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Breath summary

The New Science of a Lost Art

4.6 (872 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

Breath by James Nestor explores the science and history of breathing, highlighting how our modern lifestyle negatively impacts our breathing patterns and thus, overall health. The book offers practical solutions for improving our breathing to optimize physical and mental wellbeing.

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    It’s far more beneficial to breathe through your nose than your mouth.

    The author James Nestor’s blood pressure has risen by an average of 13 points over the past few days, greatly increasing his risk of heart attack or stroke. His pulse has quickened while his body temperature has plummeted, and – worst of all – he feels absolutely terrible.

    The cause of his misery? Five days ago, a doctor inserted silicone plugs into his nostrils and taped them shut. Since then, Nestor has been breathing exclusively through his mouth to experience his body’s response. In short? It’s been hell.

    The key message here is: It’s far more beneficial to breathe through your nose than your mouth.

    Some estimate that around 50 percent of us breathe mostly through our mouths. There are many reasons for this, including medical conditions, pollution, and even stress. The problem is, the more you do it, the worse it gets.

    Nestor’s plugs come out after ten days, and his nose is a disaster. It’s horribly blocked, and has to be cleared out with long cotton swabs. It’s also housing a bacterial infection that could have become serious. Tests reveal that mouth breathing has ruined his sleeping patterns – but, well, he knew that already. The worst was just how awful the experience made him feel.

    Nestor only managed to take a full breath through his nose hours after his plugs had come out. That first breath was a spectacular burst of freshness and relief.

    The nose does far more than you might realize. It doesn’t just take air in, but also cleans it out, heats it, and moistens it. It leads to a release of chemicals that lower blood pressure, regulate the heart rate, and much more. When you take in unprocessed air through your mouth, you get none of these benefits.

    A rather cruel experiment in the 1970s and 1980s had even starker results than Nestor’s own experience. Egil P. Harvold, an orthodontist and researcher, took a group of rhesus monkeys and closed their nostrils up with plugs. He monitored them closely, taking photographs, for up to two years.

    It’s painful even to look at the photographs. The monkeys’ dental arches narrowed and their teeth grew crooked. It didn’t just affect their health – it affected the whole shape of their heads. 

    But when the plugs were eventually removed, their faces returned to normal within six months. All because of how they were breathing.

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    What is Breath about?

    Breath (2020) is the fascinating and unexpected story of the power of breathing. Western science has overlooked the amazing effects that different methods of breathing can have on our health.

    Breath Review

    Breath (2020) by James Nestor explores the power of our breath and why it's essential for our overall health and well-being. Here's why we recommend reading this book:

    • Eye-opening research: The book presents fascinating scientific studies that reveal how our breath affects our physical and mental health, offering a new perspective on a seemingly mundane activity.
    • Practical techniques: Nestor provides practical exercises and strategies to improve our breathing habits, allowing readers to actively apply the knowledge and see immediate benefits.
    • Engaging storytelling: Through personal experiences and encounters with experts, the book keeps us hooked, making the subject of breath a surprisingly captivating read.

    Who should read Breath?

    • Fans of popular science
    • People looking for simple ways to improve their health
    • Anyone keen to learn more about something we do unconsciously.

    About the Author

    James Nestor is a journalist based in San Francisco. He has written for publications including Scientific American, Outside Magazine, and the New York Times, and wrote the book Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves.

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    Breath FAQs 

    What is the main message of Breath?

    The main message of Breath is that proper breathing techniques can improve our physical and mental health.

    How long does it take to read Breath?

    The reading time for Breath varies but it can be read in several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Breath a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Breath is worth reading as it provides valuable insights about the power of breath and its impact on our wellbeing.

    Who is the author of Breath?

    James Nestor is the author of Breath.

    What to read after Breath?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Breath, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
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