Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

by James Nestor

This fascinating book is a scientific study as well as a historical survey of breathing. While this may seem unusual to write a whole book about something as natural and automatic as breathing, Nestor writes a surprisingly captivating analysis of the many ways in which we have forgotten how to breathe. He makes a convincing case that many of the ills we suffer from are the result of faulty breathing. The huge increase in stress, insomnia, hypertension, anxiety disorders are scientifically attributable to poor breathing.

What is poor breathing? Nestor highlights two problems: mouth-breathing and shallow breathing. When we breathe only through our mouths and not through our noses, we are misusing the way our bodies are intended to function. Equally problematic, shallow breathing throws off the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, with all sorts of corresponding health repercussions.

Nestor, a long-time sufferer from annual bouts of pneumonia, learned about proper breathing as a path toward self-healing. Much of his research was in the form of personal experimentation, which he describes in graphic detail. He adds a history of breathing going back thousands of years. The combination of personal experience, millenia-old exploration, and cutting-edge scientific research keeps the book flowing in a surprisingly engaging read. I read in three days what could have easily been a dry, boring analysis that would have dragged out weeks.

For those who are interested in specific conclusions, he leaves the reader with tangible tactics to practice. Here are just o few of my takeaways.
Breathing through the nose is better than breathing through the mouth. This takes practice, which he outlines in the book.
Slow breathing creates all sorts of health benefits. The perfect breath is 5.5 seconds inhale through the nose, and 5.5 seconds exhale. Even a few minutes each day of this slow breathing will lessen stress and anxiety.

Learning to deal with chronic health problems like anxiety and insomnia take a multi-faceted approach. Breath may end up being one part of the puzzle.

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