just breathe

I haven’t written here for a while – it’s beginning to feel as though I’ve been holding my breath for days now. And now, surfacing, blowing out the air and gasping, sucking fresh air back in. There are two simple joys in life – getting fresh air into your lungs, and finally taking a pee if you haven’t been able to for a long time. I worked with a guy once who told of not having taken a pee for a number of years – he had been on dialysis – and then finally getting a kidney transplant – and eventually, oh, the simple joys…

I can’t hold my breath for very long – it’s a sign of not being overly fit, and a matter of training. It’s possible to learn to hold your breath for quite a long time. Tanya Streeter broke the world freediving record by holding her breath for some three minutes and 38 seconds – the time it took her to descend to 400ft and back to the surface. The world record for floating face-down in a swimming pool is held by Tom Sietas of Germany who stayed under for 8 minutes, 47 seconds. The world record for swimming underwater in a pool is held by Peter Pedersen of Denmark, who swam 200 meters (610 feet) without taking a breath.

So, what happens when you hold your breath? Your body starts to get short on oxygen – your blood normally runs at about 98% oxygen – and there’s a corresponding increase in the carbon dioxide levels. And of course, your body starts to moan – you get complaints from the stretch receptors around your lungs. The stretch receptors sense each breath and moan to your brain when one is a bit late in coming.

So, the secret to being able to hold your breath longer is to acquaint your receptors with the sensation of breath holding. You can do this by – ah – holding your breath. Who knew? Another way is to take long, slow, deep breaths through tightly pursed lips. Your lungs become stretched because of the time it takes for them to fill. This is part of the technique used by Tanya Streeter.

If you’ve decided to become a freediver, take it easy. It’s generally considered to be not exactly life enhancing if your blood oxygen gets below 80% – around the level found in people experiencing cardiac arrest. In light of this concern, perhaps I’ll just continue writing instead…

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