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Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. A Review.

Are you a mouthbreather or do you breathe through your nose? Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nester sheds light on why we should only be nose breathers. Humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. Most of us take short, clipped, unconscious breathes 25,000 times a day, without ever properly expanding the lungs or diaphragm.

This book is a fascinating read. I found myself thinking of all the people I know who breathe with an open mouth, who snore, who have sleep apnea, who have anxiety, who never feel rested. Although I know being mindful of breath is important (I frequently practice slow and controlled breathing), I wasn’t aware of exactly HOW crucial this is.

Humans are the worst breathers in the animal kingdom. Raised on soft, highly processed foods over the past few centuries, our mouths have become underdeveloped and frequently unable to accommodate 32 permanent teeth. Orthodontics and/or removing teeth to prevent overcrowding can make our mouths smaller. These smaller mouths lead to more vertically shaped faces and highly arched palates that hinder the development of the nasal cavity, which can lead to chronic nasal obstruction. According to Nester, 40% of the worlds population suffers from chronic nasal obstruction with around half of us habitual mouth breathers.

Like other parts of the body, the nose will atrophy when denied regular use. James Nester writes, “Mouthbreathing, it turns out, changes the physical body, and transforms airways, all for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult. Mouthbreathing begets more mouthbreathing.”

Respiratory disorders, infections, insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea, immune disorders, ADHD, erectile disfunction, increased blood pressure, digestive issues, anxiety, reduction in hormone secretion, chronic dehydration (the body loses 40% more water with mouthbreathing), periodontal disease, and bad breath and cavities are a few of the negative effects of mouthbreathing.

With many historical, scientific, and personal experiences, the book covers many different breathing practices and techniques including Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya, hypoventilation training, hard chewing techniques, Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and Tummo.

A pulmonaut is someone who believes in focusing awareness by establishing an acute connection with their own breath. Nester travels worldwide to meet with such practitioners to discover the forgotten science of ancient breathing practices and to undertake his own experiments to better understand the intricacies of the nose and to understand what happens when a body functions without one. One of the pulmonauts Nester met with, Konstantin Buteyko who created the Buteyko breathing technique, believes we have been conditioned to breathe too much – that we should occasionally practice breathing less (in a controlled manner) to lower blood pressure, stop asthma attacks and increase energy. Nester also sheds light on nasal cycles (opening one nostril to let breath in as the other closes throughout the day).

How we breathe can influence our body weight, affect the size and function of our lungs, reduce, or increase blood pressure, stimulate or turn off immune response, affect chemoreceptors in the brain, influence longevity, and even offer huge endurance gains for athletes.

I put some of James Nester’s breathing exercises into practice with a cold plunge at a spa (with a water temperature of 60F). I have always struggled just putting half my body into the plunge; the most I can handle is around 10 seconds up to my neck. This time I decided to see how the left nostril breathing technique might change that. I entered the plunge by taking a series of deep breaths before submersing myself up to my neck (I started hyperventilating here), I quickly placed a finger over my right nostril and started taking long deep breaths out of my left nostril only. In less than a second my entire nervous system calmed down and I was able to last in the water for well over two minutes. By the end of the two minutes, my body began to feel warmer. It truly was remarkable. I tried it again a few days later to make sure this wasn’t a one-off experience, and I had the same success. I was amazed at how much control we have over our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and continue to deploy left nostril breathing when I feel anxious or stressed.

Nester stresses that it is never too late to start breathing properly. His book provides dozens of tips and techniques on how to improve your breathing., He explains that through breathing properly, the shape of the face and airways will be remodeled.  He talks about reversing scoliosis with “orthopedic breathing” and how taking proper breaths will help allergies and asthma disappear. Deteriorated lungs can heal and be strengthened. Emphysema sufferers can learn techniques to access different parts of still functioning lungs to breathe better. “Internal organs are malleable, and we can change them at nearly any time”, writes Nester.

But don’t take it from me. Grab this book! I promise, even if you are a nose breather, there are some amazing takeaways that can help improve your longevity and immune function. And if you are a mouthbreather – what the heck are you waiting for!!

If you'd like to check out some of the other books I'm currently reading, you can find them HERE.

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