Monday, May 3, 2010

David Blaine: How I held my breath for 17 min

By Kayla H.

As a magician, David Blaine has gone to great lengths to challenge himself with tasks that doctor's say are "not possible." He's been buried alive in a coffin in New York City for a week, frozen himself in a block of ice for 3 days and 3 nights, stood on a 100 ft pillar for 6 hours, to living in a glass box in London for 44 days. He's done a lot of drastic events that I wouldn't think twice about doing. But as a magician, he was not satisfied by succeeding with just those tasks. "I wanted to see how long I could go without breathing, how long I could survive with nothing... not even air." Little did he know that it would become the most amazing journey of his life.

"As a young magician, I was obsessed with Houdini and his underwater challenges," Blaine explains. As a kid, he always use to have competitions with other kids to see who could hold their breath the longest. By the time he was a teenager, he could hold his breath for 3 minutes and 30 seconds, later discovering that time was Houdini's personal record. Blaine tells about a story that had inspired him to use one of the many techniques he would use to hold his breath for 17 minutes. "In 1987, I heard a story about a boy who fell through ice and was trapped under a river. He was underneath not breathing for 45 minutes. When the rescue workers came, they resuscitated him and found no brain damage. His core temperature had dropped to 77°." Blaine tells. Blaine then explains that as a magician, he finds anything possible. And if someone could do it, then he could too. He took this opinion into perspective, and went to talk to a top neurosurgeon where he asked him how long someone could go without breathing; with no air at all. The neurosurgeon replied that anywhere over 6 minutes you have a severe risk of hypoxic brain damage. Blaine did not take this statement as a back down, instead, he took it as a challenge. Blaine thought that creating a water tank, and filling it with ice, would give a similar technique to that of the boy under the ice. But, after testing this idea out, he found that it did not work because he could only hold his breath for about a minute with this theory. Blaine decided to go to a doctor and asked him "I wanna hold my breath, how could it be done?" with the doctor replying "David, your a magician. Create the illusion of not breathing, it'll be a lot easier". The Doctor came up with the idea to create a re-breather made up of a CO2 scrubber. The re-breather ended up being a tube from Home Depot with a balloon duct taped to it. They tried to put it inside of him, so that it would help him circulate the air and re-breath with it, but it was unsuccessful. Blaine continues talking about other techniques he used in attempt to hold his breath for a long time. From liquid chemicals that can help you breath like perfulbron, to heart-lung bypass machines; all of these ideas did not work. "Then I thought about the craziest idea of all the ideas, to actually do it. To actually hold my breath past the point that doctors consider you brain dead." Blaine says. Researching pearl divers, Blaine tells how he stumbled across the "world of free diving" as he put it. "It was one of the most amazing things I ever discovered pretty much," Blaine explains. There are many different aspects to free diving, he explains and mentions that there are two basic types of diving for this technique. "There's depth records where people go as deep as they can, and then there's static apnea - holding your breath as long as you can in one place without moving" Blaine says. The second one being the one he decided to focus on doing. Blaine explains the technique that he used, including purging which is hyperventilating in and out, helping rid your body of CO2 making it infinitely easier to hold your breath underwater. "Every morning, this is for months, I would wake up and the first thing I would do is I would hold my breath for out of 52 minutes, I would hold my breath for 44 minutes," Blaine says, saying that it was a hard procedure, but it was what was necessary to accomplish the task.

Through the rest of the talk, Blaine continues to capture the audience's attention. He tells of Tom Sietas, the man who held the world record at the time with 8 minutes and 58 seconds. But, Blaine explains that Tom Sietas was 6'4, 160 pounds, and his total lung capacity was twice the size of an average humans. Perfectly built for holding his breath. Blaine said that if he didn't get himself into top condition like Sietas, then he wouldn't be able to beat him. So, he lost 50 pounds in 3 months, and dropped his resting heart beat to 38 beats/minute - lower than most Olympic athletes. "In 4 months of training, I was able to hold my breath over 7 minutes. I wanted to try holding my breath everywhere. I wanted to try it in the most extreme places to see if I could slow my heart beat under duress," Blaine explains to the audience. After this goal, he felt confident enough to break the world record live on prime-time television. Blaine then tells about how he assumed he could have a water tank at Lincoln Center. Blaine continues that his strategy he used a week before he'd face the challenge was "If I stayed there a week not eating, I'd get comfortable in that situation and I would slow my metabolism which I was sure would help hold my breath longer then I had been able to do it, I was completely wrong.". A week before the scheduled attempt, Blaine tells about how everything seemed on track, until two days before the scheduled attempt was to happen, the producers for the television special said that "just watching somebody holding their breath and almost drowning is too boring for television" Blaine said. So, he agreed with the producers to add handcuffs, and try to escape them while holding his breath. "Because of the movement, I was wasting oxygen, and by 7 minutes I had gone into these awful convulsions, and by 7:08 I had started to black out," Blaine explains, showing his convulsions on a video in the presentation. Shortly after, Blaine explains that by 7 minutes and 30 seconds, they had to pull him out of the water tank and "bring him back". "I had failed on every level, and naturally, to get myself out of the slump I called Oprah," Blaine says jokingly. He tells about how he explained to Oprah that he wanted to to hold his breath longer then any human being had ever held their breath at before. "This was a different record, this was a puro 2 staticapnia that Guinness had set the world record at 13 minutes," continuing to explain, says "so basically your breath puro 2 first, oxygenating your body and flushing out CO2 and you're able to hold much longer." Blaine explains. Blaine tells the audience that his real competition was the beaver, showing a chart that the beaver can hold his breath for one of the longest times, and on the chart showing the the human can hold their breath for the least amount of time. "In January of 08, Oprah gave me 4 months to prepare and train. So, I would sleep in a hypoxic tent every night," explaining that a hypoxic tent is a tent that "simulates altitude at 15, 000 ft" making the hypoxic tent feel like base camp Everest. Blaine rationalizes that the use of the hypoxic tent helps you build up your red blood cells in your body, which helps you carry oxygen better. "My first attempt on puro 2 I was able to go up to 15 minutes, so it was a pretty big success.". Blaine felt confident enough, and announced that he would go for Sietas' record. But, Sietas felt threatened by Blaine, and bumped the record up. Then Sietas' main competitor went and broke Sietas' record. The record had been bumped up to 16 minutes and 32 seconds. 3 minutes longer then what Blaine had prepared himself for. So, Blaine trained even more. When the time came, originally, he had trained to hold his breath face down. But, the broadcasters wanted him face up for everyone to see. Explaining in the presentation that it gave him discomfort. That wasn't all that was bugging him though. He had to wear a suit, and it was very buoyant so they had to strap his feet in to keep him from going up. Causing him to have to use his legs to hold his feet in the straps to keep him from floating up. This making him extremely nervous, increasing his heart rate. Another problem that caused issues was they decided to use a heart rate monitor, and it was right beside the tank. "Every time my heart beat I would hear the beep beep beep beep beep, you know, the ticking really loud. Which was making me more nervous, and there was no way to slow my heart rate down." Blaine explained that normally he would start at 38 beats/minute and while holding my breath would drop to 12 beats/minute. This time, it had started at 120 beats/minute, and it never went down. "I spent the first 5 minutes underwater trying to slow my heart rate down, but I just kept getting more and more nervous, and my heart beat kept going up, up, up. All they way up to 150 beats." Blaine says. David continues to tell the audience that he had difficulties throughout his attempt. At 10 minutes he told the audience that he had felt tingly sensations through his body, and at 11 minutes he felt throbbing sensations in his legs and his lips started to feel really strange. Blaine continues to explain to the audience what he was feeling during the last 6 minutes before he reached 17 minutes. "At 12 minutes, I started to have ringing in my ears, and I started to feel my arm going numb. And I'm a hypochondriac so I thought arm numb means heart attack so I started to get really paranoid. Then at 13 minutes I started feeling pains all over my chest it was awful. At 14 minutes I had these awful contractions, like this urge to breath. At 15 minutes I was suffering major O2 deprivation to the heart and I started having a schema to the heart. My heart beat would go from 120 to 50 to 150 to 40 to 20 to 150 again. It would skip a beat, it would start, it would stop, and I felt all this, and I was sure I was going to have a heart attack.". Blaine then tells about at 16 minutes, he slipped his feet out because he knew that if he was going to have a heart attack, that the people would have to jump in and take his feet out. So he told the audience that he took his feet out and he let his body flow to the top not taking his head out, and was just floating there waiting for his heart to stop. Then, suddenly, he heard someone scream, he found out that he was at 16 minutes and 30 second mark. So, he decided to hold it until 17 minutes and 4 seconds.

In the entire presentation, I watched very intently. I didn't understand how you could hold your breath for 17 minutes. I thought Houdini was impressive as it was. But David Blaine shows that he is more. He is a comfortable speaker, making gestures, and showing pictorial evidence giving you more of a visual of his overall experiences. He makes you wonder how he did it all, and not just holding your breath. In this presentation he shows his dedication, and tells of all the strategies and training it took to earn the world record. "As a magician I try to show things to people that seem impossible. And I think magic whether I'm holding my breath or flinging a deck of cards is pretty simple. It's practice, it's training it's experimenting while pushing through the pain to be the best I can be. And that's what magic is to me.". Which really does give a summary of David Blaine and his passion for magic.

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