Book Review “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art”
James Nestor’s book “Breath” is an entertaining yet interesting read.
The book is a collection of anecdotes about the science of breathing – and healing through breathing – throughout human history. James Nestor tries out the various forms of breathing he comes across, no matter whether they are relaxing to outright dangerous and describes his own experiments in detail. A lot of the book centres around an experiment of him and a friend, where they showcase the difference between mouth breathing and nose breathing. Entertaining? Most definitely.
Many scientists and practitioners are interviewed throughout the book. They give further insight how breathing can allegedly cure certain diseases and reveal the science behind monks and other “superhumans” who can survive for days if not weeks while being naked in negative temperatures.
Key points about healthy breathing from all the stories and research are briefly explained in the last chapter and are easily summarised.
- Shut your Mouth: Chronic mouth-breathing is detrimental to physical and mental health
- Breathe through your nose: This is beneficial for your health and athletic performance
- Exhale: Most of us surprisingly do not exhale properly. Use your diaphragm and exhale all the way
- Chew: The bones in our face can keep growing until we’re in our 70s. Keep chewing tough foods so your mouth, teeth and jaw stay in shape and airways open.
- Breath more, on occasion: Over breathing and heavy breathing can be dangerous. Conscious heavy breathing to stress the body on purpose can be beneficial (get medical guidance before you attempt this!)
- Hold your Breath: While requiring more research, Buteyko breathing is a technique of holding your breath and designed to breathe in line with your body’s needs. Most of us breathe more than we need to.
Like other breathing and sleeping experts, the self-proclaimed aeronaut suggests taping your mouth shut to sleep better and prevent snoring.
I highly suggest checking in with your GP before you do so. However, anecdotal stories from my friends and colleagues suggest that this has helped many of them to sleep better, snore less and feel more energized in the morning.
The best part about the book in my humble opinion – the appendix. While the book itself is entertaining, I am a fan or practical advice which is all in the appendix in this book. You will find detailed breathing methods as well as links on where to get more info for each of them. Weather that’s Nadi Shodhana, a standard Pranayama technique, Breathing Coordination, to engage the diaphragm, Resonant Breathing to calm the heart and lungs, Buteyko Breathing or Exercising while only nose-breathing… The science behind those concepts is in the book, the practical application in the appendix. I’ve enjoyed trying my way through most of them (but am not finished yet) and can say that those I’ve tried in the last few months have definitely helped me increase my stamina on my mountainbike!
A full chapter in the appendix goes to the breathing technique “Tummo”, made famous by Wim Hof. This is a complicated technique that can be dangerous when attempted without guidance– but a Wim Hof instructor offers free online sessions every Monday night at 9pm, Pacific Time. I have not tried these classes yet, but after reading the book I am curious to join one of the next sessions.
Final verdict: Interesting, taken with a grain of salt. It takes a while to get used to the multiple story plots happening simultaneously but is highly entertaining and full of practical advice.