Breath by James Nestor



The book Breath is composed in three parts: the experiment, the lost art and science of breathing, and, "breathing+".

It is investigative journalism, as the author and fellow pulmonaut Anders Olsson undertake an experiment to measure the effects of prolonged mouthbreathing (and later, overbreathing). It then moves to an historical survey of breathing methods documented throughout the world, with the author also seeking out and interviewing sources with knowledge of these methods. All the while the author is experimenting with breathing and discovered, interrelated factors; like jaw and bite position and development, tongue pressure on the soft palate and into the teeth (and also with orthotics) to strengthen the bones, frequency of chewing, chewing for hours a day, and the timing of breaths or holds and attendant diaphragmatic control. My assertion and interpretation of the two most salient points from the first two sections is: 1. breathe through the nose, with the tongue positioned in the head behind the teeth and pressed into the soft palate so as to maintain a certain pressure, with diaphragmatic control underneath, and 2. conscious control of the process is possible, and a propitious ratio for continuous breathing appears to be 5.5 seconds per inhale and exhale, 60/11 breathes per minute. Lastly, in breathing+, the author goes to pursue techniques that, "...will not hold to the slow-and-steady style."

The names may have changed over the years, the techniques may have been repurposed and repackaged in different cultures at different times for different reasons,
but they were never lost. They've been inside us all this time just waiting to be tapped.
They gives us the means to stretch our lungs and straighten our bodies, boost bood flow, balance our minds and moods, and excite the electrons in our molecules. To
sleep better, run faster, swim deeper, live longer, and evolve further.
They offer a mystery and magic of life that unfolds a little more with every new breath we take.

-James Nestor, from pg. 202 in Breath
Beginning on the next page, in the epilogue, "In a nutshell,", the author goes on to summarize, "...what we've learned.", under the following seven headers:
1. Shut your mouth
2. Breathe through your nose
3. Exhale
4. Chew
5. Breathe more, on occasion
6. Hold your breath
7. How we breathe matters

Lastly, there is an acknowledgements section, an appendix, about 40 pgs. of notes, and an index.


FOTCM Member
Thank you for your book review, Resistense. Breathing is indeed very important and has so many benefits. This is also why the Forum has researched it and developed a techniques which helps to achieve the many benefits of breathing correctly. You probably already know about it and if not it can be found here: Éiriú Eolas – Growth of Knowledge


You're welcome, I was glad to write it.

I think if the author knew about E.E. it should've been in the book! If E.E.'s round breathing could be characterized as "6-3-9", for inhale-hold-exhale (yes, plus another 3-hold before the next cycle) it's very similar to the "4-7-8" breathing referenced last in the appendix of techniques, and found on pg. 230 in my copy. Creating some constriction in the throat, and making the HA sound (instead of Whoosh) knowing you're aiming to stimulate the vagus nerve, makes the E.E. method more nuanced or polished, IMO, than what is in the text. That, and the extra hold after exhalation. I do wonder when this 4-7-8 breathing of Dr. Weil's was developed and if he was familiar with the similar technique developed within E.E.

Thank you for the prompt. I do remember it is a larger practice than just round breathing.


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I came across this book through my circle of friends and was really impressed with it.

The author, who has another book out about freediving, shares a lot of recent studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and respiration physiology, as well as diving into ancestral health and anthropology, to teach how much the art and skill of breathing has gone downhill in modern societies, and how unfortunate it is that virtually all doctors during check ups do not do any type of monitoring of the respiration rate, chest vs belly breathing, and the like, only instead checking how “clear” the lungs sound.

Each section of the book is devoted to a type of breathing, its physiological effects, and personal anecdotes of the results of the author and his co-experimenter in their explorations of various breathing techniques under extensive physiological monitoring.

An entire chapter is devoted for example to mouth breathing. In an experiment at Stanford the author had his nose sealed and taped up with silicon implants, and for twenty whole days he had to breathe without making any use of his nose. The measured end results were spikes in catecholamines, stress hormones, a bacterial infection in the nose, extremely high blood pressure, and deeply depressed heart rate variability (a marker of vagal tone). The experience led to increased snoring and sleep apnea, brought about by the collapse of tissue in the throat. The human respiratory system isn’t designed to use the mouth to breath chronically for extended periods of time. In fact this typically only occurs if the nasal passages become too narrow due to lack of exercising and strenuous chewing (which stimulates the suture in the mouth to expand outward and lower the upper palate, making more room for nasal inhalations – an entire chapter is devoted to this topic). A whole chapter is devoted to the importance of diet and chewing to expand the mouth and allow for slower, deeper breaths. What’s remarkable is that apparently you can continue to grow your jaw bone past 30 years old; the author himself regained over a thousand cubic millimeters through practice (he has a very narrow jaw and crowded mouth and teeth and just about everything else that could predispose him to sleep apnea.

The chapters on exhalation and slow breathing talk about the importance of fully emptying the lungs how the lung cavity functions as a thoracic pump that can aid the function of the heart, and also the essential function that carbon dioxide plays in helping to oxygenate the tissues. Paradoxically a slower rate of breathing has been shown to increase tissue oxygenation levels. What was interesting was how some types of breathing helped some conditions (eg, working on fully emptying the lungs for emphysema) while a different or opposite type of breathing technique was recommended for asthmatics (lesser, more shallow but still lengthened breaths). The latter was pionered by a doctor named Buteyko, who characterized one side effect of breathing quickly with asthma was having a lowered carbon dioxide level; coaching patients with devices that monitored those levels and instructing them to breath less when CO2 dropped markedly decreased or eliminated their symptoms.

Later chapters of the book deal with the vagus nerve and sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system, as well as the physiological effects of increased respiration like in holotropic breathwork (by Stanislav Grof) and Tummo (which in the west is more popularly known as Wim Hoff method.) The latter is the method used by monks in Tibet to heat up their bodies, melt snow, and generally withstand the hostile elements. In essence these were all method to hack into the autonomic nervous systems to increase norepinephrine, adrenaline, cortisol, etc by inducing a state of depleted CO2. This technique has been used by people dealing with things from arthritis to psoriasis to depression; weeks of the practice had in some people reduced C-reactive protein levels by 40 times. Documented in this chapter is a littany of evidence for this technique causing emotional releases, similar to the bioenergetic techniques used by Alexander Lowen. The author’s hypothesis for the mechanism is the increased breathing rate depletes CO2 and reduces brain oxygenation, which can trigger some very primitive parts of the brain which respond to perceptions of stress in the environment (one of which is low oxygenation).

On that last point, the very next chapter deals with the opposite technique of slowing down and holding the breath. Uses for this include depressing metabolism on purpose (say in a survival situation), re-conditioning the CO2 chemoreceptors in the body so that you don’t overbreathe as a result of having higher than normal saturation levels of CO2 in the body. (This is a distinguishing feature for more accomplished athletes – if one’s breathing rate becomes too erratic because of CO2 spikes and crashes, oxygenation levels in the tissues also fluctuate and reduce performance consistency). Some experimental research is also discussed, with using 5% CO2 as a means to hack the amygdala and recondition the fear response.

One of the last chapters deals with the history of Yoga and Prana, and the author connects with a yogic scholar on the matter in such a way that all their knowledge is brought to the table. My one criticism is that it doesn't discuss vagal maneuvers in the section on the vagus nerve. All things considered though, this book is educational in virtually every other way.

I really enjoyed this book, and I honestly think it should be required reading for people who want to teach EE, just because of the amount of science and diversity of techniques gone over in the book, and the discussion of health conditions people may encounter in students while teaching that affect nasopharengial and lung health and physiology (eg mouth breathing, emphysema, COPD, asthma, and so on).
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