What a great question! My dad taught me that trick when I was
small, learning to swim. I thought by not having to hold my nose when
jumping into the pool, or swimming underwater, made me look like a big
kid! Actually, most people I know are unable to hold their breath this
way! My dad also taught me to swallow with my mouth open to relieve
popped ears when taking off in a plane ? and most people I know can?t
do that either.
However, being able to ?block your breath? is not genetic. It is
actually a reflex used in swallowing. The fact that you and I, and
unknown numbers of others can do it, indicates we are attuned to the
mechanical action of our reflex, and can repeat it voluntarily.
Everyone, barring people with a physical disability, has the ability
to hold their breath this way, they just can?t coordinate the ?tongue
and throat? action voluntarily!
?Before the mass enters the throat (that is, when it is at the rear
edge of your tongue and starting to move down), various events happen
as part of the swallow reflex. One thing that happens is the velum
raises to close off the connection to the nose. Looking into someone?s
mouth, you will see the uvula (a "bell" looking structure in the back
of your mouth that is part of the velum) hanging down from the velum
(the tissue making up the back part of the roof of the mouth). When
the velum raises it closes off the passage to the nose. Many people
have probably seen at least one occasion when the bell did not raise
fast enough and liquid may have come out of a person?s nose.
Also, your larynx (voice box) closes off and moves up and forward. If
you swallow your saliva and pay attention to your throat you will feel
something in your throat moving up and forward. That?s your larynx, or
the part of your body that contains your voice box. The larynx sits on
top of the trachea (the breathing tube), and the trachea leads down to
your lungs. It is very important that no food or any other material
get into your trachea. It is called aspiration when any material gets
past your larynx and into your trachea. You will start coughing (and
maybe choking) if material falls into your trachea. If a piece of food
or other material is big enough it may even make breathing difficult
if it gets stuck. The coughing is one response that the body has to
help protect your lungs from dangerous material. Another way is what
usually happens to the larynx when we swallow.?
?As mentioned before, the larynx closes off and moves up and forward
out of the way of food to help protect the lungs. Several muscles in
our larynx normally close the larynx off at different levels to make
sure that nothings falls into the larynx. In addition, a cartilage in
the throat called the epiglottis will usually flip over and cover the
laryngeal aditus (the entrance to the larynx) to provide another layer
of protection for the lungs.?
More on swallowing:
?Clinical and experimental evidence support the existence of
neurophysiologic, structural, and functional interdependence between
respiration and swallowing. Health care professionals who treat
patients with swallowing disorders are able to modify abnormal
swallowing physiology using compensatory techniques that involve both
peripheral alterations in breathing and swallowing. Compensatory
postures and maneuvers used in the treatment of patients with
dysphagia often require voluntary modification of both breathing and
?The interrelationships between the respiratory and swallowing
processes are clearly demonstrated through a description of their
shared muscular components and anatomic structures. Respiration shares
many muscles that are reciprocally active in swallowing. Rhythmic
electrical activity has been recorded in the genioglossus,
styloglossus, stylopharyngeus, and cricopharyngeus muscles during
quiet inspiration.18, 19, 20, 21 The genioglossus, styloglossus, and
stylopharyngeus serve to counterbalance airflow resistance through the
upper respiratory tract by stiffening and enlarging the upper airways
during breathing.22, 23, 24, 25 Clearly, these muscle groups also play
essential roles in oral bolus propulsion and oropharyngeal clearance.?
?These observations may suggest that vagally mediated reflexes are
operative in normal physiologic situations and play an important role
in the control of swallowing rate as well as in the timing of
swallowing in reference to the respiratory cycle.?
Anecdotal Evidence: I was unable to come up with a good description of
the process, other than to just stop breathing, but found several
?You can either breathe out a bit from your nose when you enter the
water, or do what I do and force your tongue up against the back of
your throat/palate, which closes off your airway from your nose. It
could compress the air into your sinuses a little so water could
enter, but unless you're jumping off a really high spot, there won't
be much water that enters if any.?
?and its not so much breathing out....its pushing air up into the
nasal cavity but not letting it escape....this causes a pressure build
up in your mouth and nasal cavity that is greater then the water
trying to get in.?
?you need to practice being underwater with your sinuses closed, that
is, no water goes in, no air comes out. just practice that being IN
the water, and then figure out what your nose/throat/etc. is doing to
do that (basically like holding your breath with a little pressure
outwards, but not blowing air). then you can add in jumping.?
?Funny one, this. I've never had to hold my nose. You just sort of -
man, it's hard to describe - keep a head of pressure up in your nose.
As if you were about to exhale through your nose but you don't
actually do it.?
?Drink a glass of water. Notice what your nasal passage is doing each
time you take a gulp of water and it's passing down the back of your
throat. This is the same muscle action you want to hold in order to
prevent water from entering your nose.?
? I'm with kcm on the blowing air out your nose part. The way I
learned to keep my sinuses closed underwater was by first blowing air
out of my nose. As you become more comfortable underwater, your body
will naturally close your sinuses and you'll no longer?
?Try pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth, supressing the
urge to blow it out your nose.?
?Today, as I was walking to work, a man walking in front of me sneezed
twice, without covering his nose and mouth. Not just any type of
sneeze, but a nice, big, juicy, wet sneeze. The kind that rocked his
body so violently, that he had to stop walking in order to double over
during the course of both sneezes. It was when he stopped that I made
I took a deep breath, and hurried past him, waiting until I could hold
my breath no longer, followed it with a very long, drawn-out exhale,
and began breathing again.
After I resumed breathing like a normal person, I realized that this
is something I do often, and most times as a reflex.
I do this when people cough, sneeze, or even walk by me. When I was
growing up and would see someone approaching me, I would take a breath
and hold it while they were passing me by (is it wrong to say that I
do this more with very *ahem* large people?). This way, I would not
have to smell their odor, which usually lagged behind them by a couple
Here are other ?genetic? traits:
As in many things medical/scientific, there are studies that show
tongue curling is NOT hereditary.
If anything in my asnwer is unclear, please ask for an Answer
Clarification, and allow me to respond, before you rate!
holding breath without holding nose
hereditary or genetic traits + tongue curl + hold breath
Vagus nerve + swallow + breathe