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Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art Hardcover – 3 November 2020
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 S o 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.
Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start athletic performance, rejuvenate internal organs, halt snoring, allergies, asthma and autoimmune disease, and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.
Drawing on thousands of years of medical texts and recent cutting-edge studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry and human physiology, Breath turns the conventional wisdom of what we thought we knew about our most basic biological function on its head.
You will never breathe the same again.
From the Publisher
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.
'Who would have thought something as simple as changing the way we breathe could be so revolutionary for our health? James Nestor is the perfect guide to the pulmonary world and has written a fascinating book, full of dazzling revelations' -- Dr Rangan Chatterjee
'In the past few years, there have been several potentially life-changing books, from Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep and Shane O'Mara's In Praise of Walking, to Norman Doidge's The Brain's Way of Healing. Breath deserves a place alongside such volumes. Read it, and I guarantee you will want to change the way you breathe' -- Evening Standard
'I highly recommend this book' -- Wim Hof, on Instagram
'This book is awesome. Most people have no idea how to do breathing exercises and how beneficial they are. I learned a lot from James Nestor's book. Over the last few weeks I've been using the methods I learned and I can tell you there are absolutely some real benefits to be had from this' -- Joe Rogan, on Instagram
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
'James Nestor's fascinating new book is playful and optimistic' -- Spectator
'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. Breath 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
'Breath shows us just how extraordinary the act of breathing is and why so much depends on how we do it. An enthralling, surprising, and often funny adventure into our most overlooked and undervalued function' -- Bonnie Tsui, author of Why We Swim and American Chinatown
'Super interesting' -- Emma Gannon
It's an incredible book, I absolutely loved it -- Tim Lovejoy
'A really, REALLY interesting book' -- Ella Woodward, Deliciously Ella
'My currently favourite self-help book' -- Andrew O'Hagan, London Review of Books
- Publisher : Penguin Life; 1st edition (3 November 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0241289076
- ISBN-13 : 978-0241289075
- Dimensions : 16.2 x 3 x 24 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 140,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The only scientifically conclusive piece of advice that he gives is to breathe through the nose instead of mouth, because the latter has detrimental effects on health and overall physiological functioning, as he demonstrated in an experiment in which he was a test subject. Although let's be honest, that's should hardly be a surprising fact to most of the population.
The book is also filled with countless anecdotes with an unusual level of detail. For example, he seems to begin every one of his personal stories with a paragraph describing the clothing choices of the people he encounters and the vibe they give off. I mean, maybe his style of writing isn't just for me, but that coupled with the fact that this book spends approximately 200 pages making ambiguous and self-contradicting points packaged and labelled as "science" makes me doubt whether he just elongated what was meant to be a blog article for cash.
I'm still thankful for what this book had to teach me and open my eyes to, but it might be a better use of your time to simply watch one of the author's interviews instead.
Diet is a very contentious subject when it comes to health - keto, vegan, high fibre, paleo, intuitive eating, fasting.
But breath is so much simpler: in, out, depth, and time; through the nose or mouth. It also has so much more impact.
What was so interesting about the book was the link to modern “ailments” such as obesity, sleep apnea, asthma, mental health and inflammation to the breath. As for crooked teeth and narrow jaws - I would never have made this connection before reading this book. My daughter recently had braces fitted - I wish I had read this book 10 years ago.
An excellent read and highly recommended.
This well researched and entertainingly written book discusses different types of breathing exercises, as well as describing the healthiest way to breathe for life. And for nearly everyone, it is not what you are doing now. It is also not what most of you think it is...
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, after working in the area of sleep breathing disorders for over three decades. My copy is full of bookmarks showing sections I want to return to and refer to. Despite my long experience in the industry, I am still learning, and that learning becomes much more enjoyable what provided in such a well written and entertaining book.
Breath is not only easy to read, but the life changing ideas and strategies actually work.
Since developing asthma in my late 30s, I have searched for practical ,health based information to remove symptoms and reverse the condition without drugs. By following just a few of the ideas in this book, I am already seeing improvements in my health.
I love this book! Thank you.
Top reviews from other countries
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.
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!
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.