Breathing Training and the Brain: What’s Really Happening?
How long can an ordinary person not breathe? For a long time it was thought that about a minute, but recent results have shown that this is just a bias. It all depends on the mood, motivation and, of course, training. But how do such experiments affect health and, above all, the state of mind? Scientists have found some answers to this question.
Unique breath-holding experiments
The authoritative edition of the European Journal of Applied Physiology presented the results of a study carried out at the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. His idea was born from the experience of athletes – freedivers, that is, professional divers without scuba gear. At any professional competition, you can see how their participants, holding their breath, lie on the water surface, swim and go under the water as deep as possible. At the same time, the record holders show fantastic results. Is it a joke – really holding your breath for eleven and a half minutes? But French diver Stefan Mifsud managed to do it! What manages to happen during this time period in the body, and what can be the long-term effect?
So, the longer the delay, the more carbon dioxide accumulates in the blood and, accordingly, the lower the oxygen content. The initiators of the study reasonably suggested that the activity of the brain in atypical conditions for it can undergo significant changes. A slow response and a decrease in cognitive processes, primarily, concentration, were expected. To assess the work of the brain and the whole body, a number of diagnostic procedures were carried out:
- monitoring of electrical activity of the brain (EEG);
- measurement of blood and oxygen concentration in the blood;
- oxygen content in brain tissue and so on.
In addition, attention was tested, as well as special diagnostics of hand-eye coordination during breath holding. This was a well-known proofreading test, when the subjects are given sheets of paper with rows of letters, which are placed in a completely random order. It is necessary to highlight only two of them, with one being underlined and the other crossed out.
Progress in testing a person’s ability to hold their breath
The research experiment involved two subgroups of volunteers – thirteen professional freedivers and nine adults who had not previously received any special training. One of the athletes withstood the stop of the respiratory process the longest – his result was 5 minutes 45 seconds.
But the result of non-professionals also refuted conventional wisdom. It was found that if you explain in detail to a person what awaits him when holding his breath, provide information about the sensations that he is likely to experience, in general, overcome psychological barriers, the time can be significantly extended. Until the onset of involuntary diaphragmatic contractions, which mean a reflex demand for urgent inhalation, almost everyone can relatively easily experience discomfort without fear of health. The best bottom line among non-professionals is 4 minutes 23 seconds.
The results of the diagnostics refuted the hypothesis about the deterioration of brain activity and exceeded all expectations. The activity did not decrease, the attention – too, and in general there were no changes for the worse even among the “champions” who went far beyond the generally recognized minute.
This gave grounds for the assumption that not only in mammals living in the sea, but also in humans, such a peculiar diving instinct can take place. In much the same way as in cetaceans or, for example, dolphins, it works to protect the main body systems from the effects of oxygen deficiency. At the same time, when conducting a special study, it is possible to observe a narrowing of the peripheral vessels, respectively, a decrease in blood flow to the muscles, and hence a decrease in oxygen consumption. The blood pressure becomes higher, the pulse slows down. As a result, blood is most active in the brain and heart.
So, as far as the vessels of the brain are concerned, they dilate when holding the breath, the blood flow increases, and the brain cells are better supplied with oxygen. Thus, it becomes easier for a person to concentrate, distract from disturbing thoughts and external stimuli. When done correctly, breathing exercises can be very beneficial.