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  • Writer's pictureUnwind Yoga Studio

Slow Yoga & The BOLT Test: How To Breathe Mindfully for Improved Health

Breathing isn't just about taking in oxygen, it's about how your body handles carbon dioxide (CO2). The BOLT (Body Oxygen Level Test) is a fascinating and straightforward way to see how well your body deals with CO2 every day. Athletes work on their performance by improving their CO2 tolerance, but it's actually something that can improve your health, movement, and overall wellbeing, too!

At Unwind we focus on slow yoga, and controlled breathing is a key part of the practice.

So, what exactly is the BOLT test?

Developed by Patrick McKeown, a leading figure in breathing techniques, the BOLT test measures the time you can comfortably hold your breath after a normal exhale. Your BOLT score gives you an insight into how well your body tolerates CO2.

Why does this matter?

Because a higher CO2 tolerance is linked to more efficient oxygen absorption by the body. Essentially, the more CO2 you can handle, the better your body can use oxygen.

Performing the BOLT test is simple, you can do it right now, all you need is a stop watch:

Sit down or lie flat, or incorporate it into your next yoga practice. Breathe normally. After your next normal cycle of breathing (inhale-exhale), you hold your breath at the end of the exhale & start the stop watch. Hold your breath until you feel the first urge to breathe again, then stop the watch and return to a normal breath. This moment marks your BOLT score.

Remember, it's not about how long you can hold your breath but how quickly your body signals the need to breathe. This means a gasp at the end indicates you've pushed too far - and the test is void.

Your score tells you a lot about your breathing.

A score below 10 seconds suggests poor CO2 tolerance, likely affecting your overall health. Between 10-20 seconds may indicate issues like congestion affecting your energy and focus. A score over 20 seconds is good, but the gold standard is 40 seconds, indicating optimal breathing efficiency.

Mine this morning was 20 seconds...which surprised me, but it is what it is and now I can focus on improving it, probably by lowering my stress levels more effectively!

Why bother improving your CO2 tolerance?

The benefits are significant. Better tolerance means more effective, calmer breathing, allowing your body to use CO2 to better release oxygen into your cells. This can lead to improved sleep, concentration, reduced anxiety, enhanced endurance, and even lower blood pressure.

How can you improve your BOLT score with yoga?

Improving your BOLT score involves breathing exercises that train your body to be more comfortable with higher levels of CO2. For yoga students, this is particularly relevant. Focusing on mindful breathing techniques and breath holds into your practice not only improves your BOLT score but also enhances the benefits of yoga itself.

Try this next time you practice yoga:

  • Breathe through your nose during poses

  • Practice lighter breathing, and incorporate short breath holds into your routine

  • Commit to a daily breathing practice, even within your existing yoga sessions

Doing this can bring significant improvements. And while the focus should mostly be on nose breathing and gentle breath holds, occasional sharp exhales can still have their place, especially for strength and power in specific yoga poses or movements.

In essence, the BOLT test isn't just a measure; it's a pathway to better health and a deeper, more effective yoga practice.

By understanding and working on your CO2 tolerance, you're not just breathing, you're enhancing your body's ability to thrive - and that's exactly the goal we have at Unwind Yoga Studio!


(1) Steven Bartlett: The Diary of a CEO, 7 Sep 2023: (2) Oxygen Advantage: How to measure your BOLT score:


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