In Hawaii there are a lot of people who are very good at being in the water, which often involves being involuntarily underwater for long periods of time. Last week I went surfing with a guy who had spent 17 years as a pro bodyboarder. Here’s a picture of him escaping death (photo credit):
When a man can hold his breath for almost 6 minutes, I immediately respect what he has to say on the subject. There’s a lot to practice to get to that level, but fundamentally there’s also a method anyone can use to significantly lower their heart rate (a skill I previously thought required becoming a monk and years of meditation on a mountain somewhere) and subsequently prolong breath-holding abilities.
They call it “breathing like a mermaid.” This method is employed by free divers hours before entering the water, as well as by professional surfers, bodyboarders, and probably the full gamut of aquatic athletes.
You do this:
Big, quick inhale (only a few seconds) followed by long exhale (a minute or more). Try it. I found it really difficult to exhale continuously for over a minute, but I could see how hours of breathing like this would train lung capacity and slow down my heart rate.
And now you know how mermaids breathe: quick in, long out.