There are multiple health benefits of doing “breath hold.” An average healthy person with no special training can hold his (or her) breath for about half a minute. Increasing the hold time gives more opportunity for the inhaled air to pass through the thin lining of the air sacs and into the blood vessels which then improves oxygen saturation and helps the brain to stimulate our breathing. Breath retention has significant health benefits. The eventual goal of Pranayama is “Kevala Kumbhaka”. More details here. With practice you can resist the stimulus to breathe for longer but it remains carbon dioxide accumulation that causes release of the breath hold.

Some claim that breath cures all diseases and causes practitioners to have a long, healthy life. Many diseases are thought to be caused by disturbances within the pranic energy system in the body and mind. Pranayama – for example, nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) with antar kumbhaka – helps bring the energy system into harmony. Therefore, effective practice of a kumbhaka (like kevala kumbhaka) in conjunction with pranayama is believed to help prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases, from skin disorders to diabetes. If you are able to hold your breath longer, you become healthy from inside. In addition, there are specific Pranayamas like Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and Ujjayi breathing (Oceaning breathing) to prevent any lung infection.

There are multiple other health benefits associated with breath hold, some of them being

  1. Increasing in lifespan by preserving life of stem cells : Breath training places a lot of emphasis on breath control and this has an effect of creating a steady heartbeat. Controlling your breath and heartbeat allows control of the nervous system and the emotion center of the brain.
  2. Increasing the resistance to infection : Through controlled breathing and guided mental focus training your breath allows the body to experience a ‘healing state’, decreasing your breathing to 1-5 cycles/minute with complete comfort.  
  3. Regeneration of new tissue in the brain which helps reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease : Breath training activates a reflex within the body known as the ‘mammalian diving reflex’. This creates a physical change which decreases oxygen consumption through reduced heart rate. Over time once this reflex has been activated you will find it being one of your best assets to extend your breath whenever the need arises.  Many respiratory related diseases, viruses and bacteria, even the likes of cancer do not survive in a highly oxygenated body, so your susceptibility to them taking hold can be dramatically reduced.
  4. Increase your cardio strength: Breath  Training can change the thickness of the Diaphragm. This means you will have a better ability of breath control when under any stress.
  5. Decrease Stress : This significantly reduces cognitive processes, potentially resulting in anxiety and unclear thinking, ineffective memory recall, disruptive behaviour and a gradual decline in hormonal balance. B.E.T teaches the most effective ‘natural’ way to deal with stress.

The breath hold can be extended further by breathing faster (hyperventilation) immediately beforehand. Hyperventilation has little effect on the oxygen content of the body but blows off carbon dioxide so that you start with a higher cerebrospinal fluid pH. Hyperventilation does not alter the rates of oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production, but the lower initial carbon dioxide content means that the hypoxic stimulus triggers respiration before the pH of the cerebrospinal fluid falls enough to do so. It may be possible to hold a breath for over 5 minutes by hyperventilation on 100% oxygen. The hyperventilation reduces the body’s carbon dioxide content but does not affect oxygen content much, but the Fio2 of 100 kPa considerably increases the total oxygen content.

Posted by: Sumedha Khosla

Join Sumedha for her All Levels + Pranayama class on 8 Limbs Livestream, Mondays at 4:30pm. 


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