The New Science of A Lost Art

Book - 2020
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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.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2020.
ISBN: 9780735213616
Branch Call Number: 613.192 NESTOR J
Characteristics: xxii, 280 pages ; 23 cm


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Annnd a Big Exhale… (politics-free!)

Once in a while, helping a library patron or on the trail of a certain book or author, some odd tidbit in the catalog will grab my attention. A recent example: I discovered that the new book by James Nestor had several dozen holds on it, and at that time we owned only one copy. "Wait," you say. "Who's James Nestor?" You're forgiven if you haven't read all of my blog posts. I mentioned him a… (more)

From Library Staff

LPL_HazlettH Mar 09, 2021

A light read thanks to its optimistic (if, perhaps, naive) premise -- if you can manage to breathe your nose most of the time, you'll see big gains in physiological and cognitive function! Books like this, where the answers come easily and intuitively, make me scared that we have it all wrong: wh... Read More »

From the critics

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May 01, 2021

This book starts a bit horrifying as you realize how wrong you’ve been breathing up until now, but it ends on a positive note, with a lot of resources to explore on your own to improve your breathing and your health. The book has an extensive notes session so if you want to go deeper into this topic, that’s a great place to start.

Mar 27, 2021

One of your wonderful librarians asked whether I'd like an extra book in my pickup stack. Because librarians totally rock and know so much, I said "Absolutely! You pick!" This book was a good choice, and I was glad that she picked it out for me.

The only small misgiving is that the author adds his personal opinions about the appearance and grooming of people around him, even though the book was interesting enough even without these asides.
And certainly for a reader with a health condition, it seems important to check with one's health care team and to be very very careful about changing a whole breathing pattern on one's own.

That said, as a library patron with a vulnerable respiratory and dental history, I found a lot of food for thought here. I took the most basic suggestions and a very cautious measured approach, and could see that there is real potential.

This really motivates me to do two things:
1. learn more about optimal breathing and chewing.
2. say YES THANK YOU PLEASE whenever a librarian offers a book idea!

Thank you SPL for your essential and spirit-restoring work during this pandemic year.

Mar 20, 2021

I don't buy in whole, some of which are part of natural living pulse for me, but it's hard to be like the author -training as self-torturing, I doubt whether I could ever raise my CO2 level.
a comprehensive practical guide!

LPL_HazlettH Mar 09, 2021

A light read thanks to its optimistic (if, perhaps, naive) premise -- if you can manage to breathe your nose most of the time, you'll see big gains in physiological and cognitive function! Books like this, where the answers come easily and intuitively, make me scared that we have it all wrong: what if I'm ruining my health by not nose-breathing in quite the right way?? Nestor gestures at this concern and critique sometimes, once by admitting that athletes might gain only one percent in advantage over their mouth-breathing opponents, but that the extra one percent turns out to be crucial. For me, non-athlete as I am, I’m going to take solace in the body’s complexity and not beat myself up for the occasional mouth-breath. For readers inclined towards life hacks!

Jan 09, 2021

James Nestor's book "Deep" is one of my all time favourite reads. So I really couldn't wait to get my hands on this book. Breath is about the art and science of breathing, touching on subjects as broad as anatomy and physiology, spirituality, history, culture and sociology.

As a book that is supposed to be about the science of breathing, it is very light on the science and heavy on the anecdotes. I really enjoyed reading this, but it still wasn't what I expected. Books such as The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown to be much more satisfying when learning about both the science behind breathing and how to correct bad breathing technique and habits. Having said that I would still recommend this book, especially as an introduction to the topic and especially for those who are intimidated by "hard" science books.

Dec 30, 2020

Science or pseudoscience... that's really the question. It left me with much to think on, but I still feel like I was bit hoodwinked.

Dec 30, 2020

So much new information on breathing, how we have evolved from a biped who was a hunter gatherer who chewed all food to one who eats processed food and all the resulting physical adaptations which have affected us - to our detriment- and what to do to aid in breathing, with sinus infections, teeth problems, trouble sleeping, etc. My neighbor and I both read the book and compared notes.
I don't know what the guy in previous review wanted but he missed out on the valuable information which was presented in an interesting fashion.
Highly recommend.

Nov 16, 2020

I tend to avoid pop-science books, but I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available.

Nestor includes some very fascinating points, particularly at the beginning of the book, about how humans' health outcomes are suffering because we've become mouth-breathers. The latter half of the book lost me and felt long, but if you experience sleep apnea, asthma, panic attacks, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, I recommend discussing this book's takeaways with your doctor and implementing breath work into your treatment plan.

tl;dr - breathe through your nose!!!

Nov 11, 2020

The book has a good and helpful advice: breath through your nose. Other than that it's very misleading and pseudoscientific.

Nov 03, 2020

LHTL reco

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apollospacefan Sep 16, 2020

Nasal breathing. Page 45
“Working together, the different areas of the turbinates [six maze-like bones that begin at the opening of your nostrils and end below your eyes] will heat, clean, slow, and pressurize air so that the lungs can extract more oxygen with each breath. This is why nasal breathing is far more healthy and efficient than breathing through the mouth.”

apollospacefan Sep 16, 2020

Mouthbreathing and Sleep. Pages 29-30:
“Mouthbreathing causes the body to lose 40% more water. I felt this all night, every night, waking up constantly parched and dry. You’d think this moisture loss would decrease the need to urinate, but, oddly, the opposite was true.
During the deepest, most restful stages of sleep, the pituitary gland, a pea-size ball at the base of the brain, secretes... vasopressin, which communicates with cells to store more water. This is how animals can sleep through the night without feeling the need to relieve themselves.
But if the body has inadequate time in deep sleep, as it does when it experiences chronic sleep apnea, vasopressin won’t be secreted normally. The kidneys will release water, which triggers the need to urinate and signals our brains that we should consume more liquid.”


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