The book talks about how the breath is most essential to our health and wellbeing. We breathe 25,000 times a day and our breath can influence our heart rate, blood pressure, immune system and psyche.
In the book you learn about how we humans lost our ability to breathe correctly and how that impacts our physical and psychological health. It sums up different ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya, and Tummo and adds personal experience as well as modern research to investigate the techniques even further.
Breathe Through Your Nose, Not Your Mouth
Chronic mouth breathing is widely spread in our times and it leads to chronic stress and exhaustion. Breathing through your mouth has effects the body's hormone levels that affect our overall health. Breathing through the nose can lower blood pressure, help maintain a steady heart rate, and even help with memory consolidation.
In the book, James Nestor describes how he tested this hypotheses by experimenting in collaboration with the Sinus Centre at Stanford University. He volunteered to be the test subject himself, because he wanted to see on himself, what happened, if he breathed through his mouth for a month. Throughout the experiment, his vitals were monitored closely and even though the experiment was supposed to go for a month, it had to be stopped after ten days, because his data was not great. His blood pressure went up 20 points in the first day, he started snoring at night, developed sleep apnea that left his blood oxygen levels at 90% (Which is low, because normal levels are between 95 and 100%). These results were not a coincidence. James' friend who also participated in the study, had similar results.
Our nose is a smart system, that purifies, heats, moistens and pressurizes the air before it enters the lungs, which breathing through the mouth doesn't provide. This results in 10-15% more oxygen absorption and increases nitric oxide levels by six times.
Nitric oxide is associated with better blood circulation throughout the body, which leads to more energy throughout the day.
Increase Nitric Oxide
Another way to boost nitric oxide in your blood stream is by making small noises at the back of your throat when nasal breathing or humming as you exhale. This humming exercise has been associated with a fifteen-fold increase in nitric oxide levels.
What to do if you have a hard time breathing through your nose
- Try exhaling through the nose.
- Pinch your nose and hold your breath. You can gently move your head from side to side.
- Once you can't hold your breath anymore, start with a slow and controlled breath through your nose.
- Repeat this exercise until you can easily breathe in and out through your nose.
While different breathing patterns might be better suited for different activity levels, symmetrical breathing is a good base to start from. Symmetrical breathing means that the inhale should be the same length than the exhale.
The optimum amount of air, that we should take in every minute is about 5.5 liters and the optimum breathing rate is about 5.5 breaths per minute. That means, that we should take about 5.5 seconds to inhale and 5.5 seconds to exhale, to have the perfect breathing rhythm.
Shallow Breathing and Anxiety
“People with panic or obsessive-compulsive disorders constantly have low carbon dioxide levels and a much greater fear of holding their breath. To avoid another attack, they breathe far too much and eventually become to carbon dioxide and panic if they sense a rise in this gas. They are anxious because they’re overbreathing. Overbreathing because they’re anxious.” – James Nestor
Chronic overbreathing and not breathing enough have effects on our heart rate and keep us in a constant state of low-stress and anxiety. The average adult only uses 10 percent of their diaphragm to breathe. Trying to get breathes deeper into the belly and use more of the diaphragm can help to release some of those effects.
James Nestor has written for multiple magazines, like The New York Times and the Scientific American. His first book was Deep, a book about Free-diving. He is a scientist as well as a free thinker who has an flowing way of writing, that is easy to read (for scientific literature). Read more about him here.