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AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
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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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 of Health devoted to lungs, eyes, skin disease, ears, and so on. The nose and sinuses aren't represented in any of them.
Nayak finds this absurd. He is the chief of rhinology research at Stanford. He heads an internationally renowned l
Breath is an utterly fascinating journey into the ways we are wired. No matter who you are, you ll want to read this. Po Bronson, New York Times bestselling author of What Should I Do with My Life? and coauthor of NutureShock
An eye-opening, epic journey of human devolution that explains why so many of us are sick and tired. A must-read book that exposes what our health care system doesn t see. Dr. Steven Y. Park, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, author of Sleep, Interrupted
I don t say this often, but when I do I mean it: This book changed my life. Breath is part scientific quest, part historical insight, part Hero s Journey, full of groundbreaking ideas, and a rollicking good read. I had no idea that the simple and intuitive act of inhaling and exhaling has taken such an evolutionary hit. As a result, I figured out why I sleep so badly and why my breathing feels so often out of sync. With a few simple tweaks, I fixed my breathing and fixed myself. A transformational book! Caroline Paul, bestselling author of The Gutsy Girl
If you breathe, you need this book. When we undervalue anything, including something so basic as breathing, bad things always happen and Nestor makes it clear how awful it s gotten. But he also provides a clear airway back to better, deeper, stronger respirations. Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, New York Times bestselling author of Blue Mind
Breath shows us just how extraordinary the act of breathing is and why so much depends on how we do it. An enthralling, surprising, and often funny adventure into our most overlooked and undervalued function. Bonnie Tsui, author of Why We Swim and American Chinatown
"A welcome, invigorating user s manual for the respiratory system." Kirkus Reviews
Although we all breathe, there is an art and science to breathing correctly . . . Full of fascinating information an compelling arguments, this eye-opening (or more aptly a mouth-closing and nostril-opening) work is highly recommended. Library Journal