The Health Benefits of Breathwork—with Niraj Naik of SOMA – EP128

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Life is a series of inhales and exhales. So, what happens if we press pause? SOMA breathwork uses short periods of breath retention to create the right balance of oxygen in the body and produce a variety of health benefits. How can we benefit from this kind of practice as endurance athletes? And how does hypoxic training work to improve our performance?




Niraj Naik is the creator of SOMA Breath, a global breathwork movement based on the traditional yogic practices of pranayama. A certified pharmacist turned holistic health expert and entrepreneur, Niraj used breathing techniques to restore his own health, and now he is dedicated to helping others recover from diseases in which stress and gut issues are a contributing factor. Niraj is also a professional musician and one of the world’s most sought-after spiritual ceremony facilitators.

Today, Niraj joins us to explain how his own struggle with Ulcerative Colitis led to his discovery of the healing power of breath. He discusses other types of breathwork and describes what differentiates SOMA in terms of its gentleness, accessibility and physical health benefits. Niraj also discusses the fundamentals of pranayama in general and kumbhaka specifically, sharing the science behind how intermittent hypoxia positively impacts the body. Listen in for Niraj’s insight around how CO2 tolerance benefits endurance athletes and learn to leverage SOMA as a powerful mindfulness meditation.

Topics Covered

[1:08] How Niraj got into breathwork

  • Housebound for year with Ulcerative Colitis
  • Disillusioned with healthcare system in UK
  • Transformed health with kumbhaka (breath retention)
[7:57] How being a pharmacist influenced Niraj

  • Insight on shortcomings of healthcare system
  • Education in area does not mean advocate
[9:34] The two schools of hyperventilation breathwork

  • Holotropic = invoke near-death experience
  • Rebirthing = blissed-out, meditative state
[20:17] The fundamentals of pranayama

  • Techniques for controlling energy in body
  • Create O2 when needed, preserve when don’t
  • Health benefits from intermittent hypoxia
[27:01] The benefit to living in high altitudes

  • Survive with < oxygen, resilient to stress
  • Examples include Nepalese Sherpas + yogis
[29:28] SOMA’s roots in kumbhaka

  • Hold breath for period to decrease oxygen
  • Optimize blood flow from heart to brain
  • Stem cells activated by intermittent hypoxia
[36:43] How long it takes to change the pH in blood

  • Goes up with 20—30 repetitions of breathing
  • Intermittent hypoxia more important than pH
[37:48] How SOMA doubles as a meditation technique

  • Holding breath puts into no-mind state
  • Guided through music on hypnotic journey
[43:13] How SOMA differs from Wim Hof

  • Wim Hof good for low energy, men seeking fire
  • SOMA more gentle + accessible to wider group
[44:57] How CO2 tolerance helps athletes

  • Records broken at Olympics in Mexico
  • Sparked high-altitude training movement
[46:54] Niraj’s take on measuring your BOLT score

  • Based on how long hold breath without stress
  • Longer hold = more efficient use of oxygen
[48:34] Breathing through the nose vs. mouth

  • Mouth for talking, singing + extreme exercise
  • Nose filters to warm, clean air (prep for absorption)
  • Calm and relaxed vs. adrenaline producing
[50:14] Niraj’s top tips for Ali Fitness listeners

  • Use breathwork in conjunction with diet, exercise
  • Pay attention to emotions + bodily symptoms

Learn More About Niraj Naik

SOMA Breath

SOMA 21 Day Awakening Breath Retreat


Swami Ambikananda

Stanislav Grof

Holotropic Breathwork

Rebirthing Breathwork International

Leonard Orr

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda

Kumbh Mela


Wim Hof

Ben Greenfield Fitness

The Oxygen Advantage: Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques to Help You Become Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter by Patrick McKeown

Buteyko Institute of Breathing & Health

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