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About this book:
  • Non-fiction.
  • "No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you're not breathing properly. There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat twenty-five thousand 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."
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$14.00 lower (%82 savings) than the regular price of $16.99

Previous 🔥Frontpage Deal at $2 with +74 Deal Score and 40 comments.

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AuthorJames Nestor
PublisherRiverhead Books
Publication dateMay 26, 2020
Print length304 pages
Customer Reviews★★★★ / 25,431 ratings
Great on Kindle
A New York Times Bestseller

A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2020

Named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR

"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." —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic and Eat Pray Love

No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you're not breathing properly.

There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat twenty-five thousand 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. 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 long-held 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, 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.

Eligible for 10 Reader Rewards points (ISBN: 9780735213630):

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Gonna need a tl;dr for the tl;dr
Never mind. Found it in the first review:

Worth reading carefully to decide how to proceed with information about breathing
Reviewed in the United States on January 31, 2022
The 2020 book entitled: "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art" by James Nestor is a most interesting and provocative book that on the one hand is extensively referenced and carefully written but on the other hand, must also be read carefully to capture both the main and subtle points about breathing and how to proceed with "the new science". Nestor advocates a couple of main themes (Nasal breathing is preferred over mouth breathing and "The optimum breathing rate is about 5.5 breaths per minute. That's 5.5-second inhales and 5.5-second exhales.") Nestor provides an entire host of related topics that will be of interest to a variety of different individuals. As some examples: Nestor writes: "They've shown lower incidence of crooked teeth and snoring and sleep apnea in infants who were breastfed longer over those who were bottle-fed." Nestor goes on to write: "Dr. John Douillard, a trainer to elite athletes… became convinced that mouthbreathing was hurting his clients… Simply training yourself to breathe through your nose, Douillard reported, could cut total exertion in half and offer huge gains in endurance. The athletes felt invigorated while nasal breathing rather than exhausted. They all swore off breathing through their mouths ever again."
Illustrative of Nestor's style and substance he writes: "I found a library's worth of material. The problem was, the sources were hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years old… Seven books of the Chinese Tao dating back to around 400 BCE focused entirely on breathing..."
Nestor writes: "the way we breathe has gotten markedly worse since the dawn of the Industrial Age… almost everyone you know—is breathing incorrectly… many modern maladies—asthma, anxiety,… could either be reduced or reversed simply by changing the way we inhale and exhale…. changing how we breathe will help us live longer… This book is a scientific adventure into the lost art and science of breathing."
Nestor writes: "even though none of the ancient people ever flossed, or brushed, or saw a dentist, they all had straight teeth… Their mouths were far too large, and their airways too wide for anything to block them. They breathed easy. Nearly all ancient humans shared this forward structure… This remained true from the time when Homo sapiens first appeared, some 300,000 years ago, to just a few hundred years ago… For tens of thousands of years, our ancestors would use their wildly developed heads to breathe just fine. Armed with a nose, a voice, and a supersized brain, humans took over the world."
Nestor writes: "Mouthbreathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse… Inhaling from the nose has the opposite effect… "Whatever happens to the nose affects what's happening in the mouth, the airways, the lungs"… said Patrick McKeown… leading experts on nasal breathing. "These aren't separate things that operate autonomously—it's one united airway," he told me… "More wholesome to sleep… with the mouth shut," wrote… Lemnius, the 1500s who was… one of the first researchers to study snoring. Even back then, knew how injurious obstructive breathing during sleep could be."
Nestor writes: "contrary to what most of us might think, no amount of snoring is normal, and no amount of sleep apnea comes without risks of serious health effects."
Nestor writes: "A Chinese Taoist text from the eighth century AD noted that the nose was the "heavenly door," and that breath must be taken in through it. "Never do otherwise," the text warned, "for breath would be in danger and illness would set in."… George Catlin… 1830,.. would spend the next six years traveling thousands of miles throughout the Great Plains… to document the lives of 50 Native American tribes… Having never seen a dentist or doctor, the tribal people had teeth that were perfectly straight—" as regular as the keys of a piano"… Nobody seemed to get sick, and deformities and other chronic health problems appeared rare... The tribes attributed their vigorous health to… the "great secret of life." The secret was breathing… The Native Americans explained… breath inhaled through the nose kept the body strong, made the face beautiful, and prevented disease… Catlin… set off… to live with indigenous cultures … Every tribe… shared the same breathing habits… He wrote… The Breath of Life, published in 1862. The book was devoted solely to documenting the wonders of nasal breathing and the hazards of mouthbreathing."
Nestor writes: "Dr. Mark Burhenne… found that mouthbreathing was both a cause of and a contributor to snoring and sleep apnea. He recommended his patients tape their mouths shut at night… "The health benefits of nose breathing are undeniable,"… Keeping the nose constantly in use, however, trains the tissues inside the nasal cavity and throat to flex and stay open…"
Nestor writes: "Just a few minutes of daily bending and breathing can expand lung capacity. With that extra capacity we can expand our lives… The stretches, called the Five Tibetan Rites… Bradford… studied… and learned restorative practices from the monks. He'd reversed aging through nothing more than stretching and breathing. Kelder described these techniques in a slim booklet titled The Eye of Revelation, published in 1939… the lung-expanding stretches he described are rooted… in actual exercises that date back to 500 BCE… In the 1980s, researchers… gathered two decades of data from 5,200 subjects… and discovered that the greatest indicator of life span wasn't genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise, as many had suspected. It was lung capacity… In 2000, University of Buffalo researchers ran a similar study... The results were the same."
Nestor writes: "Moderate exercise like walking or cycling has been shown to boost lung size by up to 15 percent… the most important aspect of breathing wasn't just to take in air through the nose… The key to breathing, lung expansion, and the long life that came… with it was… full exhalation… Singing, talking, yawning, sighing—any vocalization we make occurs during the exhalation…"
Nestor writes: "Stough began training his singers to exhale properly, to build up their respiratory muscles and enlarge their lungs… The diaphragm lifts during exhalations, which shrinks the lungs, then it drops back down to expand them during inhalations… A typical adult engages as little as 10 percent of the range of the diaphragm when breathing, which overburdens the heart, elevates blood pressure, and causes a rash of circulatory problems. Extending those breaths to 50 to 70 percent of the diaphragm's capacity will ease cardiovascular stress and allow the body to work more efficiently… Stough hadn't found a way to reverse emphysema… he'd a way to access the rest of the lungs, the areas that were still functioning… The benefits of breathing… extended… to everyone… Our bodies can survive on short and clipped breaths for decades, and many of us do. That doesn't mean it's good for us. Over time, shallow breathing will limit the range of our diaphragms and lung capacity"
Nestor writes: "Stough… found that suffered from the same "respiratory weakness" as everyone else:… Sprinters were the worst off… He warned them to never hold their breath when positioned at the starting line at the beginning of a race, but to breathe deeply and calmly and always exhale at the sound of the starter pistol. This way, the first breath they'd take in would be rich and full and provide them with energy to run faster and longer… The rest of the 1968 U.S. men's team… a total of 12 Olympic medals, most gold, and set five world records. It was one of the greatest performances in an Olympics."
Nestor writes: "In 1904, Bohr published… "Concerning a Biologically Important Relationship—The Influence of the Carbon Dioxide Content of Blood on Its Oxygen Binding"… Henderson… like Bohr… was convinced that carbon dioxide was as essential to the body as any vitamin… In other words, the pure oxygen a quarterback might huff between… plays, or that a jet-lagged traveler might shell out 50 dollars for at an airport "oxygen bar," are of no benefit… "Carbon dioxide is the chief hormone of the entire body; it is the only one that is produced… by every tissue and that probably acts on every organ," Henderson later wrote. "Carbon dioxide is, in fact, a more fundamental component of living matter than is oxygen."… It turns out that when breathing at a normal rate, our lungs will absorb only about a quarter… of the available oxygen in the air. The majority of that oxygen is exhaled back out. By taking longer breaths, we allow our lungs to soak up more in fewer breaths… The deep, slow breaths taken… each… six seconds. cultures… and religions all had somehow developed the same prayer techniques, requiring the same breathing patterns. And they all likely benefited from the same calming effect… It turned out that the most efficient breathing rhythm occurred when both the length of respirations and total breaths per minute were locked in to a spooky symmetry: 5.5-second inhales followed… by 5.5-second exhales, which works out almost exactly to 5.5 breaths a minute. This was the same pattern of the rosary… The results were profound, even when practiced for just five to ten minutes a day… Gerbarg and Brown would write books and publish several scientific articles about the restorative power of the slow breathing, which would become known as "resonant breathing" or Coherent Breathing. The technique required no real effort, time, or thoughtfulness…. Did it matter if we breathed at a rate of six or five seconds, or were a half second off? It did not, as long as the breaths were in the range of 5.5…. In other words, the meditations, Ave Marias, and dozens of other prayers that had been developed over the past several thousand years weren't all baseless... Prayer heals, especially when it's practiced at 5.5 breaths a minute."
Nestor writes: "The key to optimum breathing, and all the health, endurance, and longevity benefits that come with it, is to practice fewer inhales and exhales in a smaller volume. To breathe, but to breathe less… The benefits of jogging were obvious: I always felt great . . . afterward… Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko… spent his youth examining the world around him… Buteyko wasn't exercising, and yet he was breathing as if he'd just finished a workout… What if overbreathing wasn't the result of hypertension and headaches but the cause?... In the asthma ward, he found a man stooped over, fighting suffocation, gasping for air. Buteyko approached and showed him the technique he'd been using on himself. After a few minutes, the patient calmed down. He inhaled a careful and clear breath through his nose and then calmly exhaled. Suddenly, his face flushed with color. The asthma attack was over."
Nestor writes: "Emil Zátopek was experimenting with his own breath-restriction techniques… Four years later he broke the Czech national records for the 2,000, 3,000, and 5,000 meters… Zátopek developed his own training methods to give himself an edge. He'd run as fast as he could holding his breath, take a few huffs and puffs and then do it all again. It was an extreme version of Buteyko's methods, but Zátopek didn't call it Voluntary Elimination of Deep Breathing. Nobody did. It would become known as hypoventilation training. Hypo, which comes from the Greek for "under" (as in hypodermic needle), is the opposite of hyper, meaning "over." The concept of hypoventilation training was to breathe less… Zátopek would claim 18 world records, four Olympic golds and a silver over his career…"
Nestor writes: "in the 1970s… Counsilman trained his team to hold their breath for as many as nine strokes… Counsilman used it to train the U.S. Men's Swimming team for the Montreal Olympics. They won 13 gold medals, 14 silver, and 7 bronze, and they set world records in 11 events. It was the greatest performance by a U.S. Olympic swim team in history… Hypoventilation training fell back into obscurity after several studies… argued that it had little to no impact on performance and endurance. Whatever these athletes were gaining, the researchers reported, must have been based on a strong placebo effect."
Nestor writes: "Over his career, Buteyko… had published more than 50 scientific papers and the Soviet Ministry of Health had recognized his techniques as effective… Voluntary Elimination of Deep Breathing was especially effective in treating respiratory diseases. It seemed to work like a miracle for asthma… At rest or during exercise, asthmatics as a whole tend to breathe more—sometimes much more—than those without asthma… The worldwide annual market for asthma therapies is $ 20 billion, and drugs often work so well that they can feel like a virtual cure… The most convincing scientific validation of breathing less for asthma came by way of Dr. Alicia Meuret…120 randomly selected asthma sufferers… then… tracked the carbon dioxide in their exhaled breath… A month later, 80 percent of the asthmatics had raised their resting carbon dioxide level and experienced significantly fewer asthma attacks, better lung function, and a widening of their airways. They all breathed better. The symptoms of their asthma were either gone or markedly decreased… By the end of his career, and the end of his life in 2003 at the age of 80, Buteyko… claimed that his techniques could not only heal illnesses but promote intuition and other forms of extrasensory perception… For these reasons and others, Buteyko and his methods have been largely dismissed by today's medical community as pseudoscience… Nonetheless… when asthmatic adults followed Buteyko's methods and decreased their air intake by a third, symptoms of breathlessness reduced by 70 percent and the need for reliever medication decreased by around 90 percent."
Nestor writes: "Twelve thousand years ago, humans in Southwest Asia and the Fertile Crescent in the Eastern Mediterranean stopped gathering wild roots and vegetables and hunting game, as they had for hundreds of thousands of years. They started growing their… food. These were the first farming cultures, and in these primitive communities, humans suffered from the first widespread instances of crooked teeth and deformed mouths. Then, about 300 years ago, these maladies went viral. Suddenly, all at once, much of the world's population began to suffer. Their mouths shrank, faces grew flatter, and sinuses plugged… But the changes triggered by the rapid industrialization of farmed foods were severely damaging. Within just a few generations of eating this stuff, modern humans became the worst breathers in Homo history, the worst breathers in the animal kingdom."
Nestor writes: "Researchers have suspected that industrialized food was shrinking our mouths and destroying our breathing for as long as we've been eating this way… The same story played out no matter where he went. Societies that replaced their traditional diet with modern, processed foods suffered up to ten times more cavities, severely crooked teeth, obstructed airways, and overall poorer health. The… modern diets were the same… The traditional diets were all different."
Nestor writes: "indigenous tribes who suffered through winters when the temperature, according to Price's notes, could reach 70 degrees below zero and whose only food was wild animals. Some cultures ate nothing but meat, while others were mostly vegetarian. Some relied primarily on homemade cheese; others consumed no dairy at all. Their teeth were almost always perfect; their mouths were exceptionally wide, nasal apertures broad. They suffered few, if any, cavities and little dental disease. Respiratory diseases such as asthma or even tuberculosis, Price reported, were practically nonexistent… Price became convinced that the cause of our shrinking mouths and obstructed airways was deficiencies not of just D or C but all essential vitamins. Vitamins and minerals, he discovered, work in symbiosis; one needs the others to be effective… Hooton called it one of the "epochal pieces of research." But others hated it, and vehemently disagreed with Price's conclusions… It wasn't Price's facts and figures, or even his dietary advice that made them bristle. Most of what he'd discovered about the modern diet had already been verified by nutritionists years earlier. But some complained that Price overreached, that his observations were too anecdotal and his sample sizes too small."
Nestor writes: "The problem had less to do with what we were eating than how we ate it. Chewing. It was the constant stress of chewing that was lacking from our diets—Ninety-five percent of the modern, processed diet was soft… It's all soft. Our ancient ancestors chewed for hours a day, every day. And because they chewed so much, their… mouths, teeth, throats, and faces grew to be wide and strong and pronounced. Food in industrialized societies… hardly required any chewing at all."
Nestor writes: "Breathing slow, less, and exhaling deeply, I realized, none of it would really matter unless we were able to get those breaths through our noses… and into the lungs. But our caved-in faces… had become obstacles to that clear path… Surgery is highly effective… but… it needs to be done carefully and conservatively… The vast majority of nasal surgeries are successful… not all of them."
Nestor writes: "Having access to more air, more quickly, could only be an… advantage, they said. But we know now that the opposite is more often true… Sleep apnea and snoring, asthma.… are all linked to obstruction in the mouth… Thicker necks cramp airways… body mass index is only one of many factors… CPAPs are a lifesaver for those suffering from moderate to severe sleep apnea, and the devices have helped millions of people finally get a good night's rest."
Nestor writes: "When we're breathing too slowly and carbon dioxide levels rise, the central chemoreceptors monitor these changes and send alarm signals to the brain, telling our lungs to breathe faster and more deeply. When we're breathing too quickly, these chemoreceptors direct the body to breathe more slowly to increase carbon dioxide levels. This is how our bodies determine how fast and often we breathe, not by the amount of oxygen, but by the level of carbon dioxide."
Nestor writes: "Sleep apnea, a form of chronic unconscious breathholding, is terribly damaging, as most of us know by now, causing or contributing to hypertension… Meuret crunched the data and found that panic, like asthma, is usually preceded by an increase… in breathing volume and rate and a decrease in carbon dioxide. To stop the attack before it struck, subjects breathed slower and less, increasing their carbon dioxide… "'Take a deep breath' is not a helpful instruction," Meuret wrote. Hold your breath is much better."
Nestor writes: "The concept of prana was first documented around the same time in India and China, some 3,000 years ago, and became the bedrock of medicine. The Chinese called it ch'i... The more prana something has, the more alive it is. Should this flow of energy ever become blocked, the body would shut down and sickness would follow. If we lose so much prana that we can't support basic body functions, we die… Western science never observed prana, or even confirmed that it exists."
After careful and extensive pushing the theme of the importance of proper breathing the Nestor provides useful caveats in the Epilogue stating: "A decade of traveling, research, and self-experimentation. In that time I've learned that the benefits of breathing are vast, at times unfathomable. But they're also limited… What I explained to each of these people, and what I'd like to make clear now, is that breathing, like any therapy or medication, can't do everything."
sounds like Pranayama

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09-18-2023 at 11:23 AM.
09-18-2023 at 11:23 AM.
Excellent book. Worth it for the sleeping tape anecdotes, at least.
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09-18-2023 at 12:27 PM.
09-18-2023 at 12:27 PM.