Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

At the top of the year, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” was recommended to me alongside Yoga with Adriene’s Breath challenge. I was quick to jump into the yoga challenge but put the book on hold for a few months, as I wasn’t truly convinced of how interesting a book on breathing would be. I’m happy to report that I was proven completely wrong in my reservations.

Nestor draws on the thousands of years of work from fellow “pulmonauts” (his word for those who’ve contributed to the research into breathing) and travels the world to present this witty, engaging report into how humans, as a species, have forgotten how to breathe correctly. The following were some of my key takeaways:

  • Breathe through your nose: Air that is breathed through the nose, as opposed to the mouth, is filtered. Studies indicate that a focus on nasal-breathing plays a role in mitigating many ailments, including snoring, diabetes, and heart disease. Nestor himself participated in one such study, in which he only breathed through his mouth for a set number of days, followed by only breathing through his nose. He described almost instant improvements to his general well-being and running performance after a return to nasal-breathing.
  • Exhale: Breathing out is as important as breathing in, but we rarely fully exhale. Carl Stough spent his professional career teaching his students to lengthen their exhale. Through following his work, “emphysemas reported almost total recovery from their incurable conditions, opera singers gained more resonance and tone in their voices, asthmatics no longer suffered from attacks, and Olympic sprinters went on to win gold medals”.
  • Short, intense breathing sessions: Consciously breathing heavily for short, intense periods of time each day can be therapeutic and help our bodies regulate stress more effectively. This isn’t a new idea, but something that is central to techniques like tummo and sudarshan kriya.
  • Chew: Humans are the only animals with crooked teeth, but it wasn’t always that way, it’s a strange quirk of our evolution. As industrialisation changed the way we consumed food, we developed less of a need for chewing, which led to smaller jaws for our teeth. However, there’s still evidence that we change our facial shapes, no matter our age, through hard chewing for an hour or so a day.

The above takeaways are quick and practical. They don’t give justice to the way they’re presented within the book, which is full of a wealth of fascinating anecdotes and research. I hadn’t realised the power we have to improve our health by simply breathing better, a good lesson to not take everyday “processes” for granted.

Like a good millennial cliché (I believe the kids are calling us “cheugy” these days), I’ll be doing the yoga challenge again, and applying the lessons learned from Nestor’s research. 🧘‍♀️ ✌️

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