Article posted Thursday, May 8, 2014 11:43am

Why can we hold our breath for only so long before we gasp for air? Recent evidence suggests that the “break (gasp) point” is not due to carbon dioxide or oxygen sensors in the lungs or blood vessels, nor is it due to volume sensors in the lungs. Rather, the best evidence suggests that the diaphragm, the muscular floor that rhythmically moves to fill and expel air from the lungs, sends discomfort signals to the brain about how long it has been since it last contracted to fill the lungs with air. The brain then subconsciously processes this information and determines how much discomfort the person can handle.

Training can extend breath holding, as can meditation, flooding the body with oxygen, or purging it of carbon dioxide. Extended breath holding can cause a person to pass out and even lead to brain injury. However, training can greatly extend how long a person can hold his or her breath. Consider the following breath-holding records, keeping in mind that for the average person breath holding out of water is only about a minute.

• In 2009, Stephane Mifsud, in France held his breath for 11 minutes, 35 seconds.

• In 2008, Tom Sietas, of Greece, held his breath for 10 minutes, 12 seconds.

• Herbert Nische, an Egyptian, managed nine minutes of breath holding in 2006.

• An American, Martin Stepanek, held his breath for slightly more than eight minutes in 2001.

(Scientific American, April 2012)