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Mind Games: Tricks to Help Double Your Breath Hold

a man in a pool of water

One of the most common questions I get as a freediving instructor is “How do I increase my breath hold?”. Typically, I answer that breath hold is 60% mental gains and 40% training gains. In which realm do you think it is easiest to make the gains? You might be surprised. I have been training my breath hold for over three years, and I have found it to be the most nuanced aspect of freediving training. As you enter the “struggle phase” you may find yourself battling with your mind. Suddenly, it feels like everything you told yourself earlier in the breath hold is falling apart. The urge to swallow hits. Contractions shake your chest violently, startling you out of your sense of peace and complacency. Some report burning in the lungs, or on the skin around the neck and ears. Different personalities will respond to these stimuli in various ways – some will bail, others will push until the edges of their vision fades and they have their first dry blackout. They might wake up a few seconds later on their bed or on their couch, wondering what just happened. In any case, the dedicated diver makes the gains. Training a few times a week for months until they reach their goals. My goal was to train my breath until it was over 5 minutes, and I gave myself a year to do it. Using the tricks below, I was able to reach my goal in just under three months, extending my breath hold by 100%.

Visualization One: The Body Check

During this breath hold mind trick, the freediver begins by focusing their mentality on their feet. Are they relaxed? Is there a way to relieve any tension or flexing going on in the muscles? You may not notice much of a difference, and that just means you are indeed relaxed. Move on. The calves are next. Relaxed or not? Check, ensure, and move on. Eventually you will work your way to the hips, back, arms, shoulders, neck, face, and eyelids. By the time you are done systematically checking your body for tension, time has flown by.

Visualization Two: The Magic Eraser

This mental trick for breath hold begins during the rest phase. While you are breathing, open your eyes and check your surroundings. Dedicate the features of the room to memory, utilizing as much detail as possible. Once the breath hold begins, pull up your memory of the room around you. With eyes closed, visualize every possible detail of the room. Start wherever you’d like – right in front of you, or the ceiling, or perhaps the floor? Build the room in your mind, piece by piece. Once you have finished your picture in your mind, it is time to begin erasing it. Start by placing a mental index finger in the very center of your visualization. It leaves a black dot behind. Spiraling outward from the center, drag your mental finger in ever-widening circles, erasing as you go. Eventually, you will have erased all that was in front of you – but you aren’t done! Erase what is behind and beneath you as well. Keep going until your consciousness is standing in a black void. Now comes the fun part – fall forward into that void.

Visualization Three: Sensory Deprivation

There are plenty of these games that freedivers play while holding their breath. The final meditation game I will be sharing is the most simple. Picture yourself lying on your back, floating above a sea of still water that extends as far as the eye can see in every direction. Picture the color of the water as you watch your body float six inches above the tiny ripples and waves. Is it blue? Dark green? Black? There is no sky, no sun, and nothing under the water. Just you, floating peacefully, defying gravity above the ocean. Hold the image for as long as you can.

I hope these training tips are helpful to you – I’ve found them to be somewhat subjective. I’ve shared with you my three most popular visualizations among my students, but everyone is different. These games may even hurt your breath hold time if they do not mesh with your individual personality. I urge you to practice breath hold tables two to three times a week, and share your progress with me on my social media pages!