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I hold the Guinness World Record for the longest breath hold of 22 minutes, AND for the longest freedive under ice on a single breath of air (236 feet) in speedos. My name is Stig Severinsen, I am a four time freediving world champion, and hold a PhD in M

Nov 12th 2012 by StigSeverinsen • 46 Questions • 2471 Points

Proof GWR for 22 minute breath hold VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqERqQj-ozc&

GWR Validated (22 mins) http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/1000/longest-time-breath-held-voluntarily-%28male%29

GWR for ice dive (236 feet) VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_y8TeORDTY&

GWR Validated (Ice Dive): http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/1000/longest-swim-under-ice-breath-held

5 Questions

1) How do you train to get your body and mind ready for these extreme records?

2) What do you think about as you are holding your breath for that long?

3) Can you suffer from brain damage holding your breath for that long?

4) Why do you do these extreme records?

5) How do I get started in freediving and breath holding?

Front Page - Thank You Reddit - You Are The Best. Keep Your Question Coming. I am doing the best to answer them, but I am being FLOODED right now! And soon have to go do some training in the ocean! But this sure has been fun! I would love to come back some other time...

Been a long awesome day with you all! Literally impossible to answer all of your questions. Keep posting your questions and sharing the conversation with your network, and I will get back to answering more tomorrow! Thanks for your understanding! This was really fun!

PS I am NOT The Stig. Instead I am THE STIG! :-)

Q:

Do you ever do it at the local swimming pool to mess with the lifeguards?

A:

Yes...when I was young and stupid I did this. I also used to tell my classmates that I was "watching television" as I was laying on the bottom. However, NEVER do this in your local swimming pool because your lifeguard might not save you, and it is not his responsibility.

I come from a professional background of swimming, and have lost several friends from mistakes holding their breath alone. NEVER do any of this. A big mission of mine is to educate people around the world on these specific safety issues.

I have a book (Breatheology), where I talk a lot about safety, and first aid.


Q:

I actually am a qualified lifeguard, and if I'm on duty it is my responsibility. Perhaps the laws here are different though (I'm in the UK).

But yeah, it sounds cool, I've always been interested in this, will probably check out the book. Thanks for the reply!

A:

Actually no...I am from Denmark, but the responsibility of lifeguards is the same all around the world. I am also a lifeguard by education, and I can tell you that I know several sad stories where people have drowned even though lifeguards were on duty. This is because people put weights and go to the deep end of the pool, or cannot be seen because either light or reflection on the surface. This is why I always tell people to ONLY do freediving with professional assistants. It is not something to play around with, and you should never put that responsibility on a lifeguard. He is there to guard swimmers, not people doing silly things that are often not allowed in a swimming pool. Thank you for raising this important question. I am very concerned with safety, as I have seen and heard of too many young lives being lost. This is unbearably sad, and unnecessary.


Q:

what is your resting heart rate?

A:

About 39-40 bpm.

I can drop it well below 30 as I did in this video on the Discovery Channel's SuperHuman Showdown (This is where I did the 22 minute Guinness World Record...Aired around the world now, and coming to the US soon)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOyU1OH8nMg&


Q:

obviously holding your breath for that long hasn't caused you any brain damage. can you explain how this is possible?

A:

Contrary to what doctors tell you, you DO NOT get brain damage. Several doctors have researched my brain (PET/MR/CT scans) and never have found any evidence of neural damage. The important thing to remember is that the heart beats all the time, so oxygen is distributed to all cells, but of course you must be able to lower your metabolism and not burn too much oxygen.


Q:

How close have you come to drowning? And did panic ever cause you to take a breath reflexively while under water?

A:

I have drowned a few times (in freediving terms "blackout" or "shallow water blackout" but I have always had a great safety team around to bring me back).

I have never inhaled water. That happens many minutes after you really die. This is actually a big misconception. Don't believe Baywatch, and all of the water coming out of the mouth when they drag a drowning victim up on the beach. Most drownings are DRY (No water in lungs).


Q:

What do you do with a PhD in medicine?

A:

My PhD was on inner ear hair cell regeneration on mammels and humans...looking for ways to improve balance and hearing in humans...but also have participated in a lot of research the last 15 years where I have been the "guinea pig" for doctors...scanning my brain, ultrasound of heart, lung scans etc to understand what happens in the human body and brain after long breath holds (low oxygen levels/tension) - this to improve treatment of people with stroke etc...


Q:

As someone with tinnitus and vertigo, I'm curious as to what hope their is to restoring these to normal. Is tinnitus caused by damage to the inner ear hair, and is it repairable?

A:

My main study as a Biologist was in Slider Turtles. In fact I was the first to show that turtles actually regenerate hair cells in the balance organ all throughout life. (You can find this scientific article online).

Regarding tinnitus...this is still a big question to be answered. But what I can tell you from my research is that we humans possibly have a higher regenerative power than originally thought. Just think of the human plasticity in our brains. As of now...the hair cells cannot be replaced, but I am sure you know that cochlear implants have been invented, and are very successful.


Q:

My friend suffers from terrible tinitus, do you know of any advancements or experimental treatments going on?

A:

See above. I am sorry to hear that.


Q:

When I was a kid, I used to pride myself on being able to hold my breath for long periods of time. At fourteen, I swam the length of an Olympic pool, forwards and back, completely underwater. I also had thought of a trick I might be able to employ, though I never tried. I learned how to suck air into my stomach when I was little (it's actually very easy). Normally I'd just let it out in a big belch, but I thought that if I was trying to stay underwater for a long time, I might be able to burp up the air (a little at a time, of course, lest most of it escapes) and suck it into my lungs for added oxygen. I don't know if the oxygen would be corrupted by sitting in my stomach or not (I don't think so, though). Have you ever heard of anyone employing this method?

A:

Yes I have both heard of this, and also thought about this technique/trick. Believe me, I turn over every stone when I prepare for my record attempts. In Indian yoga, they also use this sometimes. I have never done this purposely, but may give it a try one day. However, my intuition tells me that it is too much trouble and un-cumbersom, it is better to work on your mind and focus.


Q:

Have ever genuinely thought, "I'm going to die now?"

A:

Well actually training for another world record in Hawaii I got into serious trouble because there was so much algae on the rope making it slippery (was doing a deep dive pulling with my hands down and up). About 130 feet below, I felt like my mind and body started to waver, and at that moment a school of dolphins swam right by me. This woke me up, and I swear I have never experienced anything like this in my life before - just as if the dolphins understood that I was in trouble. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life.


Q:

If I steal this and use it as a pickup line, will you be mad?

A:

No go right ahead! Be my guest! Good luck!


Q:

Came to the AMA expecting dolphin life-save story, was not disappointed.

A:

LOL! Good!


Q:

You don't have to do the 5 questions things if you're yourself doing an AMA, only if you're requesting an AMA. Anyway, could you answer the questions you put up? They are very good.

A:

Hi - haha...good question;) This is my first time here at reddit (I am from Denmark/Europe) - Thought I had to make these five questions and put ehat get asked most often by people and reporters...which question do you want me to be specific about?


Q:

Well the second one is what I though of when I first saw this thread. What is your mindset like when you're holding your breath?

A:

The secret is not so much what you think but how you think.

Your mind has to slow down with your heartbeat so that you conserve the minimum amount of oxygen.

I use many different techniques (visualization/imagry) ranging from childhood memories to imprinted images like dolphins and sharks.

Many times you get into what I like to call "Meditation under water" because you are in a meditative state where your brain works differently (alpha wave frequency).

The most important thing is that I have already done the dive 100's of times in my mind before I actually do the dive. This is KEY.


Q:

The last thing I need to be doing to keep my heart rate down is thinking of sharks.

A:

Sharks are just fish. In fact I am going to be posting more videos of me swimming with sharks soon on my YouTube Channel. In fact I broke David Blaine's record holding my breath for 20:10 minutes in a shark tank. BIG SHARKS...THINK TROPICAL SHARKS. You can find this movie on the Breatheology YouTube Channel. I think it has the most hits, and was an official Guinness World Record also! I was the first ever to break 20 minutes. I am happy and proud about this.


Q:

I use many different techniques (visualization/imagry) ranging from childhood memories to imprinted images like dolphins and sharks.

This is interesting, it reminds me of the methods I use when I'm trying to fall asleep.

A:

Exactly...we all know a lot of these techniques, but we don't explore them so much because they are subconscious/natural to us. Be more open and try to test new methods for yourself. You will be amazed!


Q:

that's the same as me when I would try and hold my breathe underwater, for those long 45 seconds

A:

Great! Just NEVER do it alone!


Q:

Do you hyperventilate before diving?

A:

Yes - According to Guinness World Records you are allowed to ventilate oxygen for 30 min before the dive...I hyperventilate the last seconds....you can pass out from this so I try to find a good balance..


Q:

Whats the longest you've held you breath above water?

A:

I have passed 8 minutes several times, but don't train much out of the water.


Q:

Has this skill ever helped you beyond setting a world record, like being chased by assassins and hiding under water so they can't find you?

A:

Yes actually! Great questions!

During the world cup in Hawaii in 2002, we celebrated on the beach with Dance and Alcohol. Guess this was not allowed, and the police showed up with bull horns, and tried to arrest us.

What did we do? Well...it's a no brainer...of course we all just jumped in the ocean, and I've rarely had more fun than waiting for the police yelling and commanding and finally giving up and going home...this was a great night!


Q:

As a man who clearly knows a thing about breathing, how the hell do I get rid of these hiccups I've had for the past 10 minutes?

A:

Good question!

Simple answer...

Hold your breath for 30 minutes. It is a sure cure, but I wouldn't recommend it. </s>


Q:

I can confirm this. Another thing that works: drink a glass of water and then light yourself on fire.

A:

Might work!?


Q:

Ironically, I got into reading your responses and totally forgot about them. Well played, Severinsen.

A:

Good for you! :-) Actually...Shocking people can and will stop hiccups!


Q:

How does it feel to hold your breath for 22 minutes? Do you go into a state of altered consciousness? Does it feel longer than it actually is (meaning does time feel like it passes more slowly when holding your breath that long). How does that first breath of fresh air feel after 22 minutes?

A:

Time is shorter for me than normal time, this is the key to these long breath holds. Since I am also quite naive, I constantly tell myself that of course I can do these dives :-).

I am not in "real time" when I do these dives, so YES I am in an "altered state of consciousness."

This is really interesting because we have so many different layers of consciousness. This is really one of my biggest journeys in my own "mind training."

This is also what I teach all of the Gold Medal Winning Olympian Athletes, and High Power CEO's...and they love this stuff because this is something that they aren't usually taught.

As you will see in the video when I break the breath hold record, I do not gasp for air after it is complete. In my opinion, you should be way beyond that point, and end the dive relaxed and with a BIG smile :-). That is my philosophy.


Q:

What are your thoughts on David Blaine?

A:

I have never met David Blaine personally, but had some good friends who helped him train for the record he did on Oprah.

If I remember correctly, he did 17:04 which I think is great for someone who is not a professional freediver. However, he focuses a lot on the dangers and nearly death experience. I like to focus more on the benefits and the positive psychology and how it can help other people.

This is a big reason why I do these dives. I want other people to improve their lives from the techniques and various breathing exercises I discover. I call it "Breatheology." Google it for more information.

I address David Blaine in my Ted Talk - just search "Stig Severinsen Tedx" in Google, and you will see my 20:10 record plus the training I did for my best friend who had brain damage (lyme disease), and who fully recovered even though the doctors thought he would never walk again.


Q:

That is amazing about your friends recovery. Cheers to the both of you.

A:

Thank you. He now has three kids, and is on the Danish national team of white water rafting, and doing a PhD in sports psychology. How much more could I have dreamed of for someone who is a true friend?!


Q:

have you ever tried smoking? also, do you purposefully avoid smokers not to inhale 2nd hand smoke?

A:

Tried smoking a few times, but never saw the benefit. I even took a few hits of MaryJane a few times in my earlier surfer career, and also ate a brownie with some "goodies" inside...but never found any real value in this.

I am HIGH ON LIFE, and the stuff you get from meditation and being underwater is much stronger shit!

But yes...I certainly avoid inhaling smoke from smokers, and detest smokers who litter with their butt. It is so disrespectful to nature and people around them.

I even stop breathing in heavy traffic/passing behind a bus or a truck. It has become second nature to me.


Q:

Does it hurt much for you? If so, at what point? I ask because for example I can hold my breath for about 45 seconds (badass), but at about 30 its very uncomfortable! Is there a point where you have to fight with your body to stay down?

A:

This is a normal response. Your body wants to breathe. To become a professional freediver, you must learn to recondition your nervous system and overrule the signals to your brain so that you can hold your breath much longer. The trick is not to pass the limit.


Q:

How is that humanely possible? How did you train for that and how long did it take for you to get 22minutes?

A:

Well....nearly 40 years of training (I'm 39 now) - I have done these records before and was actually the first to pass the magic barrier of 20 minutes (in 2010 I did a Guinness World Record of 20 minutes 10 sec in a shark tank in Denmark) - I like to work in "concepts" so did 20'10 min like the year (2010) - When I train for a big record like this I start with a lot of cardio, then sprint/CO2 resistance, then flexibility (especially diaphragm and chest/shoulders)...because the CO2 build up like crazy and your diaphragm starts to make strong contractions...it is a big "trick/mind game" to not start breathing then.....I focus a lot on visualization and get my subconscious mind to accept that I CAN actually do these records....so I project my dreams/goals into the future...till they come true;)


Q:

Is it true that dating is hard for you because no one can take your breath away?

A:

Ha ha...no my girlfriend loves that I can stay a long time under water under in the spa :-)


Q:

Does Guinness have a world record for that?

A:

You should ask them. They are open to all kinds of new strange records! NO KIDDING!


Q:

Have your talents ever proved useful with a woman? What's the weirdest way your talent has ever brought you goodness?

A:

Actually yes! Several times!

Don't want to go into intimate details on spa experiences, but I held my Breatheology workshop some years ago, and there were two beautiful sexologists who were there.

They loved my teaching, and had a lot of questions on if I use the breath holding capabilities during "private time." I just answered their questions with, "I usually don't mix business with pleasure."

(But actually that's not really true)


Q:

What do you think have influenced your ability to do these extreme things more, your genes or external factors like your training?

A:

Great question!

I honestly don't know!

But...I have been training in sports all of my life and have have been doing yoga, breathing and meditation intensively.

My guru in india has taught me the basics of yoga and indian philosophy, but my background in sports is also a strong factor.

Of course your genes are very important, and I know that I have a large lung capacity and a large spleen (where red blood cells are stored).

I work with scientists constantly and they still don't know whether these anatomical features stem from training or genes. What I want to say is that EVERYONE can train their body and mind to a much larger degree than they might believe to achieve incredible things. This is my firm belief.


Q:

There's another Stig that has gone his whole life without taking a breath.

A:

Not sure what you mean by this, but there's a driver in England who has a helmet on all the time, so of course he cannot breathe.


Q:

Some say he has gills behind his ears to help him breathe underwater and that he has had sex with a mermaid more than twice......we call him 'The Stig'!

A:

WORD!


Q:

How come you do the 22min breath-holding thing in water? Is it just so that people can be sure that you are not breathing?

I think I've read somewhere that when the body comes in contact with water it sort of adapts so that you can hold your breath longer, is that true?

A:

Yes...I do it in water so people know that I am not cheating. I respect the yoga culture of India, but many "Guru's" are impostors, and will tell you that they can hold their breath for several hours. I have been looking for them in India, but still have not found them. This does not mean that the real ones do not exist, but rather means I have not found them yet, but I want to, because I want to learn and explore more into this incredible world of breath holding and mind training.

Yes...water and breath holding triggers the mammalian diving response (See other answers where I explain this further).


Q:

First of, props man! I remember seeing you in the Guinness book of records. I have an odd question: What does one have to do to deal with cold?

A:

Thank you. I have done viking swimming for many many years (In Denmark we swim in the cold water all year round). I have trained myself to acclimate to extreme cold, but also have adjusted my mind to shut off the signals from the body. This can be very dangerous if you push your body too far because of hypothermia.


Q:

Not a question, just wanted to say I'm a big fan!

Danmark elsker dig! :D

A:

Thank you! Love you too! (Elsker din entusiasme...mange tak og god dag)


Q:

What do you think about while you're down there? Or are you just focused on your lungs not exploding the whole time?

A:

As stated in another question, it is more about how you think...

Since I use a technique called "packing" my lunges are extremely filled...feels like they are about to burst. This is why I train a lot of flexibility...some of the exercises are quite extreme but necessary.


Q:

Have you ever considered making an appearance on Top Gear?

A:

Yeah...many people make this joke on me about "The Stig."

I usually tell them i am not The Stig...I am THE STIG :-)


Q:

Which do you prefer, the English or French version of Big Blue?

A:

French / Version Integral

The music is amazing all throughout, and there are some parts of the story that link the relationship between enzo and jacques much better together.


Q:

Have you seen the episode of Stan Lee's SuperHumans where they interview and test a free diver?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdMuO86RwYw

They do a complex test and determine that he has figured out how to "switch" his metabolism into anerobic mode (IIRC). His oxygen usage while holding his breath (at rest) continued until he hit about 80% O2Sat and then it just STOPPED. He sat there using essentially zero oxygen for minutes.

Can you explain some of this?

A:

No I have heard of it, but I am on Stan Lee's Superhumans next year in America. I also did a world record in that series.


Q:

I know I would freak out going that deep with the fear of not making it back up. What do you do to keep yourself centered? Thanks for doing this AMA

A:

You are welcome. I am having a great time with you guys answering all of your questions, as I have never done this before (I have great people on my team who suggested I do this, and so far it is great because people always ask GREAT questions!)

I usually dived with my eyes closed, and go either totally inside or outside mentally. I am not really "in the dive" I am somewhere else.


Q:

How do you handle the pressure going that deep, and how do you avoid getting the bends coming back up?

A:

This is not a deep dive. I hold my breath on the surface.

However...I have also held the world record for the deepest dive on the planet (unassisted without any fins). You must adapt slowly to the depth and focus on relaxation.

We have something called a "mammalien diving response" (you too), that slows down the heartbeat and redirect plasma from the blood to the lungs. This protects them from collapsing, just as in whales and dolphins. This was only discovered for humans in the late 1960's.


Q:

Did you ever pass out holding your breath for an extended period of time?

A:

Sometimes...mostly in the beginning of my training days. Now I know my body well, and have not passed that point for the last 10 years.


Q:

Can you comment on this: Mammalian diving reflex

As in, what does it feel like when it occurs? Also what do you think in your PhD opinion is the evolutionary reason for us having this ability?

A:

Here is an article I wrote on this very topic. http://breatheology.com/services/articles/freediving/the-mammalian-diving-reflex

When it occurs you feel deeply relaxed, "heavy" (but in a good way), and you feel your heart beat very intensely. It is truly a joyous feeling.

Having a PhD or not...I have answered this question very specifically in my book "Breatheology." Try to search for the aquatic ape theory, then you will get some new perspectives on evolution.

Personally I believe it is because we originated from the sea.