Biohacks You Can Do Anywhere And Cost Nothing

Be aware of your breathing. Notice how this takes attention away from your thinking and creates space.

Eckhart Tolle

Breath is the essence of life. It is essential for every cell in our bodies. Because of the automation of the breath, we often take it for granted. We don’t think about it or consider the power it holds. Breath controls our heart rate, affects our blood pressure, contributes to how our blood circulates and even effects our moods.

What happens to your breath when a car stops short in front of you? It gets shorter and quicker as the heart rate increases and tensions rise. What happens to the breath when you get a massage? It slows down and deepens as the heart rate decreases and relaxation sets in. It’s not often that we consider the breath in our daily activities unless it feels threatened or difficult like during strenuous exercise. But when we begin to pay attention to it we can learn a lot about the body and the mind and how the breath contributes to how we feel at any given moment.

As we cultivate this awareness, the breath can be a powerful tool used to enhance our moods, energy, health, and wellbeing. It is one of the simplest and most accessible strategies for improving our health.

I have been practicing two techniques recently that have greatly enhanced my focus, energy, and concentration levels. They have also reduced my levels of anxiety and stress. I have a much higher tolerance for handling the ups and downs of the day and find myself not getting as worked up about things as I used to. These practices are completely free and require very little time investment. Sneak them in anytime you have a few minutes to spare.

Box Breathing

Box breathing is a form of pranayama used in yoga, also referred to as square breathing or Sama Vritti in Sanskrit. The technique is simple and can be used with variations once you get some experience with it. You can do it sitting down on the floor or in a chair. It’s a great way to begin a meditation especially if your mind is racing and you’re feeling anxious. It has a calming effect and can help settle the mind. It’s very versatile so it can be done in public without others knowing what you’re doing.

  1. Sit comfortably and inhale for 4 counts.
  2. Hold the inhale for 4 counts.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for 4 counts.
  4. Hold at the bottom of the exhale for 4 counts. Repeat.

Start out with 4 or 5 rounds and then return to your normal breathing. As you build up the practice, increase the time to 5 to 10 minutes.


As you build the practice, you can experiment with the length of your breaths and holds. For an even quicker calming effect, try doubling the length of the exhales only. So inhale and hold for 4 counts, exhale for 8 counts, and hold for 4 counts. The longer exhale sends a signal to your brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which immediately calms the mind.

I do this when I take my walk breaks during work. I breathe this way for about 5–6 minutes, then return to normal breathing. Then I practice the next technique.

Intermittent Hypoxic Breathing

This is a technique I learned from The Energy Blueprint Masterclass given by nutrition and lifestyle expert, Ari Whitten. It is also recommended by biohacker and author, Dave Asprey, in his book Headstrong. The benefits of this technique are impressive.

  • Boosts immune function
  • Improves sleep
  • Regulates the nervous system
  • Improves mental toughness
  • Increases energy levels
  • Improves exercise performance
  • Decreases inflammation
  • Creates new mitochondria (the powerhouses of our cells that contribute to all functions of the body)
  • Increases BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which helps support new neuron growth and development

According to Ari Whitten,

Intermittent hypoxia training teaches your blood to extract oxygen more efficiently from the lungs…It also directly affects your mitochondria and protects them from damage.

Intermittent hypoxic training has been used and studied by scientists for the last 50 years. It has been more widely popularized by extreme athlete Wim Hof, a.k.a. The Iceman, who developed his breathing technique combined with cold therapy to create the Wim Hof Method. Russian scientists have been researching and using the method for years to treat various diseases and enhance athletic performance.

A number of journalists have investigated the Wim Hof Method as well as other forms of intermittent hypoxic training. According to this article by the Renegade Pharmacist,

All the effects of hypoxia are generated through the now well-documented “Hypoxia-Inducible-Factor-1”. These effects are primarily to help you survive lower O2 environments. It seems that inducing hypoxia through breath-holding creates a positive stress response by turning on your survival mode in the way extreme temperatures from saunas and ice baths do too.

The point to highlight in that statement is the “positive stress response” that breath holding induces. It can feel dangerous or possibly harmful when you first give this practice a try but knowing that the stress on the body is a positive one is important to keep in mind.

This type of training is considered safe for nearly everyone. One study revealed that intermittent hypoxic training was well tolerated by geriatric patients up to 92 years of age and improved cognitive function and exercise tolerance. The technique is mimicking altitude training, thereby teaching your body to become more efficient at delivering oxygen to your blood. Dave Asprey writes about hypoxic training in Headstrong,

In addition to boosting athletic performance, this builds a tremendous amount of resilience as it pares down weak mitochondria and grows stronger ones.

Since I began practicing this technique, I have noticed that I don’t get the afternoon slump that typically hits at 3 or 4 o’clock. My nervous system has relaxed and I am able to regulate my moods better. The quality of my sleep has improved even when I get less than 7 hours a night. In other words, my REM and deep sleep are staying consistent with less overall hours of sleep. (I know this from tracking my sleep with the Oura ring.)

There are several ways to practice intermittent hypoxic breathing. Wim Hof has his particular method which begins with self-induced hyperventilation. I have not yet learned this method. The one I have been practicing is the one Ari Whitten teaches and is simple and easy with no learning curve or class necessary.

Here’s the method.

  1. Walk at a normal pace and exhale through your mouth.
  2. Hold your breath for as many steps as you can while counting the number of paces you take.
  3. Breathe until your breath returns to normal.
  4. Repeat again 4–12 times.

What it feels like: This practice is a bit scary at first so it’s helpful to know what to expect. When I first began I could only hold my breath for 18–20 steps. As I began to practice, the holds became longer and I gained more control. I learned that after a certain point the need to swallow would arise and stomach/diaphragm contractions begin. This would be followed by a surge of anxious butterflies in my chest and stomach, not unlike the feeling of the stomach-dropping on a roller coaster. My legs go heavy with waves of sensations pulsing in my calves and quads. When I can’t hold it any longer, my breath resumes with short, fast gasps of air for a few seconds until it settles back to normal. I’m left with a rush of light headed tingles and weakness in my calves and quads. These sensations are due to the buildup of carbon dioxide that results from holding the breath.

Contraindications: Intermittent Hypoxic Breathing is considered safe for most people. The only contraindications I could find were those given for altitude training. Those groups include anyone suffering from:

  • acute infections
  • epilepsy
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • High blood pressure, such as over 145 systolic or over 90 diastolic.
  • Low blood pressure, such as under 80 systolic or under 50 diastolic.
  • Heart disease, pacemakers or irregular heartbeat.
  • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia.
  • Anemia

Above all, use common sense with any new practice. If you experience any adverse reaction, stop the practice and consult your doctor.

What I love about these breathing exercises is that they are accessible to anyone at any time. You don’t need to buy anything or carve out a big block of time to experience the benefits of these practices. But even more valuable is what these practices can teach you about the body and the way it uses the breath to create energy. Our world is filled with distractions taking us away from the body and the signals it gives us on a daily basis. Any practice that can reconnect us with the essential processes the breath provides us every moment of the day is a worthwhile endeavor.

Debby Germino is a freelance tv/film editor who enjoys writing about mindfulness, health, and strategies for happier living. She writes a bi-weekly newsletter and is open to comments and suggestions on any of these topics.