Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

I think I learned as much from this book as any I’ve read in years. It turns out that humans are terrible at breathing — just absolutely awful at it — but it wasn’t always this way. Our ancestors had large teeth, large mouths, large heads, chewed the hell out of their food, foraged all over the place for shelter, warmth, and good eats, and they never had to deal with insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, allergies, and all of the terrible maladies that we deal with today. Present day humans are “mouth breathers” which is quite possibly one of the worst things that we can do to stay healthy and fit. This book makes the impossible-to-ignore case that we need to learn how to breathe through out noses again, and there are simple steps, techniques, tips, and other ways we can do this — and if we do, we will be happier, healthier, less stressed, and better off overall. I actually took some of the tips, history, and ideas from this book and taught a few virtual classes to a group of 7th graders at an all-boys prep school near me, and they seemed to enjoy it and get a lot out of it. I’ve also made a conscious effort to breathe more through my nose, whether I am sitting in a chair typing or going out for a run. This book applies to all of us, and all it takes to get some better breath’s are a few simple adjustments to our daily routines.

Main Conclusions -

  • Mouth breathing is terrible — physical and mental duress, blood pressure up, heart rate variability plummets
  • snoring, sleep apnea, fatigue, testiness, anxiety, bad breath, peeing, spaciness, stares, stomach aches
  • the body is not designed to process raw air for hours at at time, day or night
  • breathe through your nose
  • exhale longer, practice them, get air out of us before taking new ones in
  • ancient peoples had huge sinus cavities, strong jaws, straight teeth — they chewed, a lot
  • hard chewing builds new bones in the face and opens airways
  • bones in human face can expand and remodel into our 70's
  • lips together, teeth slightly touching, tongue on roof of mouth to strengthen jaws
  • willing yourself to breathe heavily for a short intense time can be profoundly therapeutic
  • conscious heavy breathing teaches us to be the pilots of our autonomic nervous systems and our bodies
  • amygdalae — emotions, also controls aspects of our breathing
  • people with anxiety likely suffer from connection problems between areas and could unwittingly be holding their breath throughout the day
  • theoretical, but could explain why so many drugs don’t work for panic, anxiety and other fear based conditions, and how slow and steady breathing therapy does
  • 5.5 seconds in, 5.5 seconds out, 5.5 breaths per minute for 5.5 liters of air
  • breathing slow, less, and through the nose with a big exhale
  • the way we breathe has gotten markedly worse since the dawn of the industrial age; 90% of us breathe’s incorrectly, which causes or aggravates a laundry list of chronic diseases
  • humans are super plugged up and uber mouthbreathers
  • ancient humans never snored or had sleep apnea, likely; they shared a forward head structure
  • modern skulls show chins recessed behind foreheads, jaws slumped back, sinuses shrunken; of all the mammals on earth we are the only ones with these problems
  • brains grew and needed more space — muscles at center of face loosened, bones in the jaw weakened and grew thinner — nose less efficient at filtering air, reduced space in throats, susceptible to bacteria and airborne stuff
  • larynx shrank, mouths obstructed more and easier to choke on food and harder to breathe
  • simply training to breathe through your nose could cut total exertion in half and offer huge gains in endurance in athletes
  • anaerobic energy — quick and easy to access but inefficient, excess lactic acid — nausea and muscle weakness at the gym and sweating after you’ve pushed too hard is the feeling of anaerobic overload
  • when we warm up, exercise feels better — body has switched from anaerobic to aerobic respiration
  • when we run our cells aerobically with oxygen, we gain some 16X more energy efficiency over anaerobic
  • mouthbreathing begets more of it — changes the physical body and transforms airways for the worse — causes body to lose water
  • inhaling from nose has opposite effect — makes airways wider and breathing easier — muscles get toned; nasal breathing begets more nasal breathing
  • many sleep diseases (apnea, snoring, insomnia) are often breathing problems
  • the nose cleans air, heats it, moistens it for easier absorption — nostrils open and close like flowers day and night
  • interior of nose has erectile tissue like the penis, clitoris, nipples; noses get erections!; intimately connected to genitals more than any other organ
  • right nostril is gas pedal, sympathetic fight or flight; left nostril is the brake system, parasympathetic, creative thought, emotions
  • you want nasal cycle balance
  • nasal breathing works better because different areas of turbinates (bones) will heat, clean, slow and pressurize air so that lungs can extract more oxygen with each breath
  • old Native American tribes were studied and they all breathed the same way — never got sick, were always pictures of health
  • mouth breathing can also contribute to periodontal disease — bad breath, cavities
  • lung expanding techniques are rooted back centuries — improve physical fitness, mental health, cardiovascular function and extend life
  • internal organs are malleable — scoliosis patients actually cured themselves through breathing
  • transformative power of full exhalation
  • Emphysemal could be a disease of exhalation — not getting enough stale air out — trick to let out a little more air so that a little more air could get in — did this on Emphysema patients and they were able to breathe again
  • track and field runners were taught to breathe deeply and calmly and always exhale at the sound of a starter pistol
  • Breathing Coordination — amount of air that enters us equals the amount that leaves
  • seems we all need more CO2 — plays a role in weight loss as we lose weight through exhaled breath; for every 10 pounds of weight we lose (fat) 8.5 comes out through lungs — CO2 and water vapor mostly — lungs are weigh regulating system of the body
  • muscles used during exercise receive more oxygen than those not used — producing more CO2 with attracts more oxygen
  • breathing less (and slowly) allows animals to produce more energy more efficiently; heavy and panicked breaths purge CO2, which is what we don’t want
  • for athletes, oxygen when not at altitude actually doesn’t do much of anything
  • longer breaths also allow our lungs to soak up more oxygen in fewer breaths
  • slow breathing — blood flow to the brain increases, peak efficiency in body
  • 5.5 inhales, 5.5, exhales; 5.5 breaths a minute = ideal; Resonant or Coherent Breathing
  • fewer inhales and exhales in smaller volume — breathe, but breathe less; we tend to over breathe
  • slower, longer exhales mean higher CO2 — bonus CO2 = higher aerobic endurance — increases VO2 max, which can increase stamina and live longer
  • could overbreathing cause headaches and hypertension?
  • extend the exhales, release more oxygen, increase endurance, support bodily functions (hypoventilation/hypoxic training)
  • tried to train hypertension and other patients with asthma to breathe less, only to metabolic needs
  • for athletes, breathing less means they can tolerate more lactate accumulation, pull more energy during states of heavy anaerobic stress — train harder and longer — boost in performance
  • when running, I want to try and inhale fast and exhale very long breaths; lungs half full
  • inhale for 2, exhale for 5
  • asthma can be brought on by over breathing, exercise, exercise induced asthma
  • decrease air in lungs, increase CO2 in bodies
  • breathe less and more slowly
  • when we breathe too much, we expel too much CO2, blood pH rises; when we breathe slower and hold in more CO2, pH lowers and blood becomes more acidic
  • damage from over breathing comes from constant energy the body has to expend to run more cells anaerobically and to constantly buffer for CO2 deficiencies
  • constant breathing weakens bones — extend length of time between inhalations and exhalations — slow breaths
  • 300 years ago, mouths shrinks, faces grew flatter, sinuses plugged — industrialization; we became mouth breathers, worst ever, in all animal kingdom
  • mushy, soft, sugary foods limited chewing; processed foods; no fiber, no vitamins and minerals, human face deteriorates
  • industrialized foods shrunk our mouths and destroyed our breathing; lack of D and C as well
  • vitamins and minerals work in symbiosis; they need each other to be effective
  • ancient ancestors chewed for hours a day, every day
  • blockages start in the mouth, contribute to apnea, snoring, asthma, ADHD; our mouths are too small for our face
  • widen mouth, open airways
  • traditional orthodontics (removing teeth, fixes) were making breathing worse in many patients
  • masseter, chewing muscle located below ears; strongest muscle in the body relative to weight
  • sutures along skull create stem cells, binds sutures together and grows new bone in mouth and face
  • maxilla, bone in center of face, can be remodeled and grow dense into out 70's
  • chewing — the more we gnaw, the more stem cells release, more bone density and growth we’ll trigger, younger we’ll look and the better we’ll breathe
  • infants should chew and suck a lot to breathe well and better
  • hard, natural foods and chewing gum work well
  • good posture, oral posture, mewing (force tongue to the upper palate of the mouth to open up airways), hard chewing
  • the deeper and more softly we breathe in, and the longer we exhale, the more slowly the heart beats and the calmer we become
  • 8 of top 10 most common cancers affect organs cut off from normal blood flow during extended states of stress
  • willing ourselves to breathe slowly will open up communication along the vagal network and relax us into parasympathetic state
  • autoimmune disorder — immune system goes rogue and starts attacking healthy tissues — dysfunction of the autonomic nervous sytems
  • treating people for anxiety and panic might be as simple as teaching them the art of holding their breath or breathing in heavy doses of CO2
  • Transdermal CO2 Therapy — exposing body to CO2 increases oxygen delivery to muscles, organs, brain and more — can treat dozens of ailments
  • blends of 30 percent CO2 and 70 percent oxygen became a go to treatment for anxiety, epilepsy, even schizophrenia
  • meditation can also change the structure and function of critical areas of the brain, help relieve anxieties, boost focus and compassion — tough to keep up with it
  • exposure therapy as well
  • anorexia/panic or OCD — anxious because they’re overbreathing, over breathing because they’re anxious
  • panic = increase in breathing volume and rate and a decrease in CO2; to stop an attack, breathe slower and less, increases CO2
  • hold breath is a better instruction than take a deep breath
  • kind of like exposure therapy — experience an attack in a controlled environment to demystify it
  • Prana = life force, vital energy, theory of atoms
  • want it? just breathe
  • the more oxygen life can consume, the more electron excitability it gains, more animated it becomes
  • cancers develop and thrive in environments of low oxygen
  • breathing slow, less and through the nose balances the level of respiratory gases in the body and sends the maximum amount of oxygen to the max about of tissues so that our cells have the max amount of electron reactivity
  • earliest yoga was the science of holding still and building prone through breathing; 20th century yoga is hybridized into aerobic exercise; not necessarily bad
  • yoga was never meant to cure problems — created for healthy people to climb to the next rung of potential , give them conscious power to heat themselves on command, expand consciousness, control nervous systems and hearts and live longer more vibrant lives

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.

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