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Littler Books cover of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art Summary

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art Summary, Notes, and Quotes

James Nestor

3.8 minutes to read
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Breath: One Sentence Summary

A revelation on the fundamental act of breathing, merging ancient medical knowledge with groundbreaking modern research to reshape your perception of the vital biological function.

Breath: Bullet Point Summary, Notes, and Quotes

  1. You should breathe through your nose. Your nasal passages and sinuses are developed specifically to process air, unlike your mouth.
  2. Breathing through the nose has many benefits. It filters/cleans, heats, and moistens the air you breathe in. It also releases chemicals (nitric oxide) that lower blood pressure, regulate heart rate, and more.
  3. Breathing through your mouth instead of your nose can have drastic negative health effects.
    1. “Mouthbreathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult. Mouthbreathing begets more mouthbreathing.”
  4. When the author participated in a study in which he breathed through his mouth for ten days, he experienced elevated blood pressure, racing pulse, plummeting temperature, disrupted sleep, cognitive impairment, decreased oxygen levels, and general misery.
  5. An experiment with monkeys found mouth breathing for two years severely deformed their heads and teeth, though normal breathing restored them.
  6. Modern medicine overlooks the vital role of the sinus cavity and the nose, accepting chronic congestion as normal and treating sinus issues superficially rather than addressing core causes.
    1. Removing adenoids and tonsils eliminated ADHD symptoms in 50% of afflicted kids.
  7. The nasal cycle alternates between the right and left nostril, regulating body functions such as temperature, blood pressure, and brain chemicals, while breathing through the mouth bypasses this cycle and its balancing benefits.
  8. About 50% of us breathe mostly through our mouths.
  9. We have devolved in ways that are detrimental to breathing.
    1. Our ancestors' switch to cooked, tenderized foods allowed larger brains but shrank airways. Bigger brains crowded the sinus and pushed out our noses.
    2. Modern processed diets are generally soft and have reduced chewing, which resulted in weakened and smaller facial structures. This is why respiratory issues like snoring and asthma are now more common.
    3. Our need for speech developed a deep larynx that makes us susceptible to choking. Humans are the only mammals that frequently choke to death with food.
  10. Cultures without the modern diet do not commonly suffer from breathing issues.
    1. In the 1830s, researcher George Catlin found over 50 diverse indigenous groups that breathed through their noses, and had excellent health and straight teeth. It inspired Catlin to also breathe through his nose and it cured his respiratory issues. He then wrote a book encouraging people to “shut your mouth.”
    2. “Some cultures ate nothing but meat, while others were mostly vegetarian. Some relied primarily on homemade cheese; others consumed no dairy at all. Their teeth were almost always perfect; their mouths were exceptionally wide, nasal apertures broad. They suffered few, if any, cavities and little dental disease.”
  11. Though untrained medically, choir director Carl Stough helped chronic lung disease patients by conceiving a breathing regimen after realizing the patients were not exhaling properly to fully empty their lungs. He guided the patients to engage the diaphragm muscle more, and it resulted in boosted lung capacity. He went on to apply his methods on Olympic athletes.
  12. Exercising can boost lung capacity.
    1. “The greatest indicator of life span wasn't genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise, as many had suspected. It was lung capacity.”
    2. “For every ten pounds of fat lost in our bodies, eight and a half pounds of it comes out through the lungs; most of it is carbon dioxide mixed with a bit of water vapor. The rest is sweated or urinated out. This is a fact that most doctors, nutritionists, and other medical professionals have historically gotten wrong. The lungs are the weight-regulating system of the body.”
  13. Mouth breathing is meant to be the backup of breathing. It's more energetically taxing, raises heart rate, and causes fatigue. It is similar to anaerobic exercises, which shouldn't be done for long periods.
  14. Spiritual practices from many faiths use similarly slow breaths of 5.5 seconds during prayer and meditation, providing health benefits by increasing blood flow to the brain and body.
  15. Slow and shallow breathing retains more carbon dioxide, which dilates blood vessels for better circulation, and makes oxygen intake more effective, optimizing body efficiency and energy production, leading to improved brain oxygenation and enhanced overall bodily function.
    1. “This measurement of highest oxygen consumption, called VO2 max, is the best gauge of cardiorespiratory fitness. Training the body to breathe less actually increases VO2 max, which can not only boost athletic stamina but also help us live longer and healthier lives.”
  16. The balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is more important than the amount of oxygen.
    1. Oxygen bars, where you sit to breathe in concentrated oxygen, have no benefit, since you'll simply breathe out the excessive oxygen.
  17. Some believe limiting air intake with hypoventilation training to accustom the body to higher levels of CO2 can enhance athletic performance and benefit asthma sufferers. However, this can be harmful to those with already high levels of CO2.
  18. Just five to ten minutes of ideal 5.5 second inhales/exhales can improve your overall health and mood.
    1. Take shallow breaths and engage your diaphragm.
    2. “The perfect breath is this: Breathe in for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds. That's 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 liters of air.”
  19. Though soft modern diets have shrunk our mouths and obstructed breathing, new orthodontic findings show we can expand oral cavities. Chewing motions stimulate the creation of stem cells for facial bone growth.
    1. The author used a Homeoblock mouthpiece that simulates extra chewing for a few weeks. It widened his airways, realigned his jaw, and spurred two cubic centimeters of facial bone growth.
  20. Breathing affects our autonomic nervous system because our lungs interact with it.
  21. Extreme breathing techniques can produce seemingly superhuman abilities.
    1. Tummo (“inner fire”) is a Tibetan breathing method that keeps Tibetans warm.
    2. Swami Rama is a northern Indian yogi who can drastically slow and increase his heart rate (up to 300 beats per minute) and alter his body temperature and brain waves through breathing and visualization.
    3. Wim Hof, who ran a half-marathon in the Arctic without shoes or a shirt, uses an aggressive breathing routine that involves short bursts of breaths to increase his endurance.
    4. Extreme breathing methods are controversial and not for the casual practitioner.
  22. Stanislav Grof was one of the first people to try LSD. After its ban, Grof developed a breathing technique called Holotropic Breathwork that can induce hallucinations similar to effects of LSD through heavy breathing and decreased blood flow to the brain.
  23. Carbon dioxide therapy increases patients' CO2 levels to induce temporary panic attacks, then deep calmness follows. This controversial technique can help with anxiety.
  24. Though breathing's power is little-studied in the West, ancient Eastern practices have long understood its importance through concepts like prana/chi -- the "life force" we take in by breathing.

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