you would continuously lose fat and muscle until you die, so yeah you can't eat under what you're body is using forever.

aging triggered by oxidative stress and limiting oxygen to limit metabolic waste are both very interesting thoughts. thanks for sharing.

can you share some of the reasons you remain skeptical on the health benefits of slow breathing? if you had $1m to fund an experiment to prove/disprove your hypothesis on breathing, how would you design the experiment?

I don't know if it's just Baader-Meinhof at work, but I've seen more information about breathing in the past year or so than I did over several decades before that.

Am I imagining that or did something trigger the recent public interest?

> Am I imagining that or did something trigger the recent public interest?

It might be because we have a global pandemic on our hands, where the virus is attacking the lung.

HN had two Wim Hof-related submissions hit the front page recently: eight days ago[1] and six days ago[2]. This reinforces the impression that it's more prominent than before.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24772352

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24800947

Well I know it may be cognitive bias as someone pointed out but I think it also had to do with the book Breath by James Nestor. Got pretty heavy press as it came out early in the pandemic. But mindfulness and meditation are being pushed pretty hard lately.

Second that. What did you think of that book, btw? Not very impressed, personally. Lots of anecdata and pretty incredible claims.

It's good for a soft introduction to the space, in that it informs you of many things you might not have ever heard about... after which you would need to go track down the references and expand on any particular sub-topic which seems more relevant to you.

I recommend it to many people as a way of demonstrating that "hey, a few simple breathing tweaks might be really helpful".


Auto-correct, thinko, or something I'm missing?

The name is from there: [0]

> The Baader–Meinhof phenomenon is the illusion where something that has recently come to one's attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards (...) It was named after an incidence of frequency illusion in which the Baader–Meinhof Group was mentioned.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases#Frequ...

You are two clicks away from the correct answer :) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases#Frequ...

>I don't know if it's just Baader-Meinhof at work

A bit off topic but I was wondering what you mean with Baader-Meinhof - don’t see the obvious link and curious if there’s an expression / connection linked to RAF

Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, also called frequence bias: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases#Frequ...

Not sure where it's got this name from, though.

> Not sure where it's got this name from, though.

It's right in the paragraph you linked: "It was named after an incidence of frequency illusion in which the Baader–Meinhof Group [0] was mentioned."

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Army_Faction

It gets the name from someone noticing that, after learning about the Baader-Meinhof gang, started seeing the name everywhere, and it stuck. I think it was on some forum in the 90s.

Apple introduced the Breath app on its watch, which pops up every hour or so and takes you through nreathing exercises. Perhaps related?

But it should be noted that the watch/app can't actually tell how fast you're breathing :/

Just getting its fifteen minutes in the trendy health fad cycle.

I've listened to a ex professional sportsman, turned trainer, and one of his big points in the talk was that by controlling our breathing we can influence our mental state. If you are overly excited or nervous you can slow down your breathing and do the exercises to relax. He claimed that the same can be done in reverse, if you are tired or wanting to improve your awareness you can do quick breaths.

I tried it, but didn't really see the benefit with quick breaths but maybe I didn't do it long enough.

Indian yoga has claimed that both parts of that are true for centuries.

Slow = “ we define slow breathing as any rate from 4 to 10 breaths per min (0.07–0.16 Hz). The typical respiratory rate in humans is within the range of 10–20 breaths per min (0.16–0.33 Hz).”

I use an app on my phone where I can set the inhale, exhale and pause times, as well as the ramping down time, and I find when I want to relax I can quite easily get down to 3 breaths a minute.

App name/link?

Paced Breathing, for Android. Very simple, you can set the inhale, hold, exhale, hold times, and you can set start and end speeds and ramp-down time.

You can save settings, so I have a "Quick calm down" that's just 3 minutes, going down to 4.5 breaths/min, and a "Slooow" that 6 minutes long that has me at 3 breaths/min for most of it, and a "Slooow continued" that starts at 3 breaths/min and just continues for another 5 minutes, for when I just want to stay there for a while. I also have a square breathing pattern saved, 6 seconds per side, but I don't much like square breathing.

Inhale and exhale is shown visually, by sounds, or by phone vibrations. No other fluff.

Does "one breath" refer to a single cycle (in & out)? Or to a discrete in or out breath?

One cycle.

As a life long asthmatic who had a serious stutter as a child I've been practicing controlled breathing for as long as I can remember.

Recently I've taken an interest in fitness (again) and, via a garmin watch, I've learnt my resting heart-rate is ~42 most nights, some nights dipping to 39. I'm by no means exceptionally fit, but have to think the slow breathing techniques are the cause.

Just to be sure - you've cleared your bradycardia as healthy with a doctor, right? If you're not exceptionally fit as you say, that could also be a sign of something being wrong.

I spent 36hrs in hospital after an asthma attack last year (3 days in a super dusty environment), it was noticed then but not to the full extent - I think after normalising the asthma symptoms with a bunch of salbutomol nebulizers (iirc) I was ~55. I'll ask when I next go to the doctors :)

Before I was diagnosed with asthma, I just knew that at some places (my mother in law's was common), I'd have poor breathing after a while. Just learned to relax through it, and the symptoms would lessen after I left.

I go to get diagnosed, and they give you a nebulizer with something that triggers symptoms if you have it. I didn't visibly react, so the tech did it again, then measured the difference in my breathing. Whoops, the lack of visible response meant that I should have stopped after one dose.

So, I couldn't leave until after enough doses of an inhaler that it went back to normal. About 7 hits, I looked like I was sunburned for a while.

Like Elric said, it could be perfectly normal. Sometimes this tech is as much a nocebo as it is a help.

This. You might want to get checked for arrythmia if you haven't. My dad registered as having bradycardia using the home devices. What was actually happening is that he had a more normal heart rate at like 70 to 80 but that the beats were irregular and some weren't strong enough to be detected by basic heart rate measurement devices. It was only an EKG that was able to accurately detect his real heart rate.

Nocturnal bradycardia is pretty common. You don't even have to be terribly fit for it, just being horizontal can put a serious dent in heart rate.

And that could very well be it, just thought it worth a mention.

No idea if it is the cause or not, but there are strong physiological links between breath control and heart rate. Do some reading on "heart rate variability", see for example https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189422/#s5titl...

vargas nerve, parasympathetic nervous system, etc.

(sourced from a quick google search; it's been 2 years since I was active in this and I don't have my sources in short-term memory).

I'll have a read, thanks.

I've been trying to lower my HR when steady-state jogging also & variability came up a lot in my light reading on techniques for doing that also, but the articles did tend to feel a lot more at the quackery end of the scale

Could you expand on this please. Like the technique, duration and how long have you been doing it.

The ones I remember most were for stammering/stuttering. It was a mix of breathing from the bottom of your chest, strong posture with shoulders up & a little back, not forcing your ribs up, but feeling them move out horizontally.

The biggest part for becoming a confident public speaker was the psychological side (aside from all the usual stuff about slowing down mentally). Becoming conscious of breathing for just a few seconds before starting works wonders, as does carefully timing awkward to produce sounds/syllables on different parts of the breathing downstroke.

I've been doing this for 30yrs (i wrote 20 initially ... forgot i'm old :) now, slow breathing is the norm at the desk & before speaking to an audience/hosting meetings etc I still have to follow the same steps every time otherwise I start tripping over my tongue.

This relates to breath meditation and makes me think of the audio files from https://www.dhammatalks.org/mp3_collections_index.html#basic...

It's helpful (for many of us) to have guided breath meditation, if only to get into the right headspace needed for sustained "focus" on breath. Thanissaro Bhikkhu is perhaps the most chill human on the planet.

Not everyone is able to breathe automatically.

Brainstem structures located in the medulla are in charge of the automatic mode, whereas cortico-subcortical brain networks - including various frontal lobe areas - subtend the voluntary mode.

Patients suffering from central congenital hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), a very rare developmental condition secondary to brainstem dysfunction, make themselves breathe consciously while awake, but require mechanically-assisted ventilation (MV) during sleep to overcome the inability of brainstem structures to mediate automatic spontaneous breathing (SB), which is unreliable.

This study used EEG-fMRI to compare patterns of brain activity between voluntary and autonomic ventilation during wakefulness. It found that the CCHS patient was more efficient in cognitive tasks requiring executive control during MV than during SB. Mechanical ventilation freed up the brain to perform other cognitive functions.


I find it curious that breathing is one activity that can be both voluntary and autonomous. Are there any other activities that are so?

Blinking is one that comes to mind










Anecdotally (sorry), my resting heart rate was sitting around 72-ish for a long time, according to my fitbit. I'm a pretty fit guy in my mid 30's, so I wasn't really happy with that number. I started working on trying to improve my breathing a bit, and after a couple months it's now sitting around 58 or so.

I mostly just tried to breathe through my nose as much as possible, with a lesser focus on breathing slower. At first it was difficult because it always felt like my nose was stuffy and hard to breathe through, but there are some techniques to clear it temporarily [0]. And over time my nasal passages became clearer to where I very rarely have trouble breathing through my nose.

Of course I don't know for sure if that was actually what brought my heart rate down, but the timeline fits pretty well. Plus I figure the cost and risks of just trying to improve your breathing are pretty much nil, so it's worth a shot.

0. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBqGS-vEIs0

If you're curious about this subject, there's a fairly new book [0] by James Nestor who argues for what you're talking about and quite a bit more. He did an experiment where he had his nose sealed to force mouth breathing and found that it caused a number of nasty health consequences, including elevated heart rate. So it's likely that your anecdote is representative of an actual causal relationship between nasal breathing and heart rate.

He did a promotional appearance [1] for the book with Joe Rogan that covers a bunch of the material, but the book is interesting beyond what gets discussed in the interview.

[0] https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breath [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5o9b2RVC2E

Yesterday I watched Pierre Capel explain the Wim Hof method.

He explains that you can change the pH levels in your body with breathing techniques. And this alters how your nerves are working.

Very interesting: https://youtu.be/hJ7zbsRM0-c

It's worth noting that any hyperventilation raises blood pH (low CO2 in blood -> increased alkalinity). There's nothing special about the Wim Hof method in this regard.

The effect on the nervous system is different depending on the technique. Also the WH method (I'm not a practitioner btw) has been experimentally demonstrated [0] to have the purported effects. Not all such breathing systems can say that.

[0] https://edlatimore.com/wim-hof-method-review/#the-science

If it's taken to the extreme: Are there then even more health benefits for long breath holds? Or is it the breathing that's the clue? I've been practicing holding my breath for freediving earlier, and got to 5 minutes. It's very relaxing, until it's not.

Yes, in regards to holding breath. Look up Wim Hof breathing exercise. I haven't tried it it seriously yet, but the research looks promising.

A heads up: Hyperventilating before diving can be fatal, so not something I'd recommend in that context, at least. Which also makes me a bit dubious about his other claims.

Edit: found a twitter thread where he told someone to not do it before freediving, so at least we agree there. I've just seen his method mentioned so many times in relation to breath hold, and it's so incredibly dangerous to do under water.

Wim Hof repeatedly, in every video of his I've seen, tells people to do the breathing in a safe place, not in a pool or in the car. He even has a safety first video that discusses these things linked in all of his other videos.

Some have mentioned the Wim Hof method here, but I’ll give it a shout out too. Have practiced the breathing daily, 1-3 times per day, 4 rounds per session (1.5, 2, 2.5, 3 minute breath holds) for a couple of months now and it’s had great effect on both my asthma and how winded I get from uphill sprints on my morning walks. Am also doing some cold showers and wearing only shorts and tshirt for my walks. I used to feel the need for pants and sweater if the temperature was around 10 celsius outside. The other day I was quite comfortable walking at 0 degrees. Did take a while for my hands and arms to recover full dexterity afterwards, but the kind of cold-to-the-bones freezing I would experience doing something like that didn’t happen. Walk is about an hour on forest trails

The breathing sessions are also an easy way to get meditation and body scan exercises into the daily routine. Definitely recommend it

> I used to feel the need for pants and sweater if the temperature was around 10 celsius outside. The other day I was quite comfortable walking at 0 degrees.

Your comment sounded good until that sentence, I sweat profusely in anything approaching normal temperatures and wouldn't want to lower my "starting to sweat" temperature (which now is at about 20 C) by another ten degrees...

In my experience after starting breathing exercises (not Wim Hof...more freediving oriented), it has the opposite effect to what you're positing.

Rather than just raising body temperature to become impervious to cold, it's actually giving your body a greater ability to regulate its own temperature. So in cold you're warmer, in hot you're cooler. When I started doing the exercises, I was living in Southeast Asia and sweating profusely whenever I left AC environments. After about a month of the breathing exercises, I stopped sweating almost entirely. I originally attributed it to my body adjusting to the climate, but when I returned home to the US, I also found that the cold no longer bothered me.

Do you have any such exercises I could do?

Some instructors have been mentioned elsewhere in this topic. Its considered inappropriate for an individual who has not been promoted to instructor rating to teach/assign breathing exercises because of the contraindications and complications that a student may not have been exposed to (since the student was being taught to do the exercises, not to teach them).

Chiming in with others who responded, I haven’t experienced decreased heat sensitivity or increased sweating either. On a physiological level, what the cold training (cold showers, winter walks, ice baths which I’ve yet to get into) seems to do is exercise the small muscles which control blood flow in the skin, training them to respond more efficiently to changes in temperature. As for the breathing exercises, the effects seem to come from a combination of co2 tolerance training (co2 levels being the primary trigger of air hunger and the breathing reflex), hypoxia training (cells having to adapt to regularly operating with lower levels of oxygen), diaphragmatic training (in-breaths are strong and forced), and the rapid shifting between sympathetic (forced inbreaths) and parasympathetic (relaxed outbreaths and empty(ish) lung breath holds) activation. Both the breathing and the cold exposure are basically hormetic stressors, like weight training. Another aspect of the cold training is psychological. Regularly committing to doing something that is inherently aversive, sticking to it, and training oneself to breathe calmly while doing it. I’ve definitely noticed a reduction of general and social anxiety levels. This is super apparent if I have a cold shower before a social gathering or a job meeting. Massively improved confidence. The immediate effect of a few minutes cold shower is an adrenaline rush, likely followed by endogenous endorphine release. It’s an ecstatic feeling and a huge energy and mood booster

I felt the same, but, having tried it, I can say it works in both directions. I can comfortably tolerate both hotter and colder temperatures than before.

Huh, that's promising, thanks. Is there an easy resource on the method? I downloaded the android app but it needed a sign up so I uninstalled it.

Looks like some videos are coming up with a DDG search: https://youtu.be/nzCaZQqAs9I


Breathing exercises were a big part of the taoism books I studied. IIRC, because breathing is voluntary and involuntary at the same time. This is where the Spirit and the body meet.

Breathing exercises help move your "inner energy" through your body. The book I'd recommend is the Tao Te Ching if you're interested.

thanks for the recommendation. I'll admit I haven't looked since I read your comment but I do not remember seeing breathing exercises in the Tao Te Ching.

Recently a user submitted, 'Make me breathe properly'[1] after watching James Nestor's talk to my problem validation platform. I assumed, upcoming Apple Watch(then) would be able to measure breathing rate (i.e. Number of breaths/minute) with pulse oximeter and EKG (Apple has a patent for this) which should solve this problem as Apple watch already had a breathe app.

Needless to say, Apple Watch Series 6 doesn't seem to have this feature and I assume that the accuracy was an issue as off the shelf pulse-oximeters which claim to measure both SpO2 and breath rate do a bad job at the latter.

[1] https://needgap.com/problems/155-make-me-breathe-properly-he...

My daughter, who got her Masters in biology relatively recently, suggested that this appears to be the "expected" way that mammals purge stress. I was told during my meditation classes that, during slow breathing, the amplitude of various waves on an EEG change. Waves that are associated with sleeping/resting gaining amplitude, while those associated with stress decrease in amplitude.

I know from my own experience that it works for me to calm down stage fright prior to public speaking or important presentations :-).

They say in India, When we are born, we are given a certain number of breaths. The quicker we spend our breaths, the sooner we die. Tortoise breaths 4 times per minute and lives for ~300 years.

I’ve heard something similar in the past, and there are at least a couple studies that support the idea [0][1]

“...humans have on average a heart rate of around 60 to 70 beats per minute, give or take. We live roughly 70 or so years, giving us just over 2 billion beats all up.”[2]

Other animals follow a similar trend, according to [2], and I find that to be much more interesting.

[0] https://heart.bmj.com/content/99/12/882

[1] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/174182671039427...

[2] https://www.sciencealert.com/relationship-between-heart-beat...

But we do not have direct control over heart to make it beat slower. Maybe slow breathing is a way to slow the heart beats.

There are similar sayings around number of heartbeats. It's fun to imagine, but it's not particularly scientific.

Just wanted to recommend this Yoga series, Namaste Yoga. It synchronizes breathing with movement. Plus its shot in some pretty spectacular locations.


I've been fighting a sudden issue with high blood pressure. It's amazing what sitting down and doing some slow breathing will do. I can go from cardiac patient to normal inside of 15 minutes just by taking my time to breath at 5-6 second intervals.

That is why peoples are smoking. Smoking is slow breathing, and therefore as a relaxing effect.

Well, that, and nicotine is addictive

Nicotine is as addictive as Caffeine. I would point you to look about added susbtances such as sugar, which when burnt produces acetaldehyde which directly stimulate pleasure zones of the brain in less than 15seconds transfer from inhaling to blood.

Even better to vape the "anti-stress" vitamin B12:


Can we really stay it is better until there are long term studies?

No, you are right :)

Would a completely inert vape bring health benefits?

Opiates slow down your breathing, and releases endorphins... so it could therapeutically be used to "remain healthy"? I wonder. :)

I do this when I shiver in the cold. You'll stay warmer for longer.

What's the executive summary of this paper?

This is something that yogis have been saying for 1000s of years, using breathing techniques like 'pranayam'. It's ironic that how until something is promulgated by or studied by a western university it is discredited.

Now we are seeing an explosion in breathing related practices from Wim Hof, to Kelly Starrett and the Navy Seals essentially taking a practice that people have been doing for millennia and making it seem novel.

This is such a tired critique of any science that touches on traditions. There are plenty of traditions that have turned out to be useless, plenty that turn out to be useful. Empirical validation is a good thing and has literally nothing to do with east versus west nor tradition versus modernity. It has to do with knowledge versus suspicion, and the more useful things we can pull forward from suspicion into knowledge, the better off we'll be.

I think his point is that it would be more helpful to everyone if people remained agnostic to things that they haven't properly investigated instead of actively denying them simply because the research hasn't been done yet. This kind of attitude keeps a lot of people from researching fringe subjects some of which may have something there. But people are discouraged from looking and ridiculed for their interest because there's no evidence to support it (yet). It's a self-reinforcing cycle and not very productive.

Pretty sure every child on the planet has been told to “take a breath” in the middle of a temper tantrum. The assertion that people have dismissed this particular idea is obviously not true, but is also a hard thing to prove in the general case as well.

In many things related to mindfulness, breathing, yoga, and meditation, we in western culture have a bad habit recognizing the value of a very small part of a larger practice and then writing off the rest as spiritual mumbo-jumbo. For example, everyone knows that "taking a breath," helps your child to calm down. But we don't often go further into breathing practices, partly because they start to bump up against spirituality, because we as Very Good Scientists are naturally skeptical and usually biased against that.

Mindfulness is another example that we're just a little farther along with. It's now becoming widely known that being mindful for 5-15 minutes a day will lower your stress levels or help you control emotions or rise in the corporate ladder or help with other sorts of problematic behavior. But what happens when you go further? 2500 years ago, people knew that meditating for 1-2 hours a day leads to dramatic, permanent, and wildly transformative changes to your perceptions of reality and your relationship with the sensate world. But words like "awakening" are spiritual mumbo-jumbo so we apply our natural scientific skepticism, largely ignore the deep parts, and do our society a disservice.

So on one hand, you're right that we don't just completely dismiss these things. But on the other hand, we do often dismiss the important parts.

>then writing off the rest as spiritual mumbo-jumbo

Because a lot of it _is_ spiritual mumbo-jumbo.

The books "The Mind Illuminated" and "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" occasionally get recommended on here and are pretty mainstream books, supposedly backed by "brain science" and written by two PhDs. Let me give an excerpt from "The Mind Illuminated":

"The first practice involves cultivating the so-called “higher knowledges of the mundane type.” These are: 1. The “higher powers,” which are said to allow a yogi to perform miracles such as walking on water, or walking through walls. [...] 4. Knowing the minds of others, which is a form of telepathy. 5. Recollecting past lives"

And this isn't presented as a "oh, here's this historical context", it's presented without any real comment next to the jhanas.

Or, a nice bit in "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha", talking about pyschic powers:

"On the other hand, it does seem to be possible through powerful intent, strong concentration ability, appreciation of interdependence and careful experimentation to manipulate what we might call “this world”,as well as those in it, in very unusual and profound ways. Yes, I am referring to such things as telekinesis, mind control, reading other peoples thoughts, pyromancy, and all of that. The more you get your concentration and insight trips together and the more you look into the magical aspect of things, the more you will learn about what I will call the magical laws of the universe and how to use your will to manipulate it."

You know why people are skeptical of things like "awakening"? Because it's sold in the same breath as all the religious parts, making it impossible to discern which is what. If the cost of getting to 'the deep parts' means having to not dismiss such obvious bullshit like pyromancy, I think society will do fine with such 'disservice'.

I agree that it's difficult to get to the core practical side of these things. Buddhism and related religions/philosophies have had a lock on meditation for so long that it can be hard to disentangle the real stuff from the stuff that got made up along the way.

So when you reach for The Mind Illuminated, which is a 400 page book, and trivialize the 390 pages of good pragmatic instructions on improving concentration and insight skills because you read 10 pages of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, you're missing a powerful opportunity.

The fact is that if you sit quietly and pay attention to your breath for a couple hours a day, some very transformative stuff will eventually start happening all on its own. No books or religion is required. But as a society, we mostly aren't willing to do that because of attitudes like that displayed in your post. We're making progress, though. Brains of advanced practitioners are being put in fMRIs with surprising results, and things are happening slowly. My point was that we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater in the name of being good scientists.

>So when you reach for The Mind Illuminated, which is a 400 page book, and trivialize the 390 pages of good pragmatic instructions on improving concentration and insight skills because you read 10 pages of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, you're missing a powerful opportunity.

This is just so crazy to me. We have a book that claims to be scientific while making absolute absurd statements without any comment, why wouldn't we dismiss it? It's a bit hyperbolic, but imagine if "Introduction to Electrodynamics" included a chapter on how to use magnets to communicate with god. To me it would absolutely ruin what is otherwise an amazing resource, because it fundamentally ruins my ability to trust the source. It doesn't matter if the rest of it is actually legitimate and good, either they're unable or unwilling to separate what is legitimate knowledge and what is religion.

Honestly, I'm actually rahter disturbed by the book's reception. It's a well received best seller that even on the (supposedly) skeptical HN is praised without a caveat. Not only that, but if you look into a lot of meditation forums, a lot of people into meditation do genuinely believe in the supernatural stuff. I can't imagine a better sign to show that we're not skeptical enough.

>The fact is that if you sit quietly and pay attention to your breath for a couple hours a day, some very transformative stuff will eventually start happening all on its own.

Sure and if you state it that way, I'd wager most people wouldn't dismiss it. The issue is that 99% of the time, this is not how it's sold.

>But as a society, we mostly aren't willing to do that because of attitudes like that displayed in your post

Sure, but without this attitude it's also a lot easier to fall for (intentional or unintentional) bullshit of all sorts. I used to be really into chaos magick (same deal basically, natural 'brain hacking') and I'm pretty sure without this attitude I would have turned into of the crazies who thinks their self inflicted psychosis means they have the powers to alter reality.

The fact that most people in meditation forums either outright admit believing the supernatural stuff or are incredibly evasive about it (just like with chaos magick), says more than enough in my opinion.

>My point was that we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater in the name of being good scientists.

We shouldn't, but we should also be as skeptic as possible and dismiss people who seamlessly interweave facts and fiction, because that's also how conspiracy theorists and nonsensical "alternative medicine" quacks sell their craft.

These are scientifically unsubstantiated claims but to claim that they are impossible is to go beyond the scope of the current science. We have a default stance on this, the 'null hypothesis' that states that these are not possible, a hypothesis which we have thus far failed to reject. This is not the same as saying that we've proven the null hypothesis to be true, we never really prove the null when we do hypothesis testing - we either reject it, or default back to it. How can you know that mind control is impossible? If you were truly capable of it, would you advertise it? I know I wouldn't, unless I had a burning desire to end up in a government lab somewhere, which I don't. Real science always rests on a backdrop of agnosticism, which people often forget and get caught up in emotionally charged ridicule.

But all that aside, it's not really about believing or not believing in whatever the claims are. These disciplines are all based on the 'doing' aspect - you do it, and if you feel the slow transformation of your character, then great. Whether or not you become a pyromancer is actually not important, most of these disciplines actually discourage these things even though they believe in them. Their stance is that different strange abilities may come and go but clinging to them is more destructive to progress than anything.

>These are scientifically unsubstantiated claims but to claim that they are impossible is to go beyond the scope of the current science.

Proving things impossible is beyond the scope of _any_ science, that's just how epistemology works.

>How can you know that mind control is impossible?

I can't. I also can't know with absolute certainty that climate change is real, that the earth isn't flat, that vaccines work and don't cause autism or that bill gates isn't a satanist using covid pandemic to implant people with mind control microchips.

I have seen absolutely no evidence for any of it and all the believers seem to be absolute lunatics, so the chance of it being true are low enough that I'm pretty comfortable with acting like I know it for certain.

>If you were truly capable of it, would you advertise it?

Well, I'd say writing about your experience with your abilities in a book certainly counts as a form of advertisement! I also don't really see what there'd be to worry about if it's true that these powers could simply be learned.

>But all that aside, it's not really about believing or not believing in whatever the claims are. >Whether or not you become a pyromancer is actually not important, most of these disciplines actually discourage these things even though they believe in them.

Sure, they might see it like that, but I don't think it makes sense for anyone else to view it this way. If someone is either lying or deluding themselves, I think that's pretty important information to consider! If someone is, say, an anti-vaxxer that doesn't mean everything they're saying is false, but it certainly makes it seem pretty reasonable to dismiss what they're saying until they've provide some actual evidence.

Similarly, why shouldn't I be skeptic of people who are claiming supernatural powers while not being able to offer any evidence? Especially because they're not making it clear where knowledge ends and religion begins, possibly because they themselves don't know.

I'm just saying that there should be a kind of agnosticism which 'pure' science is very conscious of and therefore chooses its words carefully when it says things like 'we have not found evidence for x'. This is very different from saying 'we have disproven the possibility of x', but this is the way it is generally understood by the general public. Healthy skepticism is important, but it often devolves into emotionally charged ridicule (see Richard Dawkins for an example) which has nothing to do with objective science at all.

you're not going to get very far by advocating that people apply skepticism to their own belief systems when they haven't shown the willingness to do so. you're going to find stupid human tricks anywhere you find humans.

Yes and by no means am I stating that we take all traditions or techniques for granted; otherwise we'd still be sticking leeches on people. The point is that in n=1 studies (ie. self experimentation) one can learn a lot more and a lot faster than by waiting for a double-blind study to be conducted on the subject matter.

The same is true in strength training, where coaches like Charles Poliquin used techniques that weren't "scientifically validated" till decades later.

Meditation and mindfulness has pre-dated Calm, Headspace and the SV bubble by a couple of millennia so it's important to have an open mind to practices that don't yet have papers in PubMed. Just because a doctor can't prescribe it to you doesn't make it bogus.

Well, you can certainly “learn” things faster (with scare quotes). The fundamental insight of science is precisely that the method of learning that you describe is actually extremely unreliable.

Agreed that there’s a lot of time that has been lost on these really important topics. I’d readily concede that a lot of that time has been lost because of frankly racist perspectives on other cultures. Just like meditation is not - or ought not be - exclusively an eastern innovation, science is not - and ought not be - exclusively a western innovation. Let’s take findings like this as an absolutely critical merging of thought and not a subversion or subjugation of thought.

Agree completely. The method I describe is not prescriptive for a general population. However, it can be taken as a case study and an opportunity for experimentation.

It is also refreshing to see that modern science is now starting to investigate these various practices so as to determine the mechanism and physiological impact behind them. The fact that psilocybin and ayahuasca are now being researched for their medicinal properties under lab settings is refreshing. 

However, going back to breath work it would be nice if these publications gave credit to the original practitioners instead of framing the research as novel and revolutionary.

> It's ironic that how until something is promulgated by or studied by a western university it is discredited.

I don't think it was discredited. It's just making the case stronger using science. I believe this will keep happening and that's good!

"The act of controlling one’s breath for the purpose of restoring or enhancing one’s health has been practiced for thousands of years amongst Eastern cultures.

For example, yogic breathing (pranayama) is a well-known ancient practice of controlled breathing, ..."

>This is something that yogis have been saying for 1000s of years, using breathing techniques like 'pranayam'.

Well, sure, and they've also been saying for 1000s of years that if you just meditate hard enough you'll get supernatural abilities.

If you mix religion and actual knowledge, I think you should expect to generally be dismissed until there's some more evidence.

This is nothing but praNayaama packaged in a fancy journal paper. It's been practised in India for > 4000 years as part of Yoga.

One of the earliest recorded mentions is in the Bhagavad Gita (set in 2500 BC). In it, Krishna tells Arjuna to calm his mind, focus his gaze on the tip of his nose, and concentrate on his breath.

One of the greatest practioners was Sri Aurobindo who practised this for 8 hours a day for several weeks. He then reported a radiating energy through his body and wrote "Savitri" - 24,000 line poem in English while hiding from the British in French-occupied Pondicherry.

To be fair, "this is nothing but [ancient spiritual practice] but with science backing up the claims" is more valuable than this comment might imply. There's an awful lot of ancient spiritual practices that have no benefit and lots of harm and are still practiced today in the name of ancient spiritual practices (stuff like rhino horns). So having some science behind it is worth a lot more than "packaged in a fancy journal paper".

Agreed, but I also think it's worth pointing out that science-based medicine has been around for a long time now, yet why has there been so little attention paid to the issue of healthy breathing? Why do doctors not assess a patient's breathing rate just like they would their heart rate or blood pressure? It's astounding that an advanced medical science would bypass something so foundational for so long.

Nope - that just supposes that 5000 years of practise was done for fun and had no health benefits. And, now it is upto a few scientists to discover what 5000 years of sustained practise could not. They could have just referred to Sushruta Samhita or patanjali's yoga-sutras where praNayama and its benefits are dicussed in detail.

Well, blood-letting had 2000 years of practice and authors discussing its benefits in detail. and turned out that was done for fun and had no health benefits (in fact, it was harmful).

For some diseases and conditions it is actually healthy. You of course have to be careful with it.

And what of the hundreds of other practices? Shall we take all old things at face value and never study them? We study things we "already know" all the time. Often we discover new things while doing so, but still prove our previously held beliefs more true.

More personally, why aren't you just happy to see extra validation of something you believe in?

You are still assuming 5000 years of sustained practices have health benefits..

You're assuming studies conducted today with minimal or no replication of results are evidence of health benefits. If 5000 of scientifically less-than-perfect evidence is not worth anything, then this study is also worth nothing.

As karatinversion already pointed out, some traditional health practices have been shown to be ineffective, or even actively harmful.

There is no substitute for the scientific method.

I'm not citing it as a substitute, rather I'm saying that it isn't something you can entirely discount either. And we know for a fact that a lot of published "scientific" studies turn out to be not reproducible too, but people will continue to believe them for a long time regardless.

Nothing to assume.

Yoga and Ayurveda have proven benefits.

What method was used to prove their benefits if it wasn’t the scientific method?

I was referring to the word “assume”.

Doing it.

[replied to wrong comment]

From the introduction:

> The act of controlling one’s breath for the purpose of restoring or enhancing one’s health has been practiced for thousands of years amongst Eastern cultures. For example, yogic breathing (pranayama) is a well-known ancient practice of controlled breathing, often performed in conjunction with meditation or yoga, for its spiritual and perceived health-enhancing effects.

There are two very different ways to use breath in yogic traditions.

One is what is discussed in the article (prāṇāyāma) controlling breath for health benefits and calm. Slowing the breath, holding after exhale. Often as preparation for meditation.

Another is focusing on breath as meditation practise. In that practise breath is not subject to control, it's subject of attention and focus. The breath usually calms down during meditation but it rarely slows down as much as during controlled breath exercises.

It's even older in other parts of the world, of course.

There is indeed quite a lot of written evidence in palm scripts as well as books and works that are a few thousand years old.

Of the many Vedas, the Ayurveda and the Yajurveda cover many medical bodies of knowledge.

The various Wikipedia articles cover these.

I used to get disappointed at how various Indian bodies of knowledge are treated here at HN by some ( not all, no point in generalising). But I then remember that regardless of what a few unaware works like to claim as “spirit medicine”, millions of us Indians and others around the world enjoy the benefits of Ayurveda.

Without science, all you have is superstition. Also, science lets you extract what wisdom there is in a tradition/ritual instead of throwing the whole baby out with the bathwater.

For example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda#Classification_and_ef....

Without science, you don't know if it's the slow breathing, the lead-infused tonic, or the oil pulling that's working.

The "Indian bodies of knowledge" get passed through the scrutiny of experimentation and end up living on in practices like slow breathing and mindfulness while we leave harmful superstitions behind like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samskara_(ayurvedic). What's the problem?

“ What’s the problem?”

One example, disrespectfully calling it “spirit medicine”.

==== That Wikipedia article doesn’t account for the practices at well regarded Ayurveda schools and clinics, btw. The doctors are such places aren’t “reluctant to admit” that certain herbs may cause issues, and in fact consultation to identify a person’s composition and the suitability of families of herbs is the first step.

What the article reports about the issue of lead and other items in various mass manufactured medicines is true and this is not an Ayurvedic issue but one of unscrupulous medicine manufacturers.

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