Book Review: Breath by James Nestor

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I heard about the book Breath by James Nestor on the Joe Rogan Experience. He made some fascinating points about breathing and how important it is to living. Since I breathe every day I thought I’d check out the book.

The Podcast

Throughout the whole podcast, James Nestor talked about all the benefits of breathing through your nose. This is the main crux of the book. Breathing through your nose has a myriad of health benefits. It can improve sleep, improve athletic performance, and improve overall life.

Nestor says that humans should be nose breathers, but because of evolution and the advent of agriculture, more people are becoming mouth breathers.

He makes the point that the way the neck is built is very inefficient. Because you can choke. One of the most important tubes in the body, the larynx, is right next to the tube you stuff food in. The neck originally evolved for performance like in most other animals. However as early humans began to communicate and use communication to survive and thrive, the neck and throat changed shape to their current form to facilitate talking.

Then with the advent of agriculture, people began eating softer foods. People no longer chewed on meat and bones for sustenance. They began eating grains and cooked meats. This softening of the food led to people having underdeveloped jaws.

The Audiobook

The book is a story of how he went on a journey to learn all about breathing. Each chapter seems to be a story about him meeting a practitioner of a different breathing technique. But it’s not only breathing techniques it’s the story of an experiment he ran where he clogged up his nose and exclusively mouth breathed for several months.

Those are the two big things to take away from this book: breath through your nose & there are breathing techniques to do things.

The Mouth Breathing Experiments

It’s fun to listen to him talk about how he suffered while his nose was clogged. He had a doctor clog his nose to run these experiments. He was tired and his vitals got significantly worse. Until he takes the clogs out and then his vitals improve. It’s a simple story, but again, listening to him describe his agony is entertaining.

He goes on to show several examples of sprinters and swimmers who have used nose breathing and breath-holding techniques to excel in their spots. He makes a good point. When I was a swimmer we would practice taking fewer and fewer breaths. It works. Your body gets more efficient at using the air you already have.

The Breath Techniques

This is the part of the book I’m most skeptical of. I have long heard of many magical benefits that can happen if you just focus on your breath, or do simple breathing exercises. It sounds like a load of garbage. James Nestor convinced me on nose breathing, but the breathing techniques were going to take some work to change my mind.

Perhaps the most compelling argument is for the “six seconds in, six seconds out” breathing technique. The claim for this breathing technique is that it reduces stress. The most compelling argument is the look through history, and how across the world there are prayers and meditations that follow this pattern. The most famous being the Latin Hail Mary prayer. I’ve tried the breathing technique and even if it’s just a placebo, it seems to work. I’d recommend it if you’re stressed.

The breathing that was the most absurd was there different nostril breathing. The claim is that by closing one of your nostrils and breathing exclusively through the one you can alter your mood. I’m not buying this, but it certainly is a fun idea.

Breath – Take-Aways

Overall it’s an enjoyable audiobook. It’s well done and is an interesting listen. The main point is to practice breathing through your nose. You can try the breathing exercises as they can provide some value. But what improves your health is nose breathing.

Here is my post on the specific breathing techniques.

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