Experiments in Art of Breath

By Brian MacKenzie, Jason Donaldson and Rachael Colacino

FullSizeRender 133The Bohr Effect was first described by Danish physiologist Christian Bohr in 1904. In very simple terms it says that if one takes in enough carbon dioxide, oxygen can be used more effectively throughout the body. Bohr discovered that your blood, or more specifically your hemoglobin’s ability to bind oxygen is inversely related to acidity and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood. So your blood releases oxygen when in the presence of carbon dioxide.

According to Bohr, the lower pH, caused by an increase in carbon dioxide, will cause your blood to deliver more oxygen to your muscles.

Experiments by the Art of Breath Team

Our breath work started with experiments using the Training Mask, which worked well to stimulate the diaphragm to become more connected to breathing. The Training Mask works by resistance, and trapping some of the air when exhaling, and carbon dioxide (CO2) is in part also trapped, signaling us to breathe more deeply and creating more of a need for air of poorly adapted. It also showed to have a great influence on motor control as well, teaching many athletes how to set up mechanically better than they were. This experience inevitably pushed us to explore many other things surrounding the pulmonary / respiratory systems.

History with several “methods” in Yoga, Tummo, Wim Hof, Buteyko all lead to very similar things. We started to find a pattern: higher levels of CO2 tolerance seem to be indicators of healthy physiology. Not just a great AErobic or ANerobic threshold, muscular power or endurance, mobility, or inactivity. Most of us seem to be fairly CO2 intolerant to a large degree, meaning we can’t handle a healthy (> 5% CO2 in the lungs) dose of CO2 that actually optimizes that O2 “infusion.” This also forces more of a hyperventilation to not only our work, but throughout the day. When we exercise, our oxygen levels fluctuate between 95 and 99 percent; those are the optimal levels to release oxygen into the system. If you’re performing superventilation practices and using a pulse oximeter to measure your oxygen saturation, you may see your oxygen concentration measured at 100%. Unfortunately, that oxygen isn’t available to your cells. It hasn’t been released if it’s at 100%. Over-breathing & deep breathing can cause too much carbon dioxide to be removed from the blood, tissues, lungs and cells as the hemoglobin holds onto the oxygen. You may have a high oxygen saturation level, but it’s not where it’s needed most. Instead optimal seems to be between 95%-99%, but thats not the entire story. 

If we are CO2 intolerant we may have a chronic “hyperventilation” issue that is blowing off excess carbon dioxide, all day. We may also be able to correlate carbon dioxide tolerance with eating habits, respiration, how our body breaks down, and disease; the lower your tolerance, the more susceptible we are. We can also see carbon dioxide intolerance in people who exercise, who huff and puff when they work out. They may not be absorbing oxygen well either.

Experiments in Nasal Breathing

We’ve been playing with the concept of nasal breathing a lot lately, and it’s been a tremendous catalyst in showing us how efficient and inefficient we are. When we train with nasal inhales and exhales only, switches start to flip. Our body becomes more efficient at working harder through nasal breathing, whether we’re walking or running or lifting. We’ve seen increased efficiency and faster recoveries, in part because respiration is now slowed, and due to the higher levels of CO2 in our systems which allow our bodies to recover more quickly.

There are side effects as well: less heavy breathing, calmer beings, better sleep. Overall we are becoming less sympathetic dominant creatures. The transition has been awe-inspiring in that we can see how if you overuse any of your body’s systems, you become inefficient and less likely to recover. We see how important sleep becomes, how important it is to not overreact, not to stress, to avoid anxiety. These are all amalgamations of a sympathetic-dominant existence. Which, although some of us are wired to be more sympathetic, it’s learning to down regulate (parasympathetic) more efficiently that becomes the more important piece of our autonomic nervous system.

We’re certainly not devoid of that sympathetic stressed state in athletics. If we’re constantly worried about mile splits or the weights we’re lifting, it has an effect on everything we do. It’s self-sabotage. Focusing on our breathing helps us understand that no matter how else we fuel our bodies, we need to use CO2 properly. The chicken or the egg concept plays out here too, but the fact is if we actually apply some of the principles (not to be confused with methods) we can hack the basic foundation of an ill adapted system just through breathing.

Experiment on Yourself (n=1)

How do you know whether your body is using carbon dioxide and oxygen efficiently? One way is the exhale breath hold: hold your breath until you feel the first sensations of having to breathe again. How did you do?

  • A score of below 10 secs is a problem. It means your ability to retain CO2 is very low.
  • A score of 10-20 secs is pretty normal these days but as we now know, that’s not a good thing.
  • 20-30 is getting better and you’re above average.
  • Efficient breathers have a score of over 40 secs. That’s the goal. Get your exhale breath hold score above 40 secs.

In a previous blog we discussed using nasal breathing only as you begin your workout, to warm up your pulmonary system along with your cardiovascular and muscular systems. The next step would be attempt to use nasal breathing during your workout for as long as possible.

If you’re looking for more, all of these breathing protocols are included in GHP Training and covered in depth at our Art of Breath clinics.

Rachael Colacino


Neuro Nidra to Rescue Sleep

“There’s nothing more important to your performance than sleep, and I don’t care how you measure your performance….nothing breaks you faster than sleep deprivation” – Dr. Parsley, former Navy Seal   Neuro Nidra to Rescue…


Understanding the Past Pt. 2

We have become hopelessly dependent on a system that removes us from true autonomy and education. This is not to suggest that advances in medicine and technology do not have their place, they do! Or…


Territories Vs. Fences in Self Regulation

The edge of your yard is marked by a fence; an imaginary line drawn by humans. Birds, foxes, deer, squirrels, bees, and weeds have no sense of these boundaries.  They come and go based on…


Exercise as a Stress Management Tool

Stress is everywhere. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is. What you do, or don’t do, in response to stress is the key. It is unmanaged stress where the issue lies. By nature, our…


Unnatural Naturalness

The ideal is unnatural naturalness or natural unnaturalness. I mean it is a combination of both. I mean here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony. Not…

Muscular Endurance Exercises for Men

The Nose Knows

By Jason Donaldson Take a breath. Did you breathe through your nose or your mouth? The breath is a very powerful thing. It literally keeps us alive. Using your breath correctly however, is not as…

Michael L. Blog About 5k Training Program

GHP Featured Athlete: Michael L.

It is due time we profiled another one of our badass GHP Team members, so we reached out to Michael L who is one of our top UNSCARED PRO athletes. Michael came to us right…

5K Training Program for Soldiers

GHP TACTICAL – For our men and women in the field

By Darrel Wang and Rob Wilson In sport, loss means going home empty handed and disappointed. In tactical environments it means mission failure, serious injury, and even death. The stakes are high and because of…

Happy Girl on Functional Fitness Training

GHP Featured Athlete: Amanda Nefe

When we asked GHP member Amanda Nefe to answer a couple questions, we knew she was busy, but we didn’t realize how busy. Amanda graciously took the time to answer a few questions between juggling…

Rest Time on Mountain

Happiness is the Path

By Brian MacKenzie “There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.” — Gautama Buddha Heart, grit and passion all are subtle shades of the same character, with tangled and intertwined intentions. We talk…