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Twenty-two minutes. On average, that’s the length of time it takes to watch your favorite sitcom, get your oil changed, or have a pizza delivered.
For Stig Seversinsen, Ph.D., founder of Breatheology and a champion freediver, however, 22 minutes is how long he can hold his breath under water—which is a record for the longest a human has ever gone without a gulp of air. (He’s the one on the left in the above photo.)
While some records are pointless, Seversinsen says learning how to hold your breath for longer periods of time can significantly improve your mind and body.
“Breathing is our fuel,” says Severinsen. “Those 30,000 breaths you take each day are the main connection to your mental state, your physical reactions, and your athletic performance.”
But many of us have trouble just holding our breath to swim a lap in the pool. If you attempted to go even 5 minutes without breathing, you’d eventually pass out and your automatic survival mechanism would kick in, forcing you to unconsciously take a breath.
So how did Seversinsen do it? “I learned to control my breathing,” he says. This mastery enabled him to enter extreme relaxation so his heart rate dropped to just 24 to 25 beats a minute and his body required little oxygen.
However, before you can control the act, you must learn it first, Seversinsen says.
Now, you might be thinking, how do you learn an automatic behavior? Shouldn’t you already be a natural? Actually, says Seversinson, most people do it wrong.
Instead of filling up your lungs, you probably bring air into your upper chest, creating tension in your neck, shoulders, and chest. When this happens, breathing becomes a strenuous effort that increases hypertension and stress, he says.