I thought I knew a bit about breathing and breath work; it’s something I’ve studied and practiced over the last 25 years. But Breath by James Nestor was a revelation.
In this entertaining and extremely informative book, Nestor takes us through his own journey with breathing, using himself as an test subject and subjecting himself to some challenging experiments with very interesting results. Along the way we’re treated to a thoughtful combination of ancient thought and practices around breathing along with the insights of modern science.
The book takes us through the importance of good breathing habits and the enormous impact that poor breathing can have on many different aspects of our health (you’ll be surprised how far-reaching this is). He also explains how evolution hasn’t been kind to us when it comes to the apparatus of breathing, calling humans ‘the worst breathers in the animal kingdom’.
A huge eye-opener for me was the importance of carbon dioxide to the body. Far from a waste product, it’s actually beneficial in many ways. And too much oxygen in your system can hurt you. Breathing less can be great for your health, which flies in the face of the way most people think of breathing: “take a nice big deep breath.” Maybe not always a good idea!
The book follows the science, but Nestor explains everything clearly and it’s easy and enjoyable to read. References are provided if you want to get into the weeds. And scientific discoveries are almost always related back to ancient practices, with references to Taoist, Buddhist, Tibetan and Yogic thoughts on breathing.
This is also a practical book, with details of around a dozen different breathing techniques that you can experiment with yourself. There’s enough here that you’ll be able to find a practice that works for you, and if you want to, the book can cact as a springboard for further investigation.
Regardless of your level of experience with and knowledge of breath work, this book is a must.