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David Blaine Sets Breath Holding Record - David Blane Breth Holding

Updated on April 30, 2008

David Blaine Sets Breath-Holding Record

David Blaine broke the Guinness world record for breath-holding today by staying underwater for 17 minutes and 4 seconds on "The Oprah Winfrey Program."

It was quite a feat, particularly considering what "Oprah" did to his heart. When I watched him train in a swimming pool on Grand Cayman Island by doing a 16:09 breath hold, starting w his heart rate went down to 46 beats per minute right away and then stayed fairly low (sometimes up to the 60s) throughout. But he told me was concerned he'd have a tougher time slowing his heart on television, and sure enough, he did.

After he filled his lungs with pure oxygen, his heart rate remained at 130 during the second minute of the breath-hold and then stayed above 100 for much of the time. It was 124 in the 15th minute. The higher the heart rate, the more quickly oxygen is consumed, and the more painful the carbon dioxide buildup. But apparently his CO2 tolerance training (repeated breath holds every morning) was just enough to compensate. In the last minute his heart rate became erratic and he got concerned enough to start rising from the bottom of the water-filled sphere, but he kept his head underewater more than a half minute longer than the old record of 16:32.

"I really thought I was not going to make it," he told me afterwards. "At minute 12 I felt the pain coming, and by minute 14 it was overwhelming. This was a whole other level of pain. I still feel as if somebody hit me in the stomach with the hardest punch they could."

Besides the pressure of performing on television, he explained, there were a couple of other unexpected distractions working in the sphere: A heart-rate monitor happened to be close enough to his so that he heard its beeping, and he had to keep his feet locked in holds at the bottom of the sphere - instead of just floating freely, as he'd done in the pool on Grand Cayman. Back then he'd said he was so relaxed he "wasn't even there" during most of the breath-hold. But when he emerged from the sphere today, he told Ms. Winfrey, "I was pretty much here the whole time."

When she asked him what he'd been thinking about, he replied, "You."

Mr. Blaine asked me to send his thanks to the Lab readers who encouraged him. And before today's breath-hold, he offered an answer to readers' questions about how and why he set out to break the world record:.

I have been fascinated by the idea of long breath-holds since I was just 5 years old. Houdini claiming to be so tough underwater and living up to his claim inspired me as well. As a boy on the YMCA swim team in Park Slope in Brooklyn at age 5, I would win by not breathing across the length of the pool. At age 11 I was up to 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Back then I would fight to hold my breath for so long.

It wasn't until I met Kirk Krack, my freediving coach, that taught me to relax into it. The stillness changes everything. It is much easier to go further when the condition is accepted instead of opposed. My next challenge was to control the heart rate. I found out that by doing good cardio training and not eating foods for the sake of indulgence but rather for the nutritional value the body functions like a well maintained machine.

I also use breathing techniques to control feelings, but the absence is the exact opposite. In order to go without breathing for extended periods, it is important to remove all thought as much as possible. That feeling cannot be described very well, other than I try to imagine going into the abyss of the ocean as I begin the breath hold and then everything fades slowly away.

Well, that wasn't so easy to do today, but Mr. Blaine told me was more than satisfied with the results: "It's better when you have to fight, anyway."

CHICAGO (AP) - David Blaine took on a Zen-like appearance in the water tank as the minutes ticked by during his attempt to set a new breath-holding record. Oprah Winfrey, however, was anything but calm.

She fidgeted in her chair, pursed her lips, placed her head in her hands, and kept seeking reassurance from the doctor at her side about the 35-year-old magician's persistently high heart rate.

"I'll be glad when it's over. I don't like suspense," she told the audience during a commercial break.

Soon enough, Winfrey - and Blaine - could breathe a lot easier.

Submerged in a water-filled sphere on the stage of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" during a live broadcast, Blaine held his breath for 17 minutes and 4 seconds. That bested the previous record of 16 minutes and 32 seconds, set Feb. 10 by Switzerland's Peter Colat, according to Guinness World Records.

Blaine had a smile on his face soon after his head rose above the water and he took several deep gulps of air. Within about a minute, he was able to hold a microphone and tell Winfrey, "I feel great," later adding that breaking the record was a fulfillment of "a lifelong dream."

Before his attempt, Blaine was allowed to inhale pure oxygen for up to 30 minutes, although he inhaled for only 23 minutes. A Guinness World Records judge was on hand to certify the feat.

In May 2006 as a finale to a week spent in an aquarium with an air mask at New York's Lincoln Center, Blaine tried to set another type of breath-holding record. Without breathing pure oxygen beforehand, he tried to break the existing record of 8 minutes, 58 seconds for an attempt of that type.

But he had to be rescued shortly after 7 minutes when he was unconscious and having convulsions.

Blaine was in much better shape after Wednesday's attempt. He walked unassisted down a set of stairs to join Winfrey for an interview. He told her he had doubted while in the water whether he'd be able to break the record because of his high heart rate.

The lower the heart rate, the less oxygen is consumed.

Blaine had expected his heart rate to drop perhaps as low as under 20 beats per minute while he was in the water. But for most of the attempt, it was over 100 beats per minute, then started dropping and fluctuating rapidly during the last 2 1/2 minutes.

While training, Blaine said he would meditate to lower his heart rate. But amid the hubbub of a live studio audience, and with a record at stake, Blaine admitted he had trouble forgetting his surroundings.

Earlier in the show, Winfrey noted that her boyfriend, Stedman Graham, was making a rare appearance in the audience because he's such a fan of Blaine's work.

For Winfrey, however, the endurance feat was "nerve-racking to witness," she told Blaine.

Blaine joked about coming back on her show again and again to get used to the surroundings, lower his heart rate and set new breath-holding records.

But first, Blaine said he plans to try to break the world record for staying awake. The current record is 11 1/2 days, he said. However, Guinness said it no longer acknowledges such attempts because of health concerns.


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