How I held my breath for 3+ minutes

It all started with a Facebook status.

I’ve tried to hold my breath in the past of course. Who hasn’t? I remember in particular my friend, Almin, who could consistently hold his breath for almost two minutes back when we were 12 years old. That amazed me because, until I met him, I thought I did well when I made it past a minute.

Probably partly as a result of Almin’s inspiration, I found myself fascinated by David Blaine and his underwater antics. For a few months there, he held the Guinness World Record for one of his attempts.

But all that to say, my attempt – my record – started with a Facebook status:

“No cheating! In a comment, press the x button for as long as you can hold your breath. Beat this breath! Haha!” David Haley

And then he attached a long string of X’s.

Ah, I bet I can beat that, I thought. But right before trying, I recalled reading something about purging (though I didn’t remember what it was called). I remember reading that the problem with holding your breath is that CO2 builds up in your body. So if you take rapid breaths right before trying to hold your breath, you’re able to purge a lot of that CO2 out of your system, replacing it with oxygen.

So I took a bunch of quick, deep breaths and then one giant one. I held that last one. That, and the X on my keyboard.

I thought about a bunch of things as the X’s accumulated. I didn’t watch, though – I kept my eyes closed. I could feel the pressure in my chest, the pressure from the deep breath I took, slowly dissipate. My lungs felt what I would imagine balloons feel when someone slowly lets the air out of them.

At some point, the pressure reversed. Instead of feeling the pressure like I’d just taken a deep breath, I began feeling the opposite pressure like I’d just exhaled all my air.

After that, I started gulping. I guess it’s a natural response. I swallowed the air I’d stored in my cheeks. That gave me some extra time. Eventually, though, my chest started convulsing, involuntarily. I held on as long as I thought I could but gave up pretty shortly after that started.

I let go of the X button. I opened my eyes. The string of X’s looked pretty long. I immediately began comparing it to everyone else’s string of X’s.

I felt like I lasted a long time, so I wasn’t surprised that I had the longest string. What did surprise me, though, was how much longer my string was compared to everyone else’s.

With one exception, I think, mine beat all the others by at least a factor of two, maybe more.

So then I was like, Huh, I wonder how long I actually lasted?

Curious, I pressed the button again, measuring out one-minute’s worth of X’s. Eyeing it up, I estimated I held my breath for over two and half minutes, definitely the longest I’d ever held my breath.

Later, after other comments piled up on the status, which continued to notify me – thanks, Facebook – I decided to take a shot at three minutes, and time it.

I searched and found the article I remember reading about David Blaine’s record attempt and the method he prescribed for lasting a long time without air. That reminded me of a couple extra tips. It also gave me some extra motivation.

I followed the steps in the article. I won’t repeat them here – check the article if you want to know.

The one topic the article didn’t cover, which David Blaine actually covers in other videos or posts, is the mental side of holding your breath. Like what am I supposed to think about this whole time?

I didn’t know, so here’s what I did.

First, I thought of holding my breath. I quickly realized, though, that I needed something better to do with my time without oxygen. So I began to imagine myself drowning, slowly.

There’s a scene in the movie, Master and Commander, where this guy grabs a canon ball and steps off the side of the ship. The camera shows him looking up through the water as he sinks. That’s the kind of the image that inspired my thoughts.

Later, though, I switched that image to the image of a beautiful, young woman, like someone I’d want to marry. But I still imagined her drowning. I tried to make out the details of her face, the look of quiet desperation in her eyes as they pleaded with me to save her.

And then I tried to make peace with that image. It helped for some reason. I think that mental image played on the physical experience of the moment: beauty plus death, calm plus desperation. I needed a way to stay under control while my body told me to gulp down some air. This helped.

Eventually, though, like the first try, I couldn’t last any longer. My finger started tingling, and I felt the pressure told the tips build up. My chest started heaving. And then I took a breath.

It was an accident. My reflexes just sipped in some air. Disappointed, I opened my eyes.

Three minutes, 10 seconds.

Wow, I had just shattered any record I’d had in the past, and probably lasted longer than I had with the X’s. Thing is, I’m pretty sure I could someday beat that record if I put in another 15 minutes or so of focused effort again.