Fast Breathing

17.01.2021 |

Episode #7 of the course Breathwork: Science and practice by David Urbansky


How did you feel after yesterday’s slow breathing exercise? Hopefully nice and relaxed because today we’ll investigate the benefits of fast breathwork exercises.

Before we begin, a short warning: do the following exercises only sitting or lying in a safe environment (never when driving or near water). Also do not do them if you’re stressed, in the evening, when pregnant, or if you have high blood pressure.



Bhastrika is an Indian breathing technique that is supposed to clear your lungs out, hence it is also called the “cleansing breath”.

Let’s do one minute of bhastrika together. Read the instructions first:

• We’re aiming for 30 breaths per minute, which means one second in and one second out.

• Actively inhale and just let go of your breath during the exhale.

• Sit up tall, relax your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths in and out from your nose. With each inhale, expand your belly fully as you breathe.

• Make sure the breath is coming from your diaphragm; keep your head, neck, shoulders, and chest still while your belly moves in and out.

• One bhastrika cycle goes like this:

○ Take ten breaths with one-second inhalations and one-second exhalations.

○ Next, inhale as deeply as possible and suspend breathing as long as comfortably possible.

○ Next, exhale as fully as possible really slowly.

○ The end of this deep exhalation completes one round of bhastrika [3].

○ Take a few normal breaths after one complete cycle and repeat the whole process two more times.

• Make sure to listen to your body during the practice. Bhastrika is a safe practice, but if you feel light-headed in any way, take a pause for a few minutes while breathing naturally. When the discomfort passes, try another round of breathing, slower and with less intensity.

Now go ahead and try one or two rounds to get a feeling for it.



Kapalabhati is an even faster breathing technique, also called the “breath of fire”. The setup is very similar to bhastrika, but you want to get twice the speed, so 60 or more breaths per minute. On the exhale you don’t just let the air out, but rather you push it out using your abs (otherwise you wouldn’t get up to speed.)

Studies have shown a multitude of health benefits from this breathing protocol, including an increase in VO2 max [1], lowered blood pressure [1], improved visual discrimination and finger dexterity [5], and improved auditory, visual, and sensory reaction times by up to 10% [2]. These benefits usually require following this protocol about thirty minutes daily, five days a week for at least one month.


Wim Hof Method

Wim “The Iceman” Hof is a crazy Dutch extreme athlete who set world records in swimming under ice, the longest direct contact with ice, and running a half marathon barefoot on ice and snow. He developed his own method based on these three pillars: cold exposure, breathing, and meditation. While we’ll be focusing on his breathing technique, you should check him out, he’s a fun guy with lots to learn from.

Wim has been working with researchers for many years proving to them that he’s not a freak of nature, but that his seemingly superhuman skills are rather simple to learn. Some research is so groundbreaking that medical books might need to be rewritten if further research confirms the findings. For example, he showed that his method can help the body fight bacterial endotoxins [6], this would mean we have influence over our autonomic (the uncontrollable) nervous system. That wouldn’t make it only autonomic anymore, a huge deal!

Enough talk, let’s breathe! His protocol is super easy and consists of three phases:

Phase 1: Controlled Hyperventilation 

Take 30-40 breaths fully in (through the mouth is allowed here to get as much air as possible), then passively letting go on the exhale. It should be about 1-2 seconds in and 1-2 seconds out, which will get you to 15-30 breaths per minute. This phase will therefore take a minute or two.

Phase 2: Breath Hold Out

Hold your breath after the last exhale as long as possible. Don’t exhale all your air, just exhale to your neutral state. This will get longer the better you get at it, shoot for roughly two minutes.

Phase 3: Breath Hold In

Take a deep breath and hold your breath with your lungs fully filled for 15 seconds, then let go.

Return to phase 1 and complete this cycle another 2-4 times.

Don’t be scared of lightheadedness or “lobster hands”. You might feel a tingling in your hands and feet and they might become stiff. Also, you may get cold so have a blanket ready. Don’t be scared of these effects, they are normal and temporary, if they get too severe just breathe normally and you will get back to normal.


Holotropic Breathing

Holotropic breathing is fast-paced hyperventilation, accompanied by rhythmic music, over a longer time of up to three hours with the goal of reaching an altered state of consciousness. It was actually developed as an alternative to LSD [7]. The name comes from Greek “holos” meaning whole and “trapein” meaning “to move towards”, so together “moving towards wholeness”. In those sessions, you usually have one breather and one sitter—it is not recommended you do this by yourself. Experiences can be overpowering and since it is almost like tripping, you can have a bad trip and unpleasant feelings can arise. This is sometimes called a “healing crisis”. Large clinical studies have found overall positive therapeutic effects [7].

Now you have more breathing tools in your health arsenal! Personally, I recommend the Wim Hof method for three rounds and you will feel amazingly calm but still energized. Give it a go because tomorrow we’ll stop breathing altogether and hold our breath!


Recommended book

Breathwork: A 3-Week Breathing Program to Gain Clarity, Calm, and Better Health by Valerie Moselle



[1] Effects of short term practice of bhastrika pranayama on metabolic fitness (METF) and bone integrity (BI)

[2] Effect of Mukh Bhastrika (A Type of Pranayama) on the Sensory: Motor Performance

[3] Effect of yogic bellows on cardiovascular autonomic reactivity

[5] Finger dexterity and visual discrimination following two yoga breathing practices

[6] Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans

[7] A Clinical Report of Holotropic Breathwork in 11,000 Psychiatric Inpatients in a Community Hospital Setting


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