James Nestor is an author and journalist who has written for Outside Magazine, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, The New York Times, Scientific American, Dwell Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, and more. Nestor’s new book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, was released in May of 2020 and was an instant bestseller in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times, and Sunday London Times.
In his new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James conducts one of the great experiments of all time. He blocks up his nose and breathes exclusively through his mouth for ten days. During this time, James chronicles how his health deteriorates: elevated blood pressure, snoring, sleep apnea, fatigue and diminished athletic performance. These results bolstered decades-worth of scientific studies.
James explains why nose breathing is so powerful for optimizing human health. The nose is perfectly designed to filter, clean, humidify, pressurize and heat the air. He says it’s also far more efficient: “we get 20% more oxygen breathing through our noses than we do equivalent breaths through our mouths.”
Another key element of nose breathing is that it increases levels of Nitric Oxide (NO). In fact, the nose produces 6x the amount of NO as opposed to breathing through the mouth. This is important because there is research showing that NO has a powerful effect on circulation, and it’s shown to prevent stroke and heart attack. Furthermore, NO possesses powerful antiviral properties to help defend the body against pathogenic viruses.
Fascinatingly, breathing also relates to longevity. James points to research from the Framingham Heart Study, a cardiovascular study that has been going on for 70 years. He says that in the study, the best indicator of life span wasn’t genes, diet, or exercise, but rather lung capacity. Lung capacity was basically the same thing as living capacity!
James also touches on the phenomenon of mask breathing during this most recent pandemic. He says people assume that they aren’t getting enough oxygen, but after reviewing lots of the latest research, he says that there isn’t so much a drop in Oxygen, but rather a rise in C02 levels.
But interestingly, the more C02 in a healthy person can actually have some advantages, such as increased circulation. Similarly, this increase in CO2 also happens when we breathe slowly. James explains: “I take mask wearing as an opportunity to focus on my breath, to breathe more slowly, and to gain a little more CO2 in my body.”
Bottom line: whether you are wearing a mask or not, the key is to breathe through your nose, since this is our first line of defense. If you wear a mask and breathe through your mouth, this can lead to lot of health problems and can even make you more susceptible to viruses.
In the book, he profiles a fascinatingly eccentric group of Pulmonauts, from the chorus director Carl Stough to the hair dresser in his 90’s Maurice Daubord and the Ice Man Wim Hof. Many of these pioneers in the world of breath discovered something extraordinary but over time, much of their research was forgotten.
Regarding the power of the breath, James says: “It just shows you that the human body is amazingly adaptable depending on how we treat it, depending on how we hone it, and breathing is just a great way, a good foundation of health to start with.”
While writing the book, James had the opportunity to explore many pre-industrial skulls and modern skulls. What he found is that most of the modern skulls had crooked teeth and most of the ancient skulls didn’t: “Why are we now the only species on the planet with chronically crooked teeth? Why did our ancestors all have perfectly straight teeth?”
In short, Nestor points to industrial processed foods which have caused our mouths to shrink very quickly, and so our teeth had nowhere else to grow. Smaller mouths mean smaller airways, which is why so many of us are suffering from chronic respiratory issues.
Nestor writes in his book that “just as we’ve become a culture of overeaters, we’ve also become a culture of over-breathers.” He says the first step is to become more aware of your breathing. Then you can focus it and breathe in healthier ways.
Nestor dives into some of the similarities between breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya and Wim Hof. In both cases, you breathe really fast and then you slow down your breathing: “It’s basically interval training for breathing.” He says they are all doing the same thing: working out the body; allowing more control over the nervous system, immune system and overall stress levels.
His advice to anyone looking to improve the quality of their life and health is to “shut your mouth”…and breathe through your nose. Beyond that, he encourages people to have “breathing awareness.” Nestor says if you don’t believe him about the power of nose breathing, just look at the hundreds of scientific studies – he has posted many of them on his website: https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breath
You can learn more about James and his work here: https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/about