Episode 54 – Dr. Jack Feldman: Breathing For Mental & Physical Health & Performance | Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • The brain utilizes about 20% of all the oxygen we take in and needs it continuously
  • There’s bidirectionality to breathing and state: emotional state influence breathing and breathing influences emotional state
  • The most unique thing about breathing is that you can consciously change your breathing and change your signal and internal state
  • To increase heart rate, inhale longer than exhale; to slow heart rate, exhale longer than inhale
  • Fastest method to calm down in real time, try the physiological sigh: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth, repeat 5 minutes
  • Performance after lunch tends to fall off – try box before starting work again: 5 second inhale, 5 second hold, 5 second exhale, 5 second hold x 5-10 minutes
  • It might be that the specific pattern of breathwork one does is not as important as the transition between states of deliberate breathwork


Dr. Jack Feldman (@prebotzinger) is a distinguished professor at UCLA and world expert in the science of breathing. He is credited with groundbreaking discoveries in identifying the particular areas of the brain involved in breathing.

Andrew Huberman and Dr. Jack Feldman discuss how and why humans breathe the way we do, the anatomy and physiology behind breathing, the influence of breathing on the brain & body, and specific protocols to train breathing for various outcomes.

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Brain Centers Involved In Breathing

  • Breathing allows us to take in oxygen for body metabolic function and remove the carbon dioxide we produce
  • When you inhale, you contract the diaphragm and pull it down which expands the lungs
  • The diaphragm is extremely efficient at working with the lungs and passing air
  • At rest, exhaling is passive
  • Neurons in the spinal cord & brain stem go to respiratory muscles in diaphragm and rib cage and contract
  • preBötzinger Complex (discovered by Dr. Feldman): every breath begins with activation of neurons in this region which connect to motor neurons in intercostals and diaphragm
  • At rest you can maintain nasal breathing because the amount of air needed it manageable through these smaller pathways
  • Retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN); (discovered by Dr. Feldman): cluster of neurons essential in chemoreception, how organisms respond to chemical stimuli


  • By default, we are diaphragmatic breathers – particularly when you need to increase ventilation
  • We sigh about every 5 minutes because you need a big pressure to pop the lungs open
  • Consequence to state of mind & biology in the absence of sighs: breathing is impaired, carbon dioxide builds, stress increases, lung function deteriorates (as shown in lab rats)
  • You’ll notice that during stress you sigh more because your body is trying to relax  
  • Physiologic sigh: double inhale through nose followed by long exhale through mouth
  • If you suppress the ability to gasp, you can’t reignite breathing
  • Patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions have a loss of neurons in thepreBötzinger Complex – they often have breathing disturbances in sleep (not wakefulness) and can’t resuscitate

States Modulated By Breathing

  • Breathing affects emotional and cognitive states
    • Olfaction: inhaling and exhaling creates signals from nasal mucosa, riding on a respiratory-related oscillation
    • Vagus nerve: receives signals from many places – lungs, gut, etc. – so there’s a huge respiratory oscillation signal from vagus nerve
  • There’s an emotive control over breathing as well – breathing changes when we laugh  
  • In apnea, carbon dioxide levels are going from low to high and has a profound influence on breathing and cognition
  • Controlled episodic hypoxia AKA Wim Hoff breathing can increase mental focus and cognition (short bursts of fast inhales and exhales for one minute, then hold breath about 15 seconds & repeat 5 minutes)
  • There are anecdotal reports of the effectiveness of breathing on one side of the nose versus the other – in other words, closing one side of the nose and breathing
  • Fear response & reaction time change in coordination with respiratory cycle
  • Different breathing practices could be affecting the outcome through different pathways

Various Breathing Practices Covered In This & Other Episodes

  • Tummo or Wim Hof style breathing: this is basically rapid, deliberate hyperventilation – this will make you feel alert and liberate adrenaline
  • Fastest method to calm down in real time: physiological sigh: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth, repeat 5 minutes
  • To increase heart rate – inhale longer and/or more vigorous than exhale
  • To slow heart rate down – exhale longer and/or more vigorous than inhale
  • Cyclic hyperventilation: deep inhale through nose immediately following by deep exhale through mouth x 25-30 then fully exhaling until lungs are empty and repeating – cycle for 5 minutes
  • Supplement that has shown enhancement in sleep and cognition: mangesium threonate at 200-400mg 2-3 hours before sleep
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Notes By Maryann

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