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Breath
Cover of Breath
Breath
The New Science of a Lost Art
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.
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover

    One

     

    The Worst Breathers in the Animal Kingdom

     

    The patient arrived, pale and torpid, at 9:32 a.m. Male, middle-aged, 175 pounds. Talkative and friendly but visibly anxious. Pain: none. Fatigue: a little. Level of anxiety: moderate. Fears about progression and future symptoms: high.

     

    Patient reported that he was raised in a modern suburban environment, bottle-fed at six months, and weaned onto jarred commercial foods. The lack of chewing associated with this soft diet stunted bone development in his dental arches and sinus cavity, leading to chronic nasal congestion.

     

    By age 15, patient was subsisting on even softer, highly processed foods consisting mostly of white bread, sweetened fruit juices, canned vegetables, Steak-umms, Velveeta sandwiches, microwave taquitos, Hostess Sno Balls, and Reggie! bars. His mouth had become so underdeveloped it could not accommodate 32 permanent teeth; incisors and canines grew in crooked, requiring extractions, braces, retainers, and headgear to straighten. Three years of orthodontics made his small mouth even smaller, so his tongue no longer properly fit between his teeth. When he stuck it out, which he did often, visible imprints laced its sides, a precursor to snoring.

     

    At 17, four impacted wisdom teeth were removed, which further decreased the size of his mouth while increasing his chances of developing the chronic nocturnal choking known as sleep apnea. As he aged into his 20s and 30s, his breathing became more labored and dysfunctional and his airways became more obstructed. His face would continue a vertical growth pattern that led to sagging eyes, doughy cheeks, a sloping forehead, and a protruding nose.

     

    This atrophied, underdeveloped mouth, throat, and skull, unfortunately, belongs to me.

     

    I'm lying on the examination chair in the Stanford Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Center looking at myself, looking into myself. For the past several minutes, Dr. Jayakar Nayak, a nasal and sinus surgeon, has been gingerly coaxing an endoscope camera through my right nasal cavity. He's gone so deep into my head that it's come out the other side, into my throat.

     

    "Say eeee," he says. Nayak has a halo of black hair, square glasses, cushioned running shoes, and a white coat. But I'm not looking at his clothes, or his face. I'm wearing a pair of video goggles that are streaming a live feed of the journey through the rolling dunes, swampy marshes, and stalactites inside my severely damaged sinuses. I'm trying not to cough or choke or gag as that endoscope squirms a little farther down.

     

    "Say eeee," Nayak repeats. I say it and watch as the soft tissue around my larynx, pink and fleshy and coated in slime, opens and closes like a stop-motion Georgia O'Keeffe flower.

     

    This isn't a pleasure cruise. Twenty-five sextillion molecules (that's 250 with 20 zeros after it) take this same voyage 18 times a minute, 25,000 times a day. I've come here to see, feel, and learn where all this air is supposed to enter our bodies. And I've come to say goodbye to my nose for the next ten days.

     

    For the past century, the prevailing belief in Western medicine was that the nose was more or less an ancillary organ. We should breathe out of it if we can, the thinking went, but if not, no problem. That's what the mouth is for.

     

    Many doctors, researchers, and scientists still support this position. Breathing tubes, mouthbreathing, and nasal breathing are all just means to the same end. There are 27 departments at the National Institute...

About the Author-
  • James Nestor is an author and journalist who has written for Scientific American, Outside, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and more. His latest book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, was an instant New York Times and London Sunday Times bestseller and will be translated into more than 35 languages. Breath was awarded the Best General Nonfiction Book of 2020 by the American Society of Journalists and Authors and was a Finalist for Best Science Book of 2021 by the Royal Society. Nestor’s first book, Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, was a Finalist for the 2014 PEN/ESPN Award For Literary Sports Writing and an Amazon Best Science Book of 2014. Nestor has presented his work at Stanford Medical School, the United Nations, and on radio and television shows including Fresh Air with Terry Gross, ABC’s Nightline, CBS Morning News, and dozens of NPR programs. He lives and breathes in San Francisco.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine This is two, two, two audiobooks in one. Inspired journalist James Nestor talks us through the million-year history of breathing, telling how large brains and small jaws narrowed human blowholes to the extent that 90 percent of us, including Nestor himself, now have trouble getting air. Breathing properly is an ancient if neglected art, an art he employs to escape his own evolutionary strangulation. Nestor then passes the microphone to Anders Olsson, the founder of Conscious Breathing, who leads exercises in a Swedish accent to get Americans to close their mouths and exhale deeply--though not too deeply--through their noses. The best way forward is back. B.H.C. � AudioFile 2020, Portland, Maine
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The New Science of a Lost Art
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