Hackernoon logoPracticing Oxygen Hunger To Benefit Mental and Physical Health by@z3nch4n

Practicing Oxygen Hunger To Benefit Mental and Physical Health

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@z3nch4nZen Chan

Interested in Infosec & Biohacking. Security Architect by profession. Love reading and running.

Breathing is such a native human function that most of us do not pay much attention to it. I often listen to others breathe (not exactly listen but pay attention to body expansion and contraction during respiration); I've noticed that some people breathe twice as fast as I do when sitting on a bus - that is a sign of stress or anxiety.

Rapid and shallow breathing is not only energy wasting. Unconsciously breathing in this way could create a vicious cycle as our body treat breath rate as a response and also a “sensor”.

If your breaths are shallow and rapid even if you are not under stress, it triggers the sympathetic nervous system in a “fight or flight” response.

That “fight or flight” response further increases pressure and increases the breath rate. This snowball effect can create tension, leading to respiratory illnesses like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Back to the Basic: 3 Techniques for Proper Breathing

Mindfulness training always reminds you to “focus on your breath”, “take a deep breath”, or “inhale and exhale”. If you practice meditation or mindfulness regularly, you already familiarize yourself with how controlling your breath can calm your mind.

The other part of the nervous system — the parasympathetic nervous system  sends a signal to your brain to calm the mind and tell you that you’re safe can be triggered by slow and deep breathing.

1. Take back control of your diaphragm

Image by Haabet from Wikimedia | Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The easiest way to achieve that is by practicing Diaphragmatic Breathing. Without being told, I generally breathe by expanding my lung when inhaled.

But the better way of breathing is to do it by expanding your diaphragm — Diaphragmatic Breathing or Belly Breathing.

Strengthening your diaphragm may improve your core muscle stability and your body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise (thanks to improved CO2 tolerance). With more practice, the first thing you notice is a reduced breath rate as you can supply oxygen to your body with a lower breath rate.

Belly breathing helps you to expand your diaphragm and take in more air while inhaling. When you breathe out, it does the opposite — relaxes and moves upward.

Even you are a distance runner like me, it does not necessarily mean you know how to do belly breathing. If you are used to shallow breathing, your diaphragmatic muscles are probably tensed/ tightened. Therefore, before practicing belly breathing, it would be better to try what I did to relax the diaphragmatic muscles.

Both exercises are easy to do and I feel great after doing them. You will feel the muscles in your belly (core muscles) are relaxed. Stretching the deep muscles feel refreshing as those are the muscles connecting your upper and lower body.

2. Exhale > Inhale

Just breathe slower and exhale a little longer than you inhale, preferably through your nose can immediately increase your parasympathetic response. The 4–7–8 technique is the easiest of all.

The 4–7–8 breathing technique can be broken down into the followings:

  1. Exhale and empty the lungs
  2. Inhale for 4 seconds gently (via the nose)
  3. Hold the breath for 7 seconds
  4. Exhale for 8 seconds
  5. Repeat steps 1–4

Breathe for 4, hold it for 7, and breathe out for 8 — this is what I remind myself during the practice. I often use this exercise before presentations or every time I need more focus.

3.  Nasal Breathing

Nasal Breathing is the way our bodies were designed to breathe correctly. The nose is the center of your respiration. Breathing through your nose not only filters the air you breathe but also warmth and moisturizes the air; this means your mouth and lungs won’t dry out quickly.

Breathing via the nose gives pressure to the air going into the lung. The air passing to the lungs through the nose is moistened, warmed, and filtered. Also, breathing through the nose releases nitric oxide, which increases the O2 and CO2 exchange. Nasal Breathing regulates the gas exchange in and out of the lungs.

What is Oxygen Hunger?

“Dyspnea” is a medical term for shortness of breath also called air hunger. It is the feeling of could not breathe in enough air. On the other hand, Oxygen Hunger is the process of intentionally limiting breathing to stimulate the oxygen-carrying capacity.

Image by Feather at English Wikibooks

Practicing Oxygen Hunger can improve our body’s oxygen-carrying capability and strengthen our overall physiology because our body can adapt to environmental changes, including air availability.

The presence of a low dose of stimulation (in this case, the absence of air) triggers our body adaptation response with beneficial effects. This process is called “Hormesis” in toxicology. This concept can be applied to explain the health benefits of various activities.

For example:

Physical exercise

Low to moderate levels of exercise increase oxidative stress and inflammation in our body. That will trigger a physiological response on a cellular level and increase our strength. Long-term, high-intensity exercise such as ultramarathon running would be at risk of high oxidative stress levels.

Alcohol Consumption

A low dose of alcohol intake is associated with lowering the risk of all-cause mortality. But a high amount of alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for many health problems.

Professional Athletes are well aware of the performance benefits of Oxygen Hunger. That is why high altitude training, a lower atmospheric oxygen environment, has been a routine preparation for some elite athletes for a long time.

Three Hacking Techniques for the Oxygen Hunger

Oxygen hunger can be treated as a practice to enhance the endurance of hypoxia by using hormetic stimulation. As said, high altitude training is one of the examples to do that. But not all of us are professional athletes with training teams and coaches to guide us through the edge.

Yet, there are things that we can do to not only enhance our physical performance but also our mood and response to stress. I am going to share three methods that I tried.

1. Breath-holding after exhales, not inhaling

Holding your breath give your cells more time to absorb oxygen, and produce carbon dioxide. Holding your breath can sometimes increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your cells and blood, i.e., a voluntary and temporary environment with low oxygen for the body.

So why we need to hold our breath after exhale? To increase CO2 tolerance, we need to increase the CO2 concentration, not O2, in the lung. When we breathe in and hold our breath, there is a larger supply of oxygen from the air when breathing in.

Without inhalation first, oxygen supply is limited. But at the same time, our cells continue to produce CO2. The net increase in CO2 in our blood would raise oxygen hunger.

Our goal is to increase our time holding our breath after exhale. I usually do this practice when waiting for the bus or walking. I would count my breath hold by the number of steps.

  1. Breathe normally 3–4 times
  2. In the last exhalation, hold your breath.
  3. Once you feel the urge to inhale, sip a little bit of air only and continue to hold your breath
  4. Repeat 3 for three times and then go back to normal breathing.

This exercise not only helps you increase your CO2 tolerance but also calm your mind during hypoxia. That can significantly prevent our sympathetic nervous system's over-stimulation when we are low in oxygen, i.e., during and after a long run.

2. Training Mask

Using a mask to limit the air could simulate high altitude training, although I am not a fan of the scary look when wearing the training mask. Please make sure you are comfortable with the look of the mask before buying it. You can find training masks online.

A similar result can be achieved with a regular medical mask. Exercising with a medical mask is not wise because the mask's effectiveness degrades when it gets wet. Therefore, I walk upstairs instead of the elevator for 22 floors to go back home. Climbing upstairs is a cardio exercise (even more when carrying my bag). I feel more breathless when arriving home if wearing a mask.

But after wearing a mask all day for a year, I barely notice the mask when walking. And now I can run upstairs to 22 floors with only nasal breathing in 3 minutes. This is the most time saving and efficient method to maintain my tolerance for oxygen hunger.

3. Wim Hof Breathing and Cold Exposure

Wim Hof — The Iceman is famous for controlling his nervous system and can withstand stresses (cold, toxin, or pain) exceed any other human. I practice Wim Hof's breathing by using his free mobile app. The audio guidance is easy to follow and can start immediately after the download.

Wim Hof breathing involves 30 to 40 rounds of deep inhale and normal exhale, followed by 2 breath-hold at each set's end. After 30+ rounds, our body would be temporarily over-saturated with oxygen.

  1. Expand our lung when breathing in
  2. Exhale normally
  3. Repeat 30+ times
  4. Stop when you feel a tingling sensation.
  5. Hold your breath when you breathe out for as long as you can
  6. Breath in and hold 15 seconds to end one set. Continue for 4 sets
  7. Cold exposure

But why need to add cold? Studies show that cold exposure during hypoxia results in an increased reliance on shivering for thermogenesis at rest; on the other hand, heat loss is accelerated during exercise. As a result, you can maximize the hormetic effect by not only oxygen but also cold.

My recommendation is to familiarize yourself with the breathing exercise first. After that, add cold exposure to the end of the 3rd or 4th sessions of breathing. I usually do this in the early morning as the cold shock wakes me up.

To try cold exposure at home, turn your shower to the coldest temperature during the last minute of your shower. When you are not fear anymore of the initial shivering, you can start with the freezing water. There is no better time to try a cold shower than the winter. If you can beat the cold in winter, you can keep doing this till summer.

Final Words

Breathing is often overlooked regarding optimal health. Better breathing makes you more energized, more focused, and more peaceful. Spending more time on my respiration helps my mindfulness training and improve my performance of running.

Correct your breathing now if you often breathe by your mouth. Nasal breathing is normal breathing for humans, not via the mouth. Paying more attention to your breath can be easily achieved by belly breathing.

If you want to try biohacking, practice the oxygen hunger by inducing temporary hypoxia could be your first start. I discussed three hacks for you to try.

  1. Breath-holding during movement, followed by an exhale
  2. Using a Training Mask to simulate high-altitudes
  3. Practicing the Wim Hof Breathing technique and cold exposure

I am less breathless during exercise, I am less tired at the end of the day, and my response to fear and stress has improved — All thanks to Oxygen Hunger’s practice.

Thank you for reading! Happy reading and happy biohacking your breath.

Also published at https://medium.com/in-fitness-and-in-health/oxygen-hunger-biohacking-breathing-with-hypoxia-61d563c55e60

Main Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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