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Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art Paperback – 15 September 2020
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A fascinating scientific, cultural, spiritual and evolutionary history of the way humans breathe - and how we've all been doing it wrong for a long, long time. I already feel calmer and healthier just in the last few days, from making a few simple changes in my breathing, based on what I've read. Our breath is a beautiful, healing, mysterious gift, and so is this book -- Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
'A wonderful book that reminds and enlightens us about how breath and mind are intertwined' -- Rahul Jandial, author of Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon
'If you want to read a book about the power of the breath, this is it!' -- Patrick McKeown, author of The Oxygen Advantage
'I would have thought that breathing was pretty simple and well understood. Then I read this book. Now I know it's a hugely complex and wondrous process which we need to understand much better. Fascinating and provocative stuff' -- Daniel M. Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure
'A transformative book that changes how you think about your body and mind' -- Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein
'Breath is an utterly fascinating journey into the ways we are wired. No matter who you are, you'll want to read this' -- Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do with My Life and Nutureshock
'An eye-opening, epic journey of human devolution that explains why so many of us are sick and tired. A must-read book that exposes what our health care system doesn't see' -- Dr. Steven Y. Park, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of Sleep, Interrupted
'I don't say this often, but when I do I mean it: this book changed my life. Breathe is part scientific quest, part historical insight, part Hero's Journey, full of groundbreaking ideas, and a rollicking good read. I had no idea that the simple and intuitive act of inhaling and exhaling has taken such an evolutionary hit. As a result, I figured out why I sleep so badly and why my breathing feels so often out-of-sync. With a few simple tweaks, I fixed my breathing and fixed myself. A transformational book' -- Caroline Paul, author of The Gutsy Girl
'If you breathe, you need this book. When we undervalue anything, including something so basic as breathing, bad things always happen-and Nestor makes it clear how awful it's gotten. But he also provides a clear airway back to better, deeper, stronger respirations' -- Wallace J. Nichols PhD, author of Blue Mind
About the Author
From the Publisher
About the Book
There is nothing more essential to our health and wellbeing than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. Journalist James Nestor travels the world to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.
The answers aren't found in pulmonology labs, as we might expect, but in the muddy digs of ancient burial sites, secret Soviet facilities, New Jersey choir schools, and the smoggy streets of São Paulo, Brazil.
Nestor tracks down men and women exploring the hidden science behind ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya and Tummo and teams up with pulmonary tinkerers to scientifically test longheld beliefs about how we breathe.
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- Item Weight : 369 g
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0241289084
- ISBN-13 : 978-0241289082
- Dimensions : 15.3 x 2.2 x 23.4 cm
- Publisher : Penguin Life (15 September 2020)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #5,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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These range from insubstantial; a man in the 1930's met another man who'd benefited from visiting Tibetan monks who breath through their noses. To plausible; anxiety can be controlled with breathing, strengthening the chest muscles and diaphram can help with breathing (eg. physiotherapy is good for people with emphysema). To mystical; breathing can infuse the body with a magical 'energy' called Prana.
Any conclusions seem to be contradictory: breath in little sips, take big breaths, reduce the amount of oxygen in our bodies, increase the amount etc.
A lot is written concerning a study he and a friend took part in where they taped their noses shut for 10 days to force them to breath through their mouths. Apparently this will make you feel rotten, snore more and grow bacteria in your unused nasal cavity. Hardly surprising.
Examples range from stating that plants exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide (it’s the opposite and how it’s believed oxygen came about in the earths atmosphere) to deoxygenated blood appears blue (again incorrect, deoxygenated blood is deep red, veins appear blue due to reflection of light through the skin). Even cultural references were incorrect which makes me question could this author even use google? I am only 25% through the book- did this guy just try and bang out this book for the cash? It’s a fun read, written by someone who thinks he knows what he’s talking about- so if you do decide to spend the time, perhaps read with a skeptical eye. And it’s dangerous because it’s marketed as this person actually knows what he’s talking about (he spent a year researching so you think he would have been trustworthy). It’s unfortunate that this book was so hastily thrown together...given that the author says numerous times that breathing in any form to the respected western medical community is the same when he’s arguing the opposite point. He’s argument would be a lot more valid had he taken the time to fact check, review, and get basic things most learn in high school correct.
I confess that I am kicking myself for not taking the intricacies of breathing seriously until the last few years and I wonder if I would have been as dismissive if I had read a 'grounded' a book as this, rather than texts that relied on 'New Age-y' type language that provoked my prejudices and closed my mind to the undoubted benefits of 'breathwork'.
In a concluding chapter, Mr Nestor forcefully states the benefits of Western medicine - and rightly so; the book is NOT opposed to the scientific method. What he does argue for, however, is that the Western model has ignored an elusive obvious: self-regulation of the breath as a means of stress reduction with a host of attendant benefits.
In presenting his case, Mr Nestor takes the reader on a journey from the dawn of aerobic metabolism, through biological anthropology, into psychology, psychiatry, and dentistry, tying it all together with his own history of breath exploration as a means to control his own health issues.
It is a dazzling read regardless of some passages that describe horrible animal experiments. There are appendices that describe some breathing techniques, along with bibliography and expanded notes. Mr Nestor's website, with its dedicated 'Breath' page, is worth a look for new updates.
Anecdotally, I 'cured' long-standing exercise-induced asthma through one of the methods outlined in the book (Buteyko) and I continue to dive into it to control a life-long anxiety disorder. From what I gather, my experience is commonplace, although the benefits have been quite startling on a personal level. Whether or not I experiment with the Wim Hof method discussed in the book is another matter; it may be the next step for me.
All in all, this is a persuasive, well-researched, passionate, and inspiring book and I heartily recommend it.
Triggers for me were a combination of enforced passive smoking for some decades, before it got banned in public places, and, finally prolonged exposure to a chemical in the workplace, which had a disastrous respiratory effect on all of us, so exposed
Unwilling initially to take medication I tried to explore various ways to improve lung capacity, some of which have been more or less successful, though I had to surrender eventually to medical management, and am generally well maintained
Covid has of course made us all intensely aware of lung health, and there has been an explosion in awareness of how we breathe, how this activity we might not even think about until we can’t, might impact, positively or negatively, health and wellbeing. Not to mention, how we might best recover long term if the virus takes hold and diminishes lung capacity long term.
Decades ago, before it was more widely known, I had attempted to self-admiinister Buteyko, from a book. And not got on very well with it.
James Nestor, a self-styled ‘aeronaut’ as he calls those who have deeply studied breathwork, and sought to educate and help others to breathe well, explores, clearly, so clearly, a whole range of extraordinary breathing techniques. I should probably rephrase that – they are not necessarily THAT extraordinary, they are representative of more natural, healthful ways of breathing – which almost all of us ‘grew out of’ – posture, diet , environment changes our breathing.
Nestor goes well into the science of all this, and his book is absolutely fascinating. But what makes it outstanding for me is that he is a WRITER. Most of the other books I’ve read, share the passion, share the authors’ own journey and exploration of the field, but those writers don’t have the skill to convey the dryer stuff of the science so engagingly and absorbingly, or the light touch immediacy of writing which is like someone talking to you.
For those who might be looking towards trying the various techniques, Nestor gives clear guidance within the book, - and yes, I found Buteyko so much easier to work, from this. He also promotes and explores several ‘aeronauts’ – Patrick McKeown (very much the approachable Buteyko international voice now) Anders Olsson, Wim Hof and others – and gives details and links to the wealth of video material out there. Indeed Nestor’s own website is full of wonderful, free resources.
I also really like his pragmatic and generous approach. One of the biggest changes I’ve made – with excellent results – since reading this book, is to simply control how I breathe when sleeping. Nose breathing, not mouth breathing, is what we need to be doing, and though I have consciously tried to work with this, over many years, I certainly wasn’t doing this at night. Various complex devices are out on the market for this one – Nestor does talk them through, but also says he himself just uses simple micropore tape, to keep his mouth shut. It certainly looks a bit weird and startling but, I must say, since my first night with a small vertical strip from just above top lip to just below bottom lip, I not only had no trouble or discomfort with this, but no longer have a stuffy or runny nose on waking, and am more likely to sleep through the night, not needing to wake for a pee – and he explains the science behind this, a connection between a neurotransmitter, the autonomic nervous system, and depth of sleep. The nose is a wonderful thing, and the biochemistry of nose breathing and mouth breathing are different. Button that lip!