MEDITATION 

FUNCTIONAL BREATHING TRAINING 

INTERMITTENT HYPOXIC/ HYPERCAPNIC TRAINING 

THE WIM HOF BREATHING METHOD & PATRICK MCKEOWN’S OXYGEN ADVANTAGE®

2 Experts, 1 Goal

Meditation

INTERMITTENT HYPOXIC/ HYPOCAPNIC TRAINING

COLD WATER IMMERSION

OXYGEN ADVANTAGE®

Meditation

FUNCTIONAL BREATHING TRAINING

INTERMITTENT HYPOXIC/ HYPERCAPNIC TRAINING

WIM HOF METHOD

Meditation

INTERMITTENT HYPOXIC/ HYPERCAPNIC TRAINING

COLD WATER IMMERSION

Breath work for health and sports performance is enjoying unprecedented popularity. But with so many courses and books available, how do you choose? The obvious answer might be to look for training that’s well established and backed by scientific research. But even then, there are several options.

One question we hear all the time is, “What is the difference between the Oxygen Advantage® and the Wim Hof breathing method?” Some of our Oxygen Advantage® Instructors practice (and teach) both methods, so we think we’re well placed to answer. Let’s take a closer look at the Wim Hof breathing technique and check out the similarities and differences between Hof’s ideas and The Oxygen Advantage®.

HERE’S WHAT
WE’LL COVER:

THE WIM HOF BREATHING METHOD

THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE® BY PATRICK MCKEOWN

WIM HOF BREATHING TECHNIQUE VS. OXYGEN ADVANTAGE®

THE WIM HOF BREATHING METHOD

Who is Wim Hof? The Science, the Method and the Man Behind the “Iceman” Craze

If you have done any reading about breathwork, you will recognize the photos. The extraordinary Dutchman, Wim Hof, naked except for his shorts, sitting in meditation in the snow, or submerged up to his head in ice-cold water. Well-built and muscular at nearly 60 years old, Hof holds 26 world records. Feats of physical endurance include scaling Kilimanjaro in two days in just shorts and shoes, swimming nearly 60 meters under ice, running marathons barefoot across snow, and staying in a full-body ice bath for a record 1 hour 52 minutes and 42 seconds. Perhaps most remarkably — for those new to breathwork at least — he credits these achievements to his Wim Hof breathing method.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • Who is Wim Hof?
  • What are the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method?
  • How to do the Wim Hof breathing method?
  • When should you practice Wim Hof guided breathing?
  • What is the science behind Wim Hof breathing?
  • Cold shower benefits and does the Wim Hof Method work?
  • Is the Wim Hof breathing technique safe?

WHO IS WIM HOF?

Eyes glistening intently beneath bushy eyebrows and a trademark woolen hat, Wim Hof is a man of extremes. He’s an extreme athlete, and his Wim Hof method, on the surface, seems drastic. Deliberate hyperventilation, prolonged breath holding, ice baths and meditation — it’s infinitely “Instagrammable.” Add Hof’s own charisma and drive, and it is hardly surprising that his method is endorsed by celebrities like Ben Fogle, Russell Brand and Bear Grylls, and that his books have become bestsellers. As Hof’s own publicity says, he’s gone from “circus act to scientific breakthrough and global health leader.”

Wim Hof breathing is very different from the science of functional breathing taught in the Oxygen Advantage®. But both schools have things in common. Both take ideas from ancient yoga and the breath control methods of Pranayama. Both provide a gateway to the autonomic nervous system, potentially reducing inflammation and reversing the effects of chronic stress on the body. And, on a deep level, Wim Hof and Oxygen Advantage’s Patrick McKeown have the same primary motivation — to communicate the power of breathing to as wide an audience as possible, so that more people can begin to take control of their own mental and physical health.

Hof says, “My mission isn’t about me, or about the scientific studies… [It] is to help people all over the world, just like you, to live healthier, stronger and happier lives.”

Hof is a man on a mission. His passion is, in part, driven by the suicide of his wife. She suffered from schizophrenia and depression, and Hof believes she could have been helped by the knowledge he shares. He’s deeply invested in transcending the limits of the human body and mind. A powerhouse of enthusiasm, he exudes conviction that his method can change the world, one breath hold, one cold shower at a time.

But is he right?

WHAT ARE THE THREE PILLARS OF THE WIM HOF METHOD?

THE WIM HOF METHOD IS BASED ON THREE “PILLARS” OF PRACTICE.

1. BREATHING EXERCISES:

The way you breathe has an impact on the physiology and chemistry of your body. Forceful breathing, followed by breath holding, alters body chemistry, causing temporary alkalosis and activating the innate stress response, forcing positive adaptations.

2. COLD THERAPY (GRADUAL EXPOSURE TO THE COLD):

Hof himself is frequently photographed in full-on ice bath immersion, or diving into icy waters, but he suggests you can reap the benefits by starting with a 30 second cold shower every morning.

3. COMMITMENT (TRAINING OF MINDSET, CONCENTRATION AND MEDITATION):

Hof’s method challenges each person to go deep into their own psychology and transcend their limits. This isn’t a new idea. It’s central to ancient yoga, martial arts and meditation practices. But it does require an ongoing willingness to step outside your comfort zone. For this part of the training, he uses an unguided visualization exercise called a “third eye” meditation.

“If you can learn how to use your mind, anything is possible.” — WIM HOF, BECOMING THE ICEMAN

HOW TO DO THE WIM HOF BREATHING METHOD

Wim Hof breathing is a 4-step process that takes around 12 minutes to complete. You should practice on an empty stomach. Repeat the steps 3 times, for 3 rounds of the Wim Hof breathing exercise.

STEP 1:

Get comfortable. Sit or lie down somewhere quiet, where you feel able to relax. (It is important you don’t practice near water, unless you have someone with you who is not doing the breathing method.)

STEP 2:

Take 30 to 40 deep breaths. Hof suggests breathing forcefully into the belly and exhaling naturally and easily. During these breath cycles, focus on deep breathing. It doesn’t matter if you breathe through your mouth or your nose.

STEP 3:

On your final exhalation, start your timer and hold your breath for 1 minute, with no air in your lungs (1.5 minutes on the 2nd/3rd rounds). To the uninitiated, a 1-minute breath hold may seem impossible, but by holding the breath after hyperventilation, you will dampen your body’s innate drive to breathe. Hof’s exercise for beginners starts with a 30 second breath hold. As you progress, you can gradually increase the breath hold time.

STEP 4:

After the 1 minute, take a deep recovery breath in, and hold on the inhalation for 15 seconds.

REPEAT THE EXERCISE 3 TIMES.

WHEN SHOULD YOU PRACTICE THE WIM HOF GUIDED BREATHING METHOD?

Wim Hof suggests that you practice the breathing exercise for 20 minutes every morning. During the rest of the day, remember to bring your attention to your breath. Focus on deeper breathing from the diaphragm. As you progress with the morning practice, you can use the breathing in different ways, at your own pace. Hof is clear that in order to get the most benefit, his method should be applied within your daily life.

You can find basic videos of guided Wim Hof method breathing on YouTube, and on Hof’s own website. Though if you want detailed tuition, you will need to purchase one of his courses.

CAN YOU PRACTICE WIM HOF BREATHING BEFORE BED?

By doing the breathing exercises in the morning, you will improve your energy during the day, and enjoy deeper, more restful sleep. But practitioners say a bedtime practice calms the mind, improves sleep latency and promotes better rest. And according to breath work expert, Dave Florence, a single round of Wim Hof method “power breathing” helps him get back to sleep when he wakes with rhinitis in the middle of the night.

WHAT ABOUT WIM HOF BEFORE RUNNING OR A WORKOUT?

This would fall under the category of applying the practice in your daily life. Wim Hof practitioners report greater endurance and stamina, and quicker recovery.

WHAT IS THE SCIENCE BEHIND WIM HOF BREATHING?

Several clinical trials have examined Hof, and students of his program, to discover what makes them seemingly impervious to cold, and to find out whether claims about disease, immune function and health are valid. Hof himself appears to be a man of exceptional ability. With his numerous world records, it could easily be argued that he has some genetic predisposition for his achievements. But the truth is, studies of his identical twin brother (yes, he has an identical twin, a scientist’s dream!) indicate there is little unusual about the way Hof is built.

WHAT IS THE SCIENCE BEHIND WIM HOF BREATHING?

Several clinical trials have examined Hof, and students of his program, to discover what makes them seemingly impervious to cold, and to find out whether claims about disease, immune function and health are valid. Hof himself appears to be a man of exceptional ability. With his numerous world records, it could easily be argued that he has some genetic predisposition for his achievements. But the truth is, studies of his identical twin brother (yes, he has an identical twin, a scientist’s dream!) indicate there is little unusual about the way Hof is built.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENS TO THE BODY DURING WIM HOF BREATHING?

To understand the method, let’s first look at 4 things that happen when you practice
“power breathing,” or deliberate hyperventilation, followed by breath holding.

1. BREATHING BIOCHEMISTRY CHANGES:

During respiration, you take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide from your blood. Normal levels of blood oxygen are around 99%, so breathing more air does not improve oxygen levels or increase blood oxygen saturation (SAO2). A strong breath out, however, will expel a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide plays an important role in body oxygenation (the Bohr effect). Because of this, the brain stem is sensitive to changes in CO2 in the lungs and blood. When the level of carbon dioxide is low, the urge to breathe lessens, meaning you can hold your breath for longer.

3. THE BREATH-HOLD TRIGGERS HYPOXIA:

CO2 is the catalyst that causes hemoglobin in red blood cells to release oxygen to the cells. When levels of carbon dioxide are low, the red blood cells can’t release oxygen. The result is hypoxia— a shortage of oxygen in the cells and tissues of the body.

What happens to blood pH when you hold your breath? Carbon dioxide is unable to leave the blood via the lungs, and it dissociates into carbonic acid. As CO2 builds up in the body, blood becomes more acidic, reversing the alkalinity caused by deliberate hyperventilation. As carbon dioxide levels rise, the oxygen held in red blood cells floods to the tissues.

Remember, it’s easier to hold your breath for longer, because the hyperventilation has reduced your CO2 levels to below normal.

2. THE BODY BECOMES ALKALINE:

During deliberate hyperventilation, the pH-value of the blood increases. Normally, blood pH levels are around 7.4, but the drop in CO2 makes the blood significantly more alkaline — up to 7.75. This temporary alkalosis triggers physiological changes. You may feel lightheaded as your arteries and blood vessels constrict in response to the disruption in homeostasis and reduction in CO2 (a powerful vasodilator). For the same reasons, you may experience tingling in your muscles and limbs.

4. THE BODY EXPERIENCES “POSITIVE” STRESS:

Short-term hypoxia stresses the body at a cellular level. This type of stress is called hormesis — “good” stress that causes the body to adapt, strengthen and build resilience. The sympathetic response (your fight, flight or freeze stress mechanism) is activated. According to Hof, concentration of red blood cells increases (boosting your blood’s oxygen carrying capacity). Lung capacity and circulation improve, and your metabolism becomes more efficient.

WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS

As a 2014 study found, this “good stress” works in several ways. Researchers injected 12 Wim Hof method practitioners with an endotoxin while the subjects practiced the breathing technique. Participants’ blood became alkaline during the forceful breathing, and acidic when the breath was held. Multiple rounds of Wim Hof breathing were performed, with the participants’ blood oxygen saturation lowering every time.

The results showed that all 12 practitioners were able to voluntarily control their sympathetic nervous system and immune response. Anti-inflammatory mediators increased by around 200%, and pro-inflammatory mediators decreased by approximately 50%. Researchers concluded that Hof’s breathing method may be beneficial in “conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, especially autoimmune diseases” (Kox et al., 2014). Since the negative long-term effects of inflammation on the body are implicated in the onset and progression of many diseases, this finding is significant.

The breathing method also has physical effects in terms of the level of adrenaline in the blood. The 2014 Kox et al. study reported marked increases in adrenaline. Adrenaline can have many positive “side effects,” including better pain resistance, increased antioxidant levels, better circulation, more oxygen to cells, and sharper mental function.

Another more recent study, from 2018, is relevant to the commitment/meditation/concentration pillar of the Wim Hof method. Known as the “Brain Over Body” study this research aimed to uncover the brain function that allows Hof to withstand extremes of cold temperature exposure.

During the trial, Hof was dressed in a temperature-controlled suit (the type worn by firefighters to withstand extremes of heat). Researchers wired him up to an fMRI and a PET scanner (both types of functional imaging device). This time, Hof was unable to do the breathing exercises, but findings showed activation in areas of his brain linked with pain suppression, wellbeing and self-reflection (Muzik et al., 2018).

You can find an extensive, objective review of the scientific research into Wim Hof’s method on the YouTube channel MedLife Crisis, which is run by medical doctor, cardiologist and academic, Dr. Rohin Francis. You can also download a free e-book from Wim Hof’s website.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE WIM HOF METHOD? (Cold Shower Benefits and Does the Wim Hof Method Work?)

There are many benefits from practicing breathing exercises. Wim Hof breathing it self leaves you with a euphoric sensation, not unlike the feeling you get after taking a dip in ice-cold water. Cold therapy has much to recommend it, from quicker athletic recovery to reduced inflammation and steely willpower. And it’s no secret that meditation has myriad benefits. During meditation, the body gets rid of stress hormones such as cortisol and releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine.

A new study from RMIT University surveyed people worldwide to ask about the benefits they experienced. More than 3,250 people from different countries and backgrounds responded, providing a window into trends and patterns in physical and mental health. Survey respondents reported benefits including better energy, less stress and anxiety, and improved mental focus and mood. There were also positive responses from people with insomnia, arthritis, depression and chronic pain.

Wim Hof boasts an extensive list of benefits. Some of these are scientifically proven, while others are based on empirical evidence from practitioners.

Here’s a quick run-down:

PHYSICAL HEALTH

  • Boost immune function,
  • Lessen inflammation,
  • Get deeper, more restful sleep,
  • Have more energy during the day,
  • Experience relief from symptoms of autoimmune disorders, arthritis, fibromyalgia and migraine,
  • Manage airway disorders like asthma and COPD,
  • Control blood pressure,
  • Alleviate symptoms of chronic illness such as
    post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome and MS,
  • Boost your metabolism,
  • Enhance sports performance and recovery,
  • And improve your tolerance to cold.

MENTAL HEALTH

  • Reduce and regulate stress levels by learning to control the autonomic nervous system,
  • Prevent or recover from burnout,
  • Relieve depression,
  • Increase concentration and willpower,
  • Enhance the mind/body connection,
  • And feel happier and more creative

Research has shown that conditions including
anxiety and depression can be directly impacted
by dysfunctional breathing and respiratory
biochemistry. And that symptoms can be managed
by correcting breathing patterns and learning to
breathe from the diaphragm.

COLD SHOWER BENEFITS:

A cold shower in the morning will give you more energy throughout the day, but Hof suggests that cold showers have many more benefits too. The cold exposure part of the Wim Hof method — whether it’s a cold shower or an ice bath — is believed to detoxify the body, reduce stress levels, lessen inflammation and support positive emotions.

Cold exposure also optimizes the function of your vascular system, slowing your resting heart rate, moderating blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and even helping with problems including varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

Practitioners report benefits from regular cold showers and cold exposure, including increased mental clarity, alertness and concentration.

You may also experience:

A MORE RESILIENT IMMUNE SYSTEM RESPONSE

Scientific research has found that cold showers increase the concentration of white blood cells in the body. These cells protect the body against disease. It is thought the immune response is stimulated by an increased metabolic rate.

LOWER LEVELS OF STRESS

When you take a cold shower, it imposes controlled stress on your body. This prompts your nervous system to adapt and causes you to become more resilient. This resilience carries through to stressful situations in your everyday life.

WEIGHT LOSS

Research has proven that cold showers, and cold exposure, stimulate the production of something called brown fat (a type of fat tissue). Brown fat is full of mitochondria that use energy and speed up the metabolism, so it burns more calories. Which means a daily cold shower might see you dropping a couple of pounds.

Hof suggests that you begin with a 30 second shower each morning. He doesn’t advocate staying in the cold until you become hypothermic — the point is to experience the benefit of the cold. You can always take a hot shower later in the day.

THE ICEMAN ON BREATHWORK AND ICE BATHS

“I think all the problems existent in modern society have an answer in nature.”
— From Wim Hof, The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential

“The more often you take cold shower sand the more accustomed you get to that initial shock, the more you begin to crave the sensation.”
— From Wim Hof, The Way of The Iceman: How The Wim Hof Method Creates Radiant Long term Health — Using The Science and Secrets of Breath Control, Cold-Training and Commitment

“But, there is still every reason for healthy people to take cold showers, or swim outside in cold water. It gives you the feeling that you are alive.”

“Arthritis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, depression — all of those diseases are a result of our neglected biochemistry. We need to be stimulated to help fight disease. Cold is a great stimulator.”

“Unless you are willing to experience new things, you will never realize your full potential.”

WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF THE WIM HOF BREATHWORK TECHNIQUE?

IS WIM HOF BREATHING SAFE?

The method may look extreme, but under normal circumstances, it is perfectly safe. Scientists don’t yet have data about its long-term effects on health, but research so far is positive.

THERE ARE A FEW EXCEPTIONS:

  • Never practice breath holds after hyperventilation in or near water. There have.
    been fatalities caused by shallow water blackout.
  • Acute respiratory alkalosis can cause serious symptoms. Only practice the
    breathing method as instructed. You should not attempt to spend longer than
    necessary in an alkaline state.
  • Do not practice if you are pregnant. Breath holding to achieve hypoxia could harm your unborn baby.
  • Hof advises against practicing cold therapy if you are unwell. It is not a good idea
    to add further stress to your body if you’re fighting illness.

You can find more support in Hof’s safety video. The main point he makes repeatedly
is that, despite the outward extremes of his method, you should always listen to your body and go slow.

If you experience anxiety, panic attacks or fear of suffocation, you may find that hyperventilation and prolonged breath holds trigger your symptoms. Many people find Wim Hof breathing helps with anxiety, but you may like to explore gentler breathing protocols like Buteyko breathing or the Oxygen Advantage® functional breathing method.

FOR THE RECORD…

The Iceman, Wim Hof is enjoying a growing international following. He may be a world-record breaking athlete, but his Wim Hof breathing technique, espousal of cold shower benefits, and his emphasis on self-reflection, lend him the air of a spiritual master. Despite the attention, he remains down-to-earth. He is determined to press forward, to gain the backing of the scientific community, and to popularize a method he believes can really help people.

His advice to aspiring seekers of physical health, mental resilience and nirvana alike: “I am no superhero, and I’m not a guru either. Anything I can do, you can do too.”

THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE® BY PATRICK MCKEOWN

How A Breathing Method Designed to Promote Male Mental Health Developed into a Program of Invincible Breathing™ for Mind, Body and Sport

The Oxygen Advantage® program is the brainchild of Patrick McKeown. Patrick suffered with severe asthma through his childhood and into his 20s, until he discovered the work of the Russian doctor, Konstantin Buteyko. Buteyko’s breathing method had such a fundamental impact on his quality of life that he decided to retrain as a breathing instructor, and to build a career helping people improve their health and reach their potential.

Patrick set up the OXYGEN ADVANTAGE® in 2014, with significant clinical knowledge already under his belt. He has been teaching breathing techniques since 2002 and is now an internationally renowned expert in the Buteyko Breathing Method. He has authored bestselling books, including The Oxygen Advantage and The Breathing Cure, lectures around the world, and is Director of Education at the world’s foremost Buteyko Breathing Method clinic. He explains what drove him to develop The Oxygen Advantage®:

“The impetus to create Oxygen Advantage came from my experience teaching Mindfulness and Buteyko breathing to help people with anxiety, stress and panic – especially after the economic crash in Ireland. Between 2009 and 2012, 3,000 people attended my courses for anxiety, but 95% of them were female.”

This is an important observation that has no less relevance in 2021. Even now, after many campaigns to encourage openness around the topic, mental health is still a taboo subject among men. A recent scientific review titled Males and Mental Health Stigma reports "a disproportionate difference between the number of males experiencing mental health disorders and those seeking treatment," (Chatmon, 2020) and 78% of deaths by suicide in the UK are men.

Patrick continues: "Initially, Oxygen Advantage was created to offer a breathing technique to improve resilience and exercise performance for men. A technique that also helped control anxiety, panic disorder and improve sleep, but engaged men on a level they felt comfortable accessing. To begin with, most of our students were men, but this is changing. Now we have a 50/50 split between men and women."

The Oxygen Advantage® gives Patrick the opportunity to expand his methods in line with new research, and to fit with people's needs. This gave him the flexibility to respond to the global COVID crisis by sharing research and knowledge to help immunity and recovery. "The Buteyko Method focuses primarily on breathing biochemistry, on carbon dioxide levels, nasal breathing and correcting hyperventilation,” says Patrick. “While those things are very important, with Oxygen Advantage, I can incorporate many more breathing techniques. This is my method, it has no tradition to follow, so it evolves and continues to grow and improve."

The Oxygen Advantage® method now offers a series of breathing exercises that are beneficial across areas including:

  • Sleep,
  • Mental focus,
  • Resilience,
  • Exercise performance,
  • Endurance, repeated sprint ability, breathing efficiency,
  • Health,
  • Chronic illness and pain,
  • Diabetes and epilepsy,
  • Feminine breathing,
  • and more.

The way you breathe impacts your physical health, your mental wellbeing and your sporting potential. You can use scientific breathing methods to boost performance, and still reap the benefits in terms of stress relief and better long-term health. If you’re new to the Oxygen Advantage® and want to know more, check out our Level One Functional Breathing Coach Certification.

ABOUT PATRICK

Patrick set up the OXYGEN ADVANTAGE® in 2014, with significant clinical knowledge already under his belt. He has been teaching breathing techniques since 2002 and is now an internationally renowned expert in the Buteyko Breathing Method. He has authored bestselling books, including The Oxygen Advantage and The Breathing Cure, lectures around the world, and is Director of Education at the world’s foremost Buteyko Breathing Method clinic. He explains what drove him to develop The Oxygen Advantage®:

“The impetus to create Oxygen Advantage came from my experience teaching Mindfulness and Buteyko breathing to help people with anxiety, stress and panic – especially after the economic crash in Ireland. Between 2009 and 2012, 3,000 people attended my courses for anxiety, but 95% of them were female.”

This is an important observation that has no less relevance in 2021. Even now, after many campaigns to encourage openness around the topic, mental health is still a taboo subject among men. A recent scientific review titled Males and Mental Health Stigma reports "a disproportionate difference between the number of males experiencing mental health disorders and those seeking treatment," (Chatmon, 2020) and 78% of deaths by suicide in the UK are men.

Patrick continues: "Initially, Oxygen Advantage was created to offer a breathing technique to improve resilience and exercise performance for men. A technique that also helped control anxiety, panic disorder and improve sleep, but engaged men on a level they felt comfortable accessing. To begin with, most of our students were men, but this is changing. Now we have a 50/50 split between men and women."

The Oxygen Advantage® gives Patrick the opportunity to expand his methods in line with new research, and to fit with people's needs. This gave him the flexibility to respond to the global COVID crisis by sharing research and knowledge to help immunity and recovery. "The Buteyko Method focuses primarily on breathing biochemistry, on carbon dioxide levels, nasal breathing and correcting hyperventilation,” says Patrick. “While those things are very important, with Oxygen Advantage, I can incorporate many more breathing techniques. This is my method, it has no tradition to follow, so it evolves and continues to grow and improve."

THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE BENEFITS
The Oxygen Advantage® method now offers a series of breathing exercises that are beneficial across areas including:

  • Sleep,
  • Mental focus,
  • Resilience,
  • Exercise performance,
  • Endurance, repeated sprint ability, breathing efficiency,
  • Health,
  • Chronic illness and pain,
  • Diabetes and epilepsy,
  • Feminine breathing,
  • and more.

The way you breathe impacts your physical health, your mental wellbeing and your sporting potential. You can use scientific breathing methods to boost performance, and still reap the benefits in terms of stress relief and better long-term health. If you’re new to the Oxygen Advantage® and want to know more, check out our Level One Functional Breathing Coach Certification.

WIM HOF BREATHING TECHNIQUE VS. OXYGEN ADVANTAGE®

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
PATRICK MCKEOWN’S OXYGEN ADVANTAGE® AND THE WIM HOF METHOD?

Breathing exercises aren’t a new fad. They originate with yoga practices, which are at least 2,500 years old. But “breathwork” is currently enjoying a bigger global reach than ever before. Experts like Wim Hof and Patrick McKeown are capturing interest from the sporting, scientific and medical communities. And their work is finding its way into mainstream consciousness too. Breathing has been one of our fundamental bodily functions since birth. So why is it suddenly so interesting?

The COVID-19 pandemic inevitably drew public attention to the breath. It made many of us question our work/life balance. And it flagged up the importance of health and resilience. People who were previously set in their ideas and routines began to look to their wellbeing, and to their breathing. In 2020, several books were published on the topic of breathing, most notably James Nestor’s bestseller, Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art. And article after article appeared in mainstream media examining this “new” wellness trend.

If you’ve landed on this page, it’s because you’re interested in breathing methods. You’ve read about the Wim Hof method and want to know what each program offers. You’re probably wondering what the difference is between the Wim Hof method and the Oxygen Advantage®. Some of our certified breathing Instructors practice (and teach) Oxygen Advantage® and the Wim Hof method, so we’re well placed to answer.

HERE’S WHAT WE’LL COVER:

  • Wim Hof Breathing vs. Oxygen Advantage®
  • Defining the two breathing methods
  • Understanding the physiology of the two methods
  • Which breathing method should you choose?

The Wim Hof method can optimize athletic performance and endurance, improve mental and physical health, reduce symptoms of chronic illness and boost immunity. Patrick McKeown’s Oxygen Advantage® does the same thing. While Patrick’s 2015 book, The Oxygen Advantage was for sports and fitness, his latest book, The Breathing Cure, covers an extensive list of health conditions, offering a detailed examination of the scientific research into the relationship between breath and health.

The Wim Hof breathing method embraces the role of the breath in the mind/body/spirit connection. There is an element of the kind of spiritual journey that yoga practitioners travel. Hof will tell you he has seen the chakras (the body’s energy centers) and Wim Hof enthusiasts talk about using the breath to get to know themselves better.

Patrick’s method deals in plain, scientific terms, teaching the biomechanics, biochemistry and cadence of breathing. He stresses the importance of full-time nasal breathing and the dangers of chronic hyperventilation (over-breathing). Hof will say it doesn’t matter if you breathe through your nose or mouth. The goal during his breathing exercise is to deliberately hyperventilate, taking in as much air as possible. This may be confusing — but there are reasons for these differences between breathing techniques.

THE WIM HOF METHOD,
THREE PILLARS OF PRACTICE:
1. BREATHING EXERCISES
The Wim Hof method uses breath holds after hyperventilation. This reduces CO2 (hypocapnia) and blood oxygen (hypoxia), before flooding the body with "fresh" oxygen.

The breathing exercise comprises 30 big breaths before a breath-hold on exhalation. After this long breath hold, the breath is held on inhalation, before the cycle is repeated.

The exercise is completed three times in succession. By the third cycle, blood oxygen saturation (SAO2) can drop to as low as 45% (severe hypoxia is defined by an SAO2 of 85%). Carbon dioxide can temporarily fall from around 40mmHg to 13mmHg.

These breath-hold exercises have proven very effective for respiratory conditions including asthma. A research paper by Kox et al. exploring the Wim Hof method states: “Healthy volunteers practicing the learned techniques exhibited profound increases in the release of epinephrine, which in turn led to increased production of anti-inflammatory mediators and subsequent dampening of the proinflammatory cytokine response… This study could have important implications for the treatment of a variety of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, especially autoimmune diseases in which therapies that antagonize proinflammatory cytokines have shown great benefit" (Kox et al., 2014).

2. GRADUAL EXPOSURE TO COLD/ COLD THERAPY
Practitioners take cold showers or ice baths to improve their resistance to cold temperatures.
3. MEDITATION

Meditation creates a relaxed environment and teaches control over the brain. This allows you to build a better relationship with thoughts and feelings. Meditation also has many benefits in terms of stress reduction, deeper intuition, and mental clarity.

THE TWO PILLARS OF THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE®:

THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE® IS A BREATHING METHOD
WITH TWO PILLARS.

1. FUNCTIONAL BREATHING TRAINING.

Functional breathing training. This is a 24/7 practice. It's about retraining your breathing, unlearning the bad breathing habits that hold you back. You'll restore breathing to its healthiest state, day and night. Exercises focus on reducing the volume of the breath, slowing the breathing and engaging/strengthening the diaphragm.

2. BREATHING EXERCISES TO SIMULATE HIGH ALTITUDE TRAINING

Breathing exercises to simulate high altitude training (intermittent hypoxic/hypercapnic training). These breath-hold techniques involve temporarily increasing levels of arterial carbon dioxide from the normal concentration of 40mmHg to 50mmHg or more (hypercapnia) and reducing SPO2 to around 85% (hypoxia).

The Oxygen Advantage® works from three dimensions of breathing —biochemistry, biomechanics and cadence — with a foundation of full-time nose breathing. Patrick’s 2015 book, The Oxygen Advantage explains the method for sports. His 2021 book, The Breathing Cure, contains a complete program of breathing exercises for all sorts of fitness levels and health conditions.

Patrick also uses mindfulness principles and guided breathing meditations to calm the mind, reduce anxiety and stop racing thoughts. Slow diaphragm breathing is known to help with anxiety. One study even found that breathing biochemistry is related to panic disorder symptoms, and that panic patients had low CO2. Researchers reported
breathing exercises were as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for these
people (Meuret et al., 2010).

1. THERE IS AN IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OXYGEN AND CARBON DIOXIDE (THE BOHR EFFECT).

For normal, healthy functioning, your body needs a certain amount of oxygen to survive. And it needs carbon dioxide too. Despite what you may remember from school science lessons, CO2 is not just a waste gas. In breathing chemistry, it works hand in hand with oxygen.

During inhalation, air enters the lungs and travels to the alveoli. There, oxygen diffuses to the blood. It's picked up and carried through the blood vessels by the hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells. This oxygen-rich blood is pumped throughout the body by the heart, and oxygen is offloaded to the cells for conversion into energy.

In order to release oxygen from the blood, hemoglobin requires a catalyst. This is where carbon dioxide comes in. CO2 is responsible for the release of oxygen from the cells to the body. It acts like a hormone in the blood, enabling the release of oxygen in the same way that insulin prompts the release of blood glucose.

This function of carbon dioxide was discovered in 1904 by physiologist and Nobel laureate, Christian Bohr. Bohr reported that as the pressure of carbon dioxide increases in the blood, blood pH drops (making the blood more acidic), and oxygen is released more readily. When carbon dioxide levels are low, hemoglobin is less able to release oxygen from the blood. This means the way you breathe determines the concentration of carbon dioxide present in your blood, and how well oxygenated your body is.

During physical exercise, working muscles use more oxygen, so the body needs more oxygen to give you energy. At the same time, your body temperature rises, and your cells produce more CO2. The extra CO2 releases more oxygen from the red blood cells, which is then available to the cells and organs. John West, author of Respiratory Physiology, explains: “An exercising muscle is hot and generates carbon dioxide, and it benefits from increased unloading of O2 from its capillaries.” The better you can fuel your muscles with oxygen during activity, the longer and harder they (and you) can work.

When you hyperventilate (breathing in excess of metabolic requirements) you exhale too much carbon dioxide from the lungs. This causes the concentration of CO2 in the blood and cells to reduce. When carbon dioxide levels are low, the transfer of oxygen from the blood to muscles and organs is inhibited, leading to poor body oxygenation. This poor body oxygenation is one reason you feel breathless and "gas out" during exercise.

Breathing too much air reduces blood flow to tissues and organs including the heart and brain. This is why Wim Hof cautions that you may feel light-headed during his breathing exercise. In fact, blood flow to the brain reduces proportionately to the drop in carbon dioxide (Magarian et al., 1983). A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, which assessed arterial constriction induced by excessive breathing, found that the diameter of blood vessels reduced in some individuals by as much as 50 percent (Gibbs et al., 1992). Based on the formula [pi] r squared ( A = πr2), blood flow will decrease by a factor of four. This shows you how over-breathing can affect your blood flow.

The Bohr Effect confirms that Wim Hof's practice of taking 30 large mouth-breaths will lower the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood and limit the release of oxygen from the blood to the cells. CO2 plays a central role in regulating the acidity or alkalinity (pH) of the blood. Hof uses this mechanism to trigger temporary alkalosis (an increase in blood pH).

2. BLOOD PH IS REGULATED BY THE BREATH.

Normal blood pH is 7.365. The pH of the blood affects your metabolism and the function of your internal organs. If blood pH is too acidic and drops below 6.8, or too alkaline and rises above 7.8, the result can be fatal (Casiday et al., 2014).

Respiratory alkalosis can prompt changes in the nervous system and in physical and psychological states. It causes symptoms including breathlessness, chest pain, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and light sensitivity. It can even lead to the development of myofascial trigger points (Bradley & Esformes, 2014). Over time it has a significant negative effect on the musculoskeletal system and is detrimental for health and performance.

The Wim Hof breathing method induces controlled respiratory alkalosis. The empty lung apnea (breath hold) that follows the 30 big breaths then normalizes the relationship between oxygen and CO2 by causing a marked decrease in SAO2.

The Oxygen Advantage® uses CO2 differently. Patrick's method focuses on reducing the body's sensitivity to CO2, regulating breathing biochemistry for more efficient breathing, delayed onset of breathlessness and fatigue, and better oxygenation day and night. The exercises to simulate high altitude training increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood by prompting the production and maturation of new red blood cells.

 

3. WHY BREATH HOLDING AFTER EXHALATION IS GOOD FOR YOU.

When you hold your breath after a normal exhalation, CO2 builds up in the blood and oxygen floods to the cells and tissues. The diaphragm begins to contract, as the brain signals to the body to begin breathing again. This gives your breathing muscles a strong workout.

If you practice the same breath hold after deliberate hyperventilation, you will be able to hold your breath for longer periods of time, because levels of CO2 are not high enough to trigger the brain's respiratory drive. Again, as you reach the end of your breath hold, you will experience strong movements of your diaphragm as your body tries to take in air.

Wim Hof explains that taking big, deep breaths prior to the breath hold, “fully charges the body by getting rid of carbon dioxide, allowing more oxygen into the body to roam freely and fill up every cell, and increase pH levels."

This differs from the Oxygen Advantage® strong breath holds. In the Oxygen Advantage® method, one of the effects of breath holding is that it causes the spleen to contract and release new red blood cells into circulation. It also boosts natural production of EPO, which stimulates release and maturation of new red blood cells. These two factors actually increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Since the blood is already saturated with oxygen (about 98% of oxygen is carried around the body in hemoglobin and 2% is dissolved directly in the blood) this is the only physiological way to increase blood oxygen saturation.

4. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BREATHE “HARD”?

Breathing "hard" activates your diaphragm. It also affects oxygen delivery to your tissues, working muscles and organs including the brain. Chronic hyperventilation (habitually breathing too much air) is at the root of a huge range of health symptoms including panic attacks, insomnia and even PMS.

Hard breathing changes the body chemistry. It's what Hof is trying to achieve in order that the body makes certain beneficial adaptations. And it's what Patrick McKeown is trying to help us avoid in our everyday breathing.

During rest, the normal breathing volume for a healthy person is between four and six liters of air per minute. This results in almost complete blood oxygen saturation (95-99%). Oxygen is continually diffusing from the blood into the cells and tissues. Complete oxygen saturation (100%) would indicate that the blood cells are not delivering oxygen to the body. The oxygen-carrying red blood cells must release oxygen, not hold onto it.

The human body actually carries a surplus of oxygen in the blood. During rest, 75% of inhaled oxygen is exhaled. Even during physical exercise, when the working muscles and breathing muscles need a much greater supply of oxygen, as much as 25% of inhaled oxygen is exhaled.

Once we become interested in the breath, our goal is often to "get more oxygen." But the best way to do this is to develop more efficient breathing to optimize body oxygenation. The idea that you need to increase blood oxygen to 100 percent saturation is a misunderstanding of breathing chemistry.

Dysfunctional breathing is incredibly common. Fit, healthy people, and even professional athletes, have breathing pattern disorders. Research tells us that habitual mouth breathing, upper-chest breathing, and sleep-disordered breathing are all far more prevalent than we might imagine.

If you're reading this, it's likely you want to improve your breathing for some reason. Something has led you to explore breathing methods — whether you have problems like exercise-induced asthma, breathlessness or sleep apnea, or you've just heard that a breathing practice can boost your performance.

The breath provides a doorway in to all your body's control centers. Within that central idea, the Oxygen Advantage® and the Wim Hof method offer different things. Both approaches are valuable. And both methods can be integrated into your life, giving you a stronger awareness of your breathing.

Wim Hof suggests a lifestyle that includes awareness and manipulation of the breath, exposure to cold, and meditation. Patrick McKeown's method involves the restoration of healthy breathing patterns 24/7. It includes controlled breathing exercises to access the autonomic nervous system and boost aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and it encourages mindfulness of the breath.

Patrick's advice for athletes who want to enhance their performance and reach their potential is always to restore functional, nasal breathing during wakefulness and sleep, and to work to achieve a BOLT score of 40 seconds.

It can be tempting for anyone with a competitive, perfectionist nature to approach new learning from an extreme perspective, but the breath can be at its most powerful when it is most gentle. With a bedrock of functional breathing, you can explore different breathing methods. But until you have an experiential understanding of the role of CO2 in respiratory biochemistry, and the biomechanics and cadence of breath, light, slow, deep breathing should be your priority.

To read more about the science behind the Oxygen Advantage® method and how it can benefit you, check out our training pages.

WIM HOF BREATHING VS. OXYGEN ADVANTAGE®

The Wim Hof method can optimize athletic performance and endurance, improve mental and physical health, reduce symptoms of chronic illness and boost immunity. Patrick McKeown’s Oxygen Advantage® does the same thing. While Patrick’s 2015 book, The Oxygen Advantage was for sports and fitness, his latest book, The Breathing Cure, covers an extensive list of health conditions, offering a detailed examination of the scientific research into the relationship between breath and health.

The Wim Hof breathing method embraces the role of the breath in the mind/body/spirit connection. There is an element of the kind of spiritual journey that yoga practitioners travel. Hof will tell you he has seen the chakras (the body’s energy centers) and Wim Hof enthusiasts talk about using the breath to get to know themselves better.

Patrick’s method deals in plain, scientific terms, teaching the biomechanics, biochemistry and cadence of breathing. He stresses the importance of full-time nasal breathing and the dangers of chronic hyperventilation (over-breathing). Hof will say it doesn’t matter if you breathe through your nose or mouth. The goal during his breathing exercise is to deliberately hyperventilate, taking in as much air as possible. This may be confusing — but there are reasons for these differences between breathing techniques.

DEFINING THE TWO BREATHING METHODS
THE WIM HOF METHOD, THREE PILLARS OF PRACTICE:

1. BREATHING EXERCISES

The Wim Hof method uses breath holds after hyperventilation. This reduces CO2 (hypocapnia) and blood oxygen (hypoxia), before flooding the body with “fresh” oxygen.

The breathing exercise comprises 30 big breaths before a breath-hold on exhalation. After this long breath hold, the breath is held on inhalation, before the cycle is repeated.

The exercise is completed three times in succession. By the third cycle, blood oxygen saturation (SAO2) can drop to as low as 45% (severe hypoxia is defined by an SAO2 of 85%). Carbon dioxide can temporarily fall from around 40mmHg to 13mmHg.

These breath-hold exercises have proven very effective for respiratory conditions including asthma. A research paper by Kox et al. exploring the Wim Hof method states: “Healthy volunteers practicing the learned techniques exhibited profound increases in the release of epinephrine, which in turn led to increased production of anti-inflammatory mediators and subsequent dampening of the proinflammatory cytokine response… This study could have important implications for the treatment of a variety of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, especially autoimmune diseases in which therapies that antagonize proinflammatory cytokines have shown great benefit” (Kox et al., 2014).

2. GRADUAL EXPOSURE TO COLD/ COLD THERAPY

Practitioners take cold showers or ice baths to improve their resistance to cold temperatures.

3. MEDITATION

THE TWO PILLARS OF THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE®:

THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE® IS A BREATHING METHOD
WITH TWO PILLARS.

1. FUNCTIONAL BREATHING TRAINING.

Functional breathing training. This is a 24/7 practice. It’s about retraining your breathing, unlearning the bad breathing habits that hold you back. You’ll restore breathing to its healthiest state, day and night. Exercises focus on reducing the volume of the breath, slowing the breathing and engaging/strengthening the diaphragm.

2. BREATHING EXERCISES TO SIMULATE HIGH ALTITUDE TRAINING

Breathing exercises to simulate high altitude training (intermittent hypoxic/hypercapnic training). These breath-hold techniques involve temporarily increasing levels of arterial carbon dioxide from the normal concentration of 40mmHg to 50mmHg or more (hypercapnia) and reducing SPO2 to around 85% (hypoxia).

THREE DIMENSIONS OF FUNCTIONAL BREATHING:
The Oxygen Advantage® works from three dimensions of breathing —biochemistry, biomechanics and cadence — with a foundation of full-time nose breathing. Patrick’s 2015 book, The Oxygen Advantage explains the method for sports. His 2021 book, The Breathing Cure, contains a complete program of breathing exercises for all sorts of fitness levels and health conditions.

Patrick also uses mindfulness principles and guided breathing meditations to calm the mind, reduce anxiety and stop racing thoughts. Slow diaphragm breathing is known to help with anxiety. One study even found that breathing biochemistry is related to panic disorder symptoms, and that panic patients had low CO2. Researchers reported
breathing exercises were as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for these
people (Meuret et al., 2010).

UNDERSTANDING THE PHYSIOLOGY — 4 ELEMENTS OF BREATHING CHEMISTRY

1. THERE IS AN IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OXYGEN AND CARBON DIOXIDE (THE BOHR EFFECT).

For normal, healthy functioning, your body needs a certain amount of oxygen to survive. And it needs carbon dioxide too. Despite what you may remember from school science lessons, CO2 is not just a waste gas. In breathing chemistry, it works hand in hand with oxygen.

During inhalation, air enters the lungs and travels to the alveoli. There, oxygen diffuses to the blood. It’s picked up and carried through the blood vessels by the hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells. This oxygen-rich blood is pumped throughout the body by the heart, and oxygen is offloaded to the cells for conversion into energy.

In order to release oxygen from the blood, hemoglobin requires a catalyst. This is where carbon dioxide comes in. CO2 is responsible for the release of oxygen from the cells to the body. It acts like a hormone in the blood, enabling the release of oxygen in the same way that insulin prompts the release of blood glucose.

This function of carbon dioxide was discovered in 1904 by physiologist and Nobel laureate, Christian Bohr. Bohr reported that as the pressure of carbon dioxide increases in the blood, blood pH drops (making the blood more acidic), and oxygen is released more readily. When carbon dioxide levels are low, hemoglobin is less able to release oxygen from the blood. This means the way you breathe determines the concentration of carbon dioxide present in your blood, and how well oxygenated your body is.

During physical exercise, working muscles use more oxygen, so the body needs more oxygen to give you energy. At the same time, your body temperature rises, and your cells produce more CO2. The extra CO2 releases more oxygen from the red blood cells, which is then available to the cells and organs. John West, author of Respiratory Physiology, explains: “An exercising muscle is hot and generates carbon dioxide, and it benefits from increased unloading of O2 from its capillaries.” The better you can fuel your muscles with oxygen during activity, the longer and harder they (and you) can work.

When you hyperventilate (breathing in excess of metabolic requirements) you exhale too much carbon dioxide from the lungs. This causes the concentration of CO2 in the blood and cells to reduce. When carbon dioxide levels are low, the transfer of oxygen from the blood to muscles and organs is inhibited, leading to poor body oxygenation. This poor body oxygenation is one reason you feel breathless and “gas out” during exercise.

Breathing too much air reduces blood flow to tissues and organs including the heart and brain. This is why Wim Hof cautions that you may feel light-headed during his breathing exercise. In fact, blood flow to the brain reduces proportionately to the drop in carbon dioxide (Magarian et al., 1983). A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, which assessed arterial constriction induced by excessive breathing, found that the diameter of blood vessels reduced in some individuals by as much as 50 percent (Gibbs et al., 1992). Based on the formula [pi] r squared ( A = πr2), blood flow will decrease by a factor of four. This shows you how over-breathing can affect your blood flow.

The Bohr Effect confirms that Wim Hof’s practice of taking 30 large mouth-breaths will lower the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood and limit the release of oxygen from the blood to the cells. CO2 plays a central role in regulating the acidity or alkalinity (pH) of the blood. Hof uses this mechanism to trigger temporary alkalosis (an increase in blood pH).

2. BLOOD PH IS REGULATED BY THE BREATH.

Normal blood pH is 7.365. The pH of the blood affects your metabolism and the function of your internal organs. If blood pH is too acidic and drops below 6.8, or too alkaline and rises above 7.8, the result can be fatal (Casiday et al., 2014).

Respiratory alkalosis can prompt changes in the nervous system and in physical and psychological states. It causes symptoms including breathlessness, chest pain, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and light sensitivity. It can even lead to the development of myofascial trigger points (Bradley & Esformes, 2014). Over time it has a significant negative effect on the musculoskeletal system and is detrimental for health and performance.

The Wim Hof breathing method induces controlled respiratory alkalosis. The empty lung apnea (breath hold) that follows the 30 big breaths then normalizes the relationship between oxygen and CO2 by causing a marked decrease in SAO2.

The Oxygen Advantage® uses CO2 differently. Patrick’s method focuses on reducing the body’s sensitivity to CO2, regulating breathing biochemistry for more efficient breathing, delayed onset of breathlessness and fatigue, and better oxygenation day and night. The exercises to simulate high altitude training increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood by prompting the production and maturation of new red blood cells.

3. WHY BREATH HOLDING AFTER EXHALATION IS GOOD FOR YOU.

When you hold your breath after a normal exhalation, CO2 builds up in the blood and oxygen floods to the cells and tissues. The diaphragm begins to contract, as the brain signals to the body to begin breathing again. This gives your breathing muscles a strong workout.

If you practice the same breath hold after deliberate hyperventilation, you will be able to hold your breath for longer periods of time, because levels of CO2 are not high enough to trigger the brain’s respiratory drive. Again, as you reach the end of your breath hold, you will experience strong movements of your diaphragm as your body tries to take in air.

Wim Hof explains that taking big, deep breaths prior to the breath hold, “fully charges the body by getting rid of carbon dioxide, allowing more oxygen into the body to roam freely and fill up every cell, and increase pH levels.”

This differs from the Oxygen Advantage® strong breath holds. In the Oxygen Advantage® method, one of the effects of breath holding is that it causes the spleen to contract and release new red blood cells into circulation. It also boosts natural production of EPO, which stimulates release and maturation of new red blood cells. These two factors actually increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Since the blood is already saturated with oxygen (about 98% of oxygen is carried around the body in hemoglobin and 2% is dissolved directly in the blood) this is the only physiological way to increase blood oxygen saturation.

4. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BREATHE “HARD”?

Breathing “hard” activates your diaphragm. It also affects oxygen delivery to your tissues, working muscles and organs including the brain. Chronic hyperventilation (habitually breathing too much air) is at the root of a huge range of health symptoms including panic attacks, insomnia and even PMS.

Hard breathing changes the body chemistry. It’s what Hof is trying to achieve in order that the body makes certain beneficial adaptations. And it’s what Patrick McKeown is trying to help us avoid in our everyday breathing.

During rest, the normal breathing volume for a healthy person is between four and six liters of air per minute. This results in almost complete blood oxygen saturation (95-99%). Oxygen is continually diffusing from the blood into the cells and tissues. Complete oxygen saturation (100%) would indicate that the blood cells are not delivering oxygen to the body. The oxygen-carrying red blood cells must release oxygen, not hold onto it.

The human body actually carries a surplus of oxygen in the blood. During rest, 75% of inhaled oxygen is exhaled. Even during physical exercise, when the working muscles and breathing muscles need a much greater supply of oxygen, as much as 25% of inhaled oxygen is exhaled.

Once we become interested in the breath, our goal is often to “get more oxygen.” But the best way to do this is to develop more efficient breathing to optimize body oxygenation. The idea that you need to increase blood oxygen to 100 percent saturation is a misunderstanding of breathing chemistry.

WHICH BREATHING METHOD SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?

Dysfunctional breathing is incredibly common. Fit, healthy people, and even professional athletes, have breathing pattern disorders. Research tells us that habitual mouth breathing, upper-chest breathing, and sleep-disordered breathing are all far more prevalent than we might imagine.

If you're reading this, it's likely you want to improve your breathing for some reason. Something has led you to explore breathing methods — whether you have problems like exercise-induced asthma, breathlessness or sleep apnea, or you've just heard that a breathing practice can boost your performance.

The breath provides a doorway in to all your body's control centers. Within that central idea, the Oxygen Advantage® and the Wim Hof method offer different things. Both approaches are valuable. And both methods can be integrated into your life, giving you a stronger awareness of your breathing.

Wim Hof suggests a lifestyle that includes awareness and manipulation of the breath, exposure to cold, and meditation. Patrick McKeown's method involves the restoration of healthy breathing patterns 24/7. It includes controlled breathing exercises to access the autonomic nervous system and boost aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and it encourages mindfulness of the breath.

Patrick's advice for athletes who want to enhance their performance and reach their potential is always to restore functional, nasal breathing during wakefulness and sleep, and to work to achieve a BOLT score of 40 seconds.

It can be tempting for anyone with a competitive, perfectionist nature to approach new learning from an extreme perspective, but the breath can be at its most powerful when it is most gentle. With a bedrock of functional breathing, you can explore different breathing methods. But until you have an experiential understanding of the role of CO2 in respiratory biochemistry, and the biomechanics and cadence of breath, light, slow, deep breathing should be your priority.

To read more about the science behind the Oxygen Advantage® method and how it can benefit you, check out our training pages.

Johanna McWeeney is a freelance copy and content marketing writer. She has written for Oxygen Advantage® since 2019, and taken the OA Advanced Instructor Training — so she knows the breathing exercises inside out. Johanna writes for science-backed health and wellness businesses and enjoys making science accessible.

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