Athlete Brandon Birchak stood inside a tank of water and held his breath for 17 minutes while Derek Muller of Veritasium explained the mechanics of extreme breath holding. Muller also attempted to put what he learned about the subject to good use.
Inside the tank is Brandon Birchak, and he is going to attempt to hold his breath for this entire video. …I’m going to keep this shot going continuously on the right side of the video, and while he’s holding his breath, we will figure out how he does it. And I’m even going to learn how to hold my breath way longer than I ever have before.
Muller explains that there are several components to breath holding, including one that is completely autonomic and present in most mammals.
People actually have a secret weapon when it comes to reducing oxygen consumption by virtue of our evolution. It’s called the mammalian dive reflex. … The trigeminal nerve in our face detects the coolness of the water and triggers a series of responses. The heart beats slower, decreasing the rate at which blood, and hence, oxygen, are circulated around the body. Our blood vessels in our extremities constrict, confining blood to our vital organs and brain, ensuring we have enough oxygen to stay conscious.