Freedive Breathing During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Freediving breathing techniques and deep breathing exercises can help improve your health.

Freedive Breathing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Freediving breathwork benefits the immune system and health in general. During the current COVID-19 pandemic maintaining the best health possible is especially important. Freediving breathwork adopts simple breathing exercises from pranayama yoga to make you a better breather and be healthier.


  • Conscious breathing and how we influence our nervous system
  • How deep breathing helps to maximize lung capacity
  • Nasal breathing and the wonder molecule: nitric oxide
  • Engaging the muscles for proper mechanical breathing
  • Humming to clear the sinuses

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Disclaimer: Breathing exercises are not proven to prevent or cure COVID-19.


As we know by now, the COVID-19 virus can cause inflammation and infection in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. In some cases, it can also cause Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

This can be fatal for some since it closes off the air sacs where gas exchange occurs and vital oxygen is delivered to the blood and tissues. As we now know, people already vulnerable to respiratory infections were heavily affected by COVID-19.

In the following sections we have a closer look at how breathing affects the body and immune system.

Conscious breathing

Stress and Brain Health

Our brain is made up of three layers that subsequently evolved. The lizard brain controls our most basic functions such as heart rate and breathing. The limbic brain adds emotions and the ability to memorize.

The neocortex adds our consciousness and the ability to learn abstract concepts. This is the part of the brain that makes us “human”. It also enabled us to become chronically stressed and get a variety of stress-related disorders, such as ulcers.

We cannot control what happens in the limbic or reptillian brain directly. However, there’s strong evidence we can influence it with our breathing habits. Conscious breathing is our gateway to the depths of our brain, where stress-related disorders live.

Many studies have now confirmed or at least support the idea that stress is alleviated by deep breathing and other breathing techniques. One study has even implied breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety, while an earlier showed hyperventilation treatment reduces panic attacks.

Freediving Breathing Techniques
Freediving breathing techniques and deep breathing exercises can help improve your health.

Breathing and the Nervous System

An article by Kox et al., 2014 showed how we’re able to influence our autonomic nervous system, and thus the immune system via breathing techniques. This findings are interesting in how we’re able to actively control our health via our breathing. We wrote about this in a recent article on cold exposure and the immune system.

Furthermore, we also know how breath control (i.e. slow and deep breathing) can induce bradycardia, or a lowering of the heart rate. There is evidence suggestion having a low resting heart rate and low Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is good for your health.

When you practice slow and deep breathing, as done in freediving, you are open the alveoli (the air sacs that branch out from the bronchioles). This maximizes the surface area where gas exchange takes place. Consequently the primary function of the lungs, gas exchange, improves.

Pursed lip exercises are commonly used among freedivers to control the outflow of air during exhale. This actively engages certain respiratory muscles, such as the intercostal and thoracic muscles. However, when dry training or meditating, we recommend breathing through the nose.

Nasal Breathing and Nitric Oxide

Nasal Breathing All the Way

As always, breathing in through your nose is the best way to breathe. SIMPLE. We did not evolve to breath with our mouth. The nose moistens the air you breath and “purifies” thanks to the hairs in the nasal cavity.

Yes, while freediving we breathe with our mouth since we wear a mask. However, while dry training or doing pranayama exercises breathing through the nose is far better.

Nitric Oxide function 1: a vasodilator

A while back we wrote an article specifically on nitric oxide: the freediver’s wonder molecule. You can find the full article here.

The chemical compound nitric oxide is created in the nasal cavity and has a positive effect on the respiratory system, leading to better oxygenated tissues.

Nitric oxide is a potent vaso-dilator, meaning that it widens your blood vessels and thus promotes blood circulation.

Lundberg et al., (1996) found positive effects of nasal breathing on; 1) blood flow in the lungs, 2) on oxygenation of the arteries and 3) on oxygenation of tissues under the skin.

Lundberg et al., 1996.
Deep with Oceaner
Freediving breathwork and deep bretahing exercises are useful underwater, but also above water for health benefits.

Nitric oxide function 2: anti-viral

As we mentioned, the lining of the sinuses generates nitric oxide (NO), which is a very reactive anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral agent. You can increase the concentration of nitric oxide in your sinuses by humming, which makes your sinuses vibrate.

In a 2006 case study of chronically inflamed sinuses a patient was able to get rid of chronic sinusitis in 4 days without additional medication.

Read the original article we wrote on how humming and alternate nostril breathing can generate nitric oxide and help to clear the sinuses.

Mechanics of Breathing

The Problem with Shallow Breathing

Many non-freedivers don’t quite understand what’s involved in a proper “full breath”. In fact, most people don’t know how to breathe correctly for most of their lives. They don’t learn until they take a freediving course, a pranayama yoga class or read a book in the subject.

Deep breathing occurs when you engage both the diaphragm and intercostals muscles. This is excellent since it can encourage air into the depths of the lungs. If these parts of the lung aren’t used, they can essentially close, and become at risk of infection.

Prior to COVID-19 this was already a major hurdle for people with asthma, emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The COVID-19 virus also taught us that other, normally healthy persons, can also be affected if a pathogen is particularly virulent.

If you have a chronic lung disease, like asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), breathing can be helpful in getting control of that chronic condition.

Nikita Desai, Pulmonologist.

Engaging Muscles for Deep Breathing

As freedivers we learn to engage the diaphragm to its maximum potential: lower it so the lungs may expand within the thoracic cage. We acknowledge our intercostal muscles can “flex” outwards to further expand the chest cavity. Finally, our upper chest muscles can be engaged to fill the very top of the lungs.

Dr. Belisa Vranich (Breathing for Warriors) states this untapped potential quite nicely in a recent post on the HHP Foundation:

You have about ten pounds of breathing muscles just languishing; that is to say, not being trained functionally. You are not training these muscles when you do cardio. Your lungs are burning on that obstacle course, but are you “training” them? Nope.
The notion that you are working your breathing muscles when training couldn’t be further from the truth. Why? To work out a muscle you have to push it to exhaustion, and to do this you have to train breathing muscles separately from your sport. If you don’t work on your inspiratory and expiratory breathing muscles separately, you are running on three cylinders. By overlooking breathing, you are unknowingly sleeping on a mattress full of money.

Dr. Belisa Vranich, Ph.D (Breathing for Warriors)


  6. HHP Foundation (
  7. Dr. Belisa Vranich, Breathing for Warriors (

Luca Malaguti

Luca Malaguti is a former engineer turned freediving professional athlete and founded Sea to Sky Freediving. He lives in Vancouver, Canada among other places including Dahab, Dominica and Philippines.

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