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Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Most people probably don't give too much thought to their breath. Seems like an automatic thing that happens in order to sustain our life. Just as our heart beats without conscious effort, our breath continues. My mom mentioned this book to me as we took a stroll through Bramber Woods Park on a sunny, summer afternoon in 2021. She told me about a part of the book that said that the breath should be taken through the nose. I remember thinking...this sounds like a load of bull. Even though I practice yoga, especially meditation and pranayama. And even though I practice Wim Hof's breathing techniques AND even though I read all 3 of his books. Reading Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor really deepened my understanding of breathing and its importance on health.

This book uncovers that many modern aliments can be reduced or reversed simply by changing the way we breathe. Breathing in different ways can influence everything from your body weight to your overall health. Breath affects the size and function of your lungs. We can use breathing to hack into our nervous system and control our immune response and restore health. Changing how we breathe will help us live longer. No matter what you eat or how much you exercise or how skinny or wise you are...none of it will matter unless you are breathing correctly. The missing pillar of health is breath.


Mouth Breathing Destroys Your Health

The author, James Nestor, conducted a 20-day study at Stanford University to determine if the pathway through which we breathe—nose or mouth—matters? James Nestor and Anders Olsson plugged their nose, forcing them to breathe through their mouth for 10 days then carefully documented the state of their health. Dr. Jayakar Nayak, a nasal and sinus surgeon and Associate Professor at Stanford was overseeing the experiment.

Nestor's personal observations after 10 days of self-inflicted nasal obstructed:

  • His blood pressure spiked by 13 points, which put him into stage 1 hypertension. This state of chronically raised blood pressure, can cause heart attacks, stroke, and other serious problems.

  • Heart rate variability (a measure of nervous system balance) plummeted. Suggesting that his body was in a state of stress.

  • Pulse increased

  • Body temperature decreased

  • Mental clarity hit rock bottom

  • Felt: terrible

Olsson’s data mirrored Nestor's.

Official results from Dr. Jayakar Nayak’s lab ➜ After just 10 days of forced mouth breathing:

  • Catecholamine and stress-related hormones spiked which is an indication that their bodies were under physical and mental stress.

  • A bacteria infested Nestor's nose. If he continued mouth breathing this could have caused a sinus infection.

  • Blood pressure skyrocketed.

  • Heart rate variability plummeted.

  • Persistent nocturnal suffocation. (Snoring)

  • Experienced sleep apnea

  • They would likely end up with chronic snoring and obstructive sleep apnea... as well as hypertension, and metabolic / cognitive issues as a result

  • Fatigue, irritation, testiness, anxiety.

  • Bad breath

  • Frequently trips to the restroom

Not all of the measurements changed.

  • Blood sugar levels weren’t affected.

  • Cell counts in the blood remained the same

  • Ionized calcium remained the same,

  • as did most other blood markers.

Key message: Mouth breathing is terrible.

How Breathing Came to Be

One of the things this book discusses is how oxygen and carbon dioxide are crucial to our heath and evolution as a species. This "ball of sludge" example really helps solidify concepts later on.

Ball of sludge

Our earliest ancestors appeared on some rocks 4 billion years ago...we were a microscopic ball of sludge. We needed energy to sustain ourselves so we found a way to eat air.

Using carbon dioxide

Back then, the atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide. We took this gas in, broke it down, and expelled what was left: oxygen.

Oxygen built we used that

We did this for a billion years and eventually oxygen built up in the atmosphere.

About 2.5 billion years ago, a scavenger ancestor emerged and it learned to take in all that leftover oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide. This was the first cycle of aerobic life.

More we evolved

Oxygen produced 16 times more energy than carbon dioxide. Aerobic life forms used this boost to evolve and grow larger / more complex. They took over the land, sea, and air. They became plants, trees, birds, bees, and the earliest mammals.


Mammals grew noses to warm and purify the air, throats to guide air into lungs, and a network of sacs that would remove oxygen from the atmosphere and transfer it into the blood.

Full circle but evolved:

The aerobic cells that were once clinging to swampy rocks billions of years ago now made up the tissues in mammalian bodies. These cells took oxygen from our blood and returned carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide flowed back through our veins, through our lungs, and into the atmosphere....this is the process of breathing.

Efficient breathing allowed us to thrive:

Our ability to breathe efficiently and in a variety of ways allowed our mammal ancestors to capture food, escape predators, and adapt to different environments.

Change. But for better or worse?

Things were going well until about 1.5 million years ago, when our airways began to shift and fissure. This shift now affect every person on Earth.

Stuffy noses, snoring, some degree of wheezing, asthma, allergies... these are the impact of these shift and fissures. You might think these are a normal part of being human. These problems didn’t randomly develop. Something caused them.

Evolution Doesn't Always Mean Progress

Nestor flew to Philly to examine a collection of skulls known as the Morton Collection. The skulls ranged from 200 to thousands of years old. Dr. Marianna Evans, an orthodontist and

dental researcher spent many years studying these human skulls.

All modern skulls showed some degree of crooked teeth. There are 5,400 different species of mammals on the planet and humans are now the only ones to routinely have misaligned jaws, overbites, underbites, and crooked teeth.

Why are we evolving in ways that make us sick?!

Evolution doesn’t always mean progress. It means change. And life can change for better or worse.

These days, the human body is changing in ways that have nothing to do with the “survival of the fittest.” We are adopting and passing down traits that are detrimental to our health. This concept is called dysevolution.

We are experiencing shrinking space in the front of the human skull. When mouths don’t grow wide enough, the roof of the mouth tends to rise upwards instead of out. The upward growth interferes with the development of the nasal cavity. It shrinks and disrupts the delicate structures in the nose. The reduced nasal space leads to obstruction and reduces airflow.

The next question is why is the available space in the front of the human skull shrinking?

How the Body Makes Energy From Air and Food

There are two ways: With oxygen: aerobic respiration

Without oxygen: anaerobic respiration

Anaerobic energy is generated only with glucose. It is quicker and easier for our body to access. When the body doesn't have enough oxygen....It kind of acts like a back up system or a turbo boost. When you need it can tap into it. Anaerobic energy is inefficient and can be toxic because it creates an excess of lactic acid. This is why aerobic respiration is so important. Remember those cells that evolve to eat oxygen 2.5 billion years ago... We've got 37 trillion of them in our bodies. When you run your body aerobically with oxygen you gained 16 times more energy efficiency over anaerobic. The key to exercise and the rest of life is to stay in that energy efficient aerobic zone for the majority of time.

The book offers a quick way to find your max heart rate for exercise:

Subtract your age from 180. I am 33. So my max heart rate (according to this) is

180-33= 147

This is the highest you can go to remain in the aerobic state. Longer exercise and training sessions can happen below that number. If you push it further, then the body will risk going too far into the anaerobic zone for too long. Instead of feeling good after a workout, you’ll feel a bit off (tired, shaky, nauseated). Note: There are different ways to calculate your max heart rate and aerobic zone. The 180 formula is a good guideline.

Pituitary Gland and Vasopressin

Mouth breathing breathing causes the body to lose 40% more water. You likely notice this at night. You would think that this moisture loss decreases the need to urinate at night. In your deepest stage of sleep, the pituitary gland secretes hormones, one of which is vasopressin. Vasopressin is an antidiuretic. It communicates with cells to store more water.

If your body spends inadequate time in deep sleep, which is what happens with chronic sleep apnea, vasopressin won't be secreted normally. The kidneys will release water which triggers the need to urinate. This also signals the brain that we need to rehydrate. We get thirsty and we have to pee more.

Chronic insomnia with long thought to be a psychological problem. But is often a breathing problem. They can't sleep because they can't breathe.

Nostril Patterns

1300 years ago, the Shiva Swarodaya (ancient Tantric text), described how nostrils open and close throughout the day. This book doesn't go into deep detail about this yoga but I am glad that James Nestor even mentioned it. For example, this book mentions that the cycle is influenced by the sun and the moon but this is just one of many variables that effect the nostril cycle. The main reason I am including Shiva Swarodaya in these book notes is to bring it to awareness. It is an ancient science called Swara Yoga.

Scientists have known for more than a century that the nostrils move to their own rhythm. They really do open and close like flowers throughout the day and night. This is called nasal cycles. A German physician named Richard Kayser described it in 1895. He noticed that the tissue lining one nostril of his patients seemed to quickly congest and close while the other would mysteriously open. After about 30 minutes to 4 hours, the nostrils switched.

Kayser attributed the shift to changes in sexual urges. The inside of the nose is covered in erectile tissue. It can saturate with blood and increase in size and stiffness in accordance with state of arousals.

After Kayser’s theory, many decades passed before anyone could offer a logical explanation for why the nostrils cycled or why it was lined with erectile tissue. There were many theories...what researchers eventually confirmed was that nasal erectile tissue mirrored states of health. It became inflamed during sickness or other states of imbalance. If the nose became infected, the nasal cycle became more pronounced and switched back and forth quickly.

Left and Right Nostrils: HVAC System

The right and left nasal cavities work like an HVAC system, controlling temperature and blood pressure and feeding the brain chemicals to alter our moods, emotions, and sleep states.

Right Nostril

The right nostril is a gas pedal When you’re inhaling primarily through the right channel:

  • Circulation speeds up

  • Body gets hotter

  • Cortisol level increases

  • Blood pressure increases

  • Heart rate increases

This happens because breathing through the right side of the nose activates the sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” mechanism that puts the body in a more elevated state of alertness and readiness.

Breathing through the right nostril will also feed more blood to the opposite hemisphere of the brain, specifically to the prefrontal cortex, which has been associated with logical decisions, language, and computing.

Left Nostril

Inhaling through the left nostril has the opposite effect: it works as a kind of brake system.

The left nostril is more connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-relax side.

  • Lowers temperature

  • Blood pressure decrease

  • Cools the body

  • Reduces anxiety

Left-nostril breathing shifts blood flow to the opposite side of the prefrontal cortex, the right area that plays a role in creative thought, emotions, formation of mental abstractions, and negative emotions.

Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Shodhana

There is a yoga(pranayama) practice dedicated to manipulating the body’s functions with forced breathing through the nostrils, called nadi shodhana. In Sanskrit, nadi means channel and shodhana means purification. The practice is also called alternate nostril breathing. This is something that I practice almost every day. I first learned it from Yoga With Adriene.

There are dozens of alternate nostril breathing techniques. I do the most basic one:

This really brings me into a different state. I usually do this in the evening when I am already really knocks me out! Sometimes I do it first thing in the morning and it brings me calm and stillness.

Nostril Breathing Is Mentioned in Ancient Texts

Breathing through your nose isn't a new concept. The book gives 3 examples but there are many more:

  1. The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical texts ever discovered dating back to approx. 1550BC, stated that the nostrils were supposed to feed air to the heart and lungs.... not the mouth.

  2. Genesis 2:7 stated “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

  3. A Chinese Taoist text from 8th century AD stated that the nose was the “heavenly door.” It advises that breath must be taken in through it. It warns against breathing through the mouth “for breath would be in danger and illness would set in.”

George Catlin - Nasal Breathing Habits of Indigenous Tribes

Western societies didn't even consider the benefits of nasal breathing until the 1800s. It was likely due to an artist/researcher named George Catlin. In the 1830, Catlin's health was failing. He packed up his shit and headed deep into nature. He spent 6 years wandering the Great Plains. He wanted to document the lives of 50 Native American tribes. He lived with the Lakota Sioux, Pawnee, Crow, Osage, Omaha, Cheyenne, Mandan and Blackfeet.

He observed that they all had outstanding physical structure. He also noted that these people have never seen a dentist but their teeth were perfectly straight...and no one seemed to be sick of have health problems.

The tribes attributed their health to breathing. The Natives explained that breath inhaled through the mouth drained the body of strength, deformed the face, and caused stress and disease. On the other hand, breath inhaled through the nose kept the body strong, made the face beautiful, and prevented disease.

Healthy nasal breathing started habits at birth. Mothers in the tribes carefully close the baby’s lips with their fingers after each feeding. They continued to trained children to breathe through their noses and they carried this throughout their entire life.

George Catlin published a book in 1862 called The Breath of Life.

Tape Your Lips Shut When You Sleep

This might seems like a weird thing...but I tried it after reading this book and I do think there is value to it. Basically, you take a piece of surgical tape and put it over your lips when you sleep.

Dr. Mark Burhenne studied the links between mouth breathing and sleep for decades. He says that mouth breathing contributed to gum disease and bad breath. He says mouth breathing is the number one cause of cavities and that it is even more damaging than sugar consumption, bad diet, or poor hygiene. That's nuts.

The sinuses release nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is key in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen to the cells. Immune function, weight and circulation are greatly influenced by the amount of nitric oxide in the body. Nasal breathing alone can boost nitric oxide sixfold, which allows us to absorb about 18 percent more oxygen than breathing through the mouth.

Ann Kearney, a doctor in speech pathology at Stanford University uses mouth taping to help her patients. Its a use it or lose it situation. Like other parts of the body, the nasal cavity responds to whatever input it receives. When the nose isn't used will atrophy. Keeping the nose in constant use trains the sinuses inside the nasal cavity and throat to flex and stay open. Advice: So breathe through your nose when you're awake an conscious of it.

Tape your mouth shut to help you maintain your practice when you sleep.

I am going try this more consistently, for 30 days perhaps, and report back.

5 Tibetan Rites

The 5 Tibetan Rites a series of stretches that were passed down from one Buddhist monk to another for 2,500 years. Even if you breathe through your nose all day, you wont get the full benefit unless you have the lung capacity to hold in all that air. A few minutes of bending and breathing can increase your lung capacity. With that extra capacity, you can expand your life.

The stretches, called the Five Tibetan Rites, was brought to the Western world by writer Peter Kelder. Kelder heard about these techniques from a man that learned them from monasteries in the Himalayan mountains. Kelder described these techniques in a book titled The Eye of Revelation, published in 1939. Its honestly a quick routine. Here is a great demonstration:

Here is a really good explanation:

The Full Circuit of Blood and the Thoracic Pump

The blood flowing through our arteries and veins does a full circuit once a minute.

It pumps an average of 2,000 gallons of blood a day. This blood flow is essential to delivering fresh oxygenated blood to cells and removing waste.

The speed and strength of our circulation is influenced by the thoracic pump. Thoracic pump is the term for the pressure that builds inside the chest when we breathe.

When you inhale ➜ negative pressure draws blood into the heart.

When you exhale ➜ blood shoots back out into the body and lungs...back into circulation.

The thoracic pump is powered by the diaphragm which is the the muscle that sits beneath the lungs. The diaphragm lifts when you exhale, which shrinks the lungs. The diaphragm drops when you inhale, which expands the lungs.

These days, people only engage 10 percent of the range of the diaphragm when breathing, which overburdens the heart, elevates blood pressure, and causes a rash of circulatory problems.

Extending your breaths 50 to 70 percent of the diaphragm’s capacity will ease cardiovascular stress and allow your body to work more efficiently. The diaphragm is kind of like the second heart. It affects the rate and strength of the heartbeat.

Carbon Dioxide

James Nestor talks about one of his colleagues name Anders Olsson who stresses importance of carbon dioxide. Olsson stated that we have 100 times more carbon dioxide in our bodies than oxygen and that most of us need even more of it. In the "ball of sludge" example from earlier in these notes, Olsson stated that it wasn’t just oxygen but huge quantities of carbon dioxide that facilitated the explosion of life during the Cambrian Explosion 500 million years ago. Olsson believes that we can increase CO2 in our bodies to sharpen our minds, burn fat, and heal disease.

Olsson says that carbon dioxide could be beneficial He hypothesized that too much oxygen in the body could actually hurt you. Big heavy breaths might be the worst advice anyone could give you. This sort of breathing depletes our bodies of carbon dioxide.

The best way to improve many chronic health problems and to improve athletic performance and extend longevity was to focus on how we breathe specifically to balance oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. To do this we need to learn how to inhale and exhale slowly.

Also, in 1940, Yandell Henderson, a physiologist at Yale, whos main focus was studying respiration and circulation stated:

"Carbon dioxide is the chief hormone of the entire body. It is the only one that is produced by every tissue. And that probably acts on every organ."

Though his experimentation he discovered that while breathing at a normal rate our lungs will absorb only 1/4 of the available oxygen in the air. The majority of that oxygen is exhaled back out. By taking longer breaths we allow our lungs to soak up more with less.

How could inhaling smaller amounts of air and having more carbon dioxide in our bloodstream increase oxygen in our tissues and organs? Let's go on a cruise.

The Journey of an Oxygen Molecule (Cruise Ship Example)

I really enjoyed this analogy of a cruise ship:

The nose and mouth are the gateways for the long journey of breath. If you follow the air ...its a pretty interesting journey it takes. The body is a collection of tubes. There are wide tubes, like the throat and sinuses and very narrow tubes like capillaries. The tubes that make up your lung tissues are very small. There a shit ton of them. 1500 miles. That's from Toronto to Cuba.

Each breath travels down the throat and eventually splits into the right and left lungs. As it keeps going, that breath gets pushed into smaller tubes called the bronchioles until it dead-ends at 500 million little structures called the alveoli.

The author uses a good analogy to explain the rest of the journey. Imagine yourself about to take a cruise. You have to wait in the waiting area at the dock when a ship approaches. You go through security, board the ship, and sail off.

This is similar to the path oxygen molecules take once they reach the alveoli.

The alveoli is like the dock and it is surrounded by a river of plasma filled with red blood cells which are the boats.

As each boat (cell) passes by, passengers (oxygen molecules) squeeze through the membranes of the alveoli and lodge themselves inside one. The passengers have boarded.

The cellular cruise ship has a bunch of guest rooms. These guestrooms are protein called hemoglobin. Oxygen finds a seat inside a hemoglobin and then the red blood cell sails upstream, deeper into the body.

As blood passes through tissues and muscles, oxygen will disembark, providing fuel to hungry cells. As oxygen gets off the cell, other passengers board the cell...mainly carbon dioxide which is the “waste product” of metabolism. The cruise ship will begin a return journey back to the lungs.

The cruise ship eventually ends up and back at the port (lungs). Carbon dioxide exit the body through the alveoli, up the throat, and out the mouth and nose in an exhale.

Every breath you take....this is what happens. This is how every healthy cell gets it oxygen.

This blows my damn mind. What's even more intriguing are the numbers...the scale to which this is happening: The whole cruise takes approximately one minute. We have 25 trillion red blood cells(boats).

There are 270 million hemoglobin(guestrooms).

Each guest room seats 4 oxygen molecules(passengers).

That is ONE BILLION molecules of oxygen boarding and disembarking within each red blood cell.

Breathe Less = More Carbon Dioxide and Increased Oxygen

So back to this question:

How could inhaling smaller amounts of air and having more carbon dioxide in our bloodstream increase oxygen in our tissues and organs?

That cruise ship example we understand HOW the processes works.

A Danish physiologist named Christian Bohr wanted to know WHY this gas change happened.

  • Why did some cells get oxygen more easily than others?

  • How does the hemoglobin(guestroom) know when to release the oxygen (passenger) at the right place and time?!

Blood with the most carbon dioxide in it (more acidic) loosened oxygen from hemoglobin.

When a muscle is used(during exercise) it produces more carbon dioxide ➜ which attracts more oxygen. Essentially, when you use a will receive more oxygen.

Carbon dioxide dilates blood vessels so they could carry more oxygen-saturated blood to hungry cells. This is how breathing less allowed us to produce more energy and do it more efficiently.

One the flip side:

Short and heavy breaths would drop your carbon dioxide. Breathing above metabolic needs could reduce blood flow to muscles, tissues, and organs.

Carbon Dioxide and Weight Loss

If you lose 10 pounds of fat:

  • 8.5 lbs. comes out through the lungs (mostly carbon dioxide mixed with a bit of water vapor)

  • 1.5 lbs. is sweated or urinated out.

That carbon dioxide that we're exhaling... has weight. We exhale more weight than we inhale. The way the body loses weight isn’t by "burning it” or sweating it out. We lose weight through exhaled breath.

"The lungs are the weight regulating system of the body."

Slow Breathing and Prayer

The most efficient breathing rhythm is when both the length of respirations and total breaths per minute are approximately symmetrical.

  • 5.5-second inhales

  • 5.5-second exhales

  • This works out to almost exactly to 5.5 breaths a minute.

What does this have to do with prayer?!

Many prayers follow this breathing technique:

The sa ta na ma chant from Kundalini Yoga is 6 seconds and 6 seconds to inhale.

When monks chant Om mani padme hum ..same thing

Chanting Om takes the approximal the same amount of time.

Many Hindu, Taoist, and Native American prayers are like that.

You can obviously do this without praying ➜ 5.5 second inhale ➜ 5.5 second exhale. When you follow this pattern blow flow to the brain increases and the systems of the body entered a state of coherences where the heart, circulation and nervous system are coordinated in efficiency. 🤯

Breathing Less and Blood pH

  • When you breathe too much ➜ you expel too much carbon dioxide ➜ your blood pH rises to become more alkaline.

  • When you breathe slower ➜ you retain more carbon dioxide pH lowers and blood becomes more acidic.

Most of our cellular function happens at a blood pH of 7.4. When you deviate from this pH then the body will try whatever it can to restore balance.

An example of this is how our kidneys respond to over breathing. Bicarbonate gets released into the urine. With less bicarbonate in the blood, the pH lowers back to normal...even if you continue over breathing.

Reactions like this are meant to correct temporary deviations but if you constantly over breathe you're going to deplete your body of essential minerals. As bicarbonate leaves the body, it takes magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and other important minerals with it. You body wont work right if you're deficient in all of these things.

These imbalances and compensations will eventually break the body down.

Slow Resting Heart Rate

The only way to maintain a slow resting heart rate is to breathe less.

I know this to be true because I keep a constant eye on my heart rate and I noticed that it drops when I am doing Isha Kriya. When I do Wim Hofs breahing technique or kapalabhati breathing my heart rate goes up.

“The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of his days, but the number of his breaths,” - B.K.S Iyengar in his book Light on Yoga.

Farming and Cooking Messed Us UP

This is the first time in history where humans could spend their entire lives eating nothing but processed food. We could get by by consuming nothing fresh, nothing raw, nothing natural.

Tenderizing and cooking of food led us towards airway obstruction. Here's how: 12,000 years ago we transitioned away from hunting and harvesting wild vegetables and we started growing food.

This is also when we started to experience widespread crooked teeth and deformed mouths. It wasn't until 300 years ago that things really went sideways. We began to suffer shrunken mouths, flatter faces and our sinus got plugged. but WHY?! Pour qoui?! (the next two sections explain why)

We became the worst breathers in the animal kingdom because of the rapid industrialization of farmed food.

Weston A. Price Says We Lackin' Vitamins

The 1870s scientists hypothesized that our faces and teeth were getting jacked up because of deficiencies in vitamin D. Weston Price said it wasn't just the one vitamin deficiency that caused these issues was all of them.

Price compared the teeth, airways and general health of populations around the world. He examined indigenous communities who were still eating traditional diets. Then he compared them with members...sometimes in the same family, who were eating modern diets. He traveled to a dozen countries and the same story played out wherever he went. Societies that replaced their traditional diets with modern processed foods suffered up to 10 times more cavities, crooked teeth, obstructed airways and overall poor health.

The modern diets were the same ➜ white flower, white rice, jam, juices, canned vegetables and processed meats. The traditional diets from the various places get sampled were all different.

For example, in Alaska, Price found communities who ate seal meat, fish, lichen. In Africa, the nomadic Maasai, consumed mostly cow’s blood, milk, a few plants. In Central Canada the indigenous tribes only ate wild animals.

Some cultures hate mostly meat while others were predominantly vegetarian. Their teeth were almost always perfect. Their mouths were exceptionally wide and their nasal apertures were broad. They suffered few cavities and very little dental disease. Respiratory issues were practically non-existent.

All the foods consumed by these various tribes were so different BUT they all contained high vitamins and minerals. Price became convinced that our health issues were arising because of a deficiency in all of these vitamins and minerals not just vitamins d and c.

The general consensus was that Prices work was not practical in modern society. We can't just go out there and find fresh whale blubber. However, his work could explain why we are getting sick and also why our bones were getting weaker, and why we were getting cavities.

....But We Lackin' Chewing

Price's work couldn't explain the extreme and sudden shrinking of the mouth and blocking of the airways. This problem had less to do with what we were eating then how we ate it. It was the constant stress of chewing that was lacking in our diets. Not the vitamins.

95% of the modern diet is soft. Our ancient ancestors chewed for hours a day... every single day. They chewed a lot so their faces became wide and strong and pronounced. Industrialized processed food hardly requires any chewing. This is why we have narrow faces and bruk up teeth. That's why we snore and our noses are stuffed and our airways are obstructed.

Mouth Expanders

Traditional orthodontics was making breathing worse in patients. The author discusses mouth expanders. When I was younger, I actually had a mouth expander installed and it was this device that was cemented to my top teeth and in the center there was a turning mechanism. Every day, I would have to take a wrench and give it a turn downwards. With every turn it would push my face apart. When I reflect back on this, I was a chronic mouth breather when I was young and I was always sick. I always thought that there wasn't enough room in my mouth for my tongue.

The device was called a bio block. Nestor got one of these things installed in his mouth and it expanded airways up to 30% over the course of half a year. You can do the same thing for free by having correct oral posture.

Correct oral posture:

  • Hold the lips together

  • Teeth lightly touching

  • Tongue on the roof of your mouth

  • When standing, the spine when standing up should form a j shape.

  • Breathe slowly in through the nose and into the abdomen.

There's an exercise you can do call mewing that is supposed to fix this.

Chewing and Stem Cells

When you clamp your teeth down you feel the stress in your jaw that extends to the back of your skull. This is the is the chewing muscle which is located below the ears. It's the strongest muscle in the body relative to its weight. We have cracks in our skull called sutures. Inside the sutures your body produces stem cells. Stem cells are what bind the sutures together to form new bones in the face. The way that you can grow new bone in the face by engaging the masseter muscle. By clamping down on the back molars over and over.

Autonomic Nervous System

Breathing activates a vast network called the autonomic nervous system. There are two sections of this system and they serve opposite functions. Both sections serve an important roles in our survival. The autonomic nervous system is generally considered to be beyond our control... the stuff that just kind of happens without you giving it conscious your heart rate and respiration.


The parasympathetic nervous system stimulates relaxation and restoration. The lungs are covered with nerves that reach both sides of the autonomic nervous system. Many of the nerves connecting to the parasympathetic system are in the lower lobes. This is one reason long and slow breaths are so relaxing.

As molecules of breath descend deeper into your lungs they switch on parasympathetic nerves. This sends the rest and digest message to your organs. During exhalation, as air travels back up through the lungs, the molecules stimulate an even more powerful parasympathetic response.

So breathe in deep and soft and extend your exhale and your heart rate will slow and you will feel calm. This is the state we are designed to be in.


The sympathetic is the other part of the nervous system and has an opposite role. It basically sends signals to our organs to get ready for action. Many nerves to this system are at the top of the lungs. When you take take short, shallow breaths, the molecules of air switch on the sympathetic nerves.

In this state, blood flow from less vital organs organs like the stomach and bladder is redirected to the muscles and brain. Heart rate increases and adrenaline kicks in. Vessels constrict and pupils dilate. The mind sharpens. Sympathetic states help ease pain and prevent blood from draining out if we get injured. We are only designed to stay in this state for short bursts. It only takes a second to get into this state but it could take an hour or more to get out of it.

It seems like we should avoid placing ourselves in these states of extreme sympathetic stress. Many ancient breathing practices did just this. Tummo is an example of this.


How exactly can conscious extreme breathing hack into the autonomic nervous system?

Tummo is one of the ancient breathing practices that elicits a sympathetic response.

Tummo is also called inner fire meditation. It's been practiced by Tibetan Buddhist for 1,000 years. It can be dangerous because it can create intense surges of energy leading to mental and physical harm. It was for advanced monks and it allowed them to sustain themselves in freezing temperatures.

From my understanding of what Nestor says, its conditioning for your nervous system. It is a conscious self-created stress. It is something you are doing to yourself it is not something that is happening to you. From my experience, I believe that it better prepares you for when you encounter stress for real in life. You know how to get through it and bring yourself back. More importantly it gives you power and command over your body. I learned this from experience because of Wim Hof.

Less intense, slow/less nostril methods of breathing can also dissipate stress and restore balance...but they can also take time.

Sometimes the body needs more than a soft nudge to get realigned. Sometimes it needs a violent shove. That’s what Tummo does.

Wim Hof

I have much respect for Wim Hof, I believe that he is a man of high impact and he has sparked something that will bring change to the world. He is basically a guy who through the pain of personal loss, dove deeper into his practices of yoga, breathing and meditation. He honed his skill of Tummo, simplified it and gave it to the world in a digestible fashion.

He's done a lot of impressive and seemingly superhuman things. He allows himself to be studied. He does all of this to show that he isn't special...anyone could do it. He wants everyone to know that these capabilities are available to everyone.

Aside from his demonstrations on cold exposure of his most intriguing experiments involved him getting injected with E. coli. Exposure this bacteria usually induces vomiting, headaches, fever, and other flulike symptoms. Through breathing he was able to stave off the effects of the bacteria from taking effect on his body. He trained other people to do this as well with the same results. They were able to control their heart rate temperature and immune response. Meanwhile the control group all got sick from the E. coli injection.

This is not a part of the book but if anyone wants to read this study:

This is the exact video I do every day:

Vagus Nerve

How exactly does conscious over breathing allow us to hack into our nervous system? It has to do with the vagus nerve which connects to all of our major organs. This nerve is what turns organs on and off in response to stress. When our perceived stress level is very high, the vagus nerve slows heart rate, circulation, and organ functions. This is a primitive adaptation...this is what happens when we faint.

We don't encounter wolves, wild dogs and lions anymore. In the modern world, we don't experience full-blown, life-threatening stress BUT we never fully relax either. We're constantly in this state of half-anxiety. The vagus nerve stays half-stimulated. Your organs don't get an opportunity to rest. It's kind of like when you shut your laptop expecting it to turn off but a process prevents it from shutting down. When you come back you realize that it is warm and the screen and fan has been running the entire time. Just like your laptop, your organs stay half supported in a state of suspended animation. Your body can persist like this for a will live but you won't be healthy.

Holotropic Breath Work

Holotropic Breathwork is a breathing practice created by a Czech psychiatrist named Stanislav Grof. It's main focus is to rewire the mind. Holotropic Breathwork is essentially Tummo cranked up to a next level. It basically entails you laying on a floor in a dark room, with loud music playing, breathing as hard and quickly as you could for up to three hours. Breathing to the point of exhaustion can sometimes place you in a state of stress where you can access subconscious and unconscious thoughts. This sometimes blows a fuse in your mind so that you can return to a state of calm. The Grofs (Stanislav and his wife) called it Holotropic Breathwork, from the Greek holos, which means “whole,” and trepein, which translates to “progressing toward something.” Basically this breath works breaks the mind down and moves it toward wholeness.

Over Breathing and the Brain

During rest 700 ml of blood flows through the brain per minute. When you breathe heavily you change the blood flow in your brain.

Forced over breathing causes you to exhale too much carbon dioxide which narrows blood vessels and decreases blood circulation. After a few minutes of over breathing brain blood flow can decrease by 40 percent.

The areas most affected by this are the hippocampus and frontal, occipital, and parieto-occipital cortices...these areas handle functions such as visual processing, memory, the experience of time and sense of self. Disturbances in these areas can facilitate out-of-body experiences and waking dreams(hallucinations).

If you continue forced over breathing, blood flow will continue to decrease and these visual and auditory hallucinations become more profound. The sustained pH imbalance in the blood sends distress signals through the body... specially the limbic system. If you continue forced over breathing you could trick the limbic system into thinking its dying.

Amygdalae and Chemoreception

I found this part of the book to be particularly intriguing. It has to do with the way we perceive fear. The amygdalae is considered to be the alarm circuit of fear in the body. There is another deeper circuit in the body that generates a more powerful sense of danger than the amygdalae could process alone. Its the fear and anxiety of not being able to take another breath.

When doing breath holds, the urge to breath is activated from a cluster of neurons called the central chemoreceptors which are located at the base of the brainstem.

  • When you breathe too slowly and CO2 levels rise, the central chemoreceptors send alarm signals to the brain telling our lungs to breathe faster and more deeply.

  • When you're breathing too quickly the chemoreceptors direct the body to breathe slowly to increase those CO2 levels.

This is how our body determines how fast and how often to breathe. Not by the amount of oxygen but by the level of carbon dioxide. Chemoreception is one of the most fundamental functions in life.

When we evolved from that ball of sludge to become an aerobic life forms 2.5 billion years ago...we had to be able to sense carbon dioxide in order to avoid it. The chemoreception that developed, passed up through bacteria, then to animals, and on. This is what stimulates that suffocating feeling when you hold your breath. Humans have chemoreceptor flexibility which is what enabled us to live in very high altitudes and very low altitudes.

It might seem pretty obvious that we would panic when deprived of breath. But it's the reason behind the panic that is so important. Fear can be generated by the chemoreceptors and breathing instead of psychological threats processed by the amygdalae.

Its possible that fears are being treated incorrectly. Fears are not just a psychological problem that you can think your way out of. Fears and anxiety have a physical manifestation ...its a It’s mechanical process.

Maybe anxious people should be taught the art of holding their breath. Those chemoreceptors need to be flexed. The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu spiritual text written around 2,000 years ago, translated the breathing practice of pranayama to mean “trance induced by stopping all breathing.”

Carbon Dioxide Therapies

There was a time when carbon dioxide was used as a treatment for anxiety, epilepsy and even schizophrenia. It would provide almost instant relief but the patients went back to normal after around 30 minutes until their next hit of CO2. CO2 therapies were found to be effective for eczema and asthma as well.

Out of nowhere, by the 1950s, a century of scientific research on CO2 therapy disappeared. People with skin disorders relied on pills and creams. People with asthma managed symptoms with steroids and bronchodilators. People suffering with severe mental disorders were given sedatives.

C02 therapy entails breathing in mixtures of carbon dioxide and room air.

Nestor tried it twice.

  • Once with Anders Olsson using 7 percent carbon dioxide mixed with room air. This was a safe amount. Breathing in this mixture had none of the hallucinogenic or panic-inducing effects. You hardly notice it, and its supposed to offer potent results. It had little effect on Nestor.

  • Once with Justin Feinstein using 35 percent carbon dioxide and the rest is room air. This is the same percentage of carbon dioxide once used to treat schizophrenics. For a few seconds he felt like he was suffocating, his vision blurred, he felt like he was losing his senses and he panicked.

I believe the key point here is that these feelings of anxiety and panic are mechanical in nature.

The goal isn't to change how you feel on an emotional level. The goal is to flex those chemoreceptors.

So whether you're doing breath holds, being strangled, or inhaling CO2 from a mask in a lab... your chemoreceptors don't know the difference. The same alarm bells are doing off in your body. Flexing your chemoreceptors in a controlled manner allows people to experience what an attack feels like before it comes on. As opposed to the real world when it just creeps up on you and you feel like you have no control. It gives you conscious power of something that was thought to be an unconscious ailment. It shows us that many of the symptoms we are suffering can be caused and controlled by breathing.

Some Unanswered Questions James Nestor still had some unanswered questions:

Why does the body heat up during Tummo and other breathing exercises?

The pain of the cold could be blunted by stress hormones but it cant stop the damage of skin and tissue of the body. So how can Wim Hof sit in the cold, naked for hours and not get hypothermia?

Monks are a different story...they stimulate the opposite physiological response. They don't breathe heavily....they sit cross legged and breathe slow and less. This induces a state of extreme relaxation while reducing their metabolic rates by as much as 64%. They should be dead or suffering from hypothermia but instead in this relaxed state they are able to increase their body temperature by double digits and stay steaming hot in freezing temperatures for hours.

Also, Nestor wondered how holotropic breath work and other breathing exercises can provoke hallucinations?

The same two questions bamboozle me as well.

Despite of of the brilliant scientific minds studying the perplexities of breath...the answer to these questions still evades us. Perhaps, we must return to the ancient texts. All of these breath techniques first appeared in these ancient texts. The scholars that wrote them knew that breathing was more than just taking in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Our breath also contained another invisible energy...something more powerful and affecting than any molecule ever discovered. Prana.


Prana is the "life force" or "vital energy". It is basically the ancient theory of atoms. Everything is made of energy. The Iroquoi call it Orenda. Chinese call it Chi. Greeks call it Pneuma. Japanese call it Ki. Different names...same concept. Should prana flow become blocked, the body shuts down and sickness follows. When you lose so much prana that you cannot support basically bodily die.

Cultures developed thousands of ways to maintain the flow of prana. They created acupuncture to open it up and yoga postures awaken and distribute it. Spicy foods contain high doses of prana...but the best way is to inhale breathe. When you breathe you increase your lifeforce.

Western science has never observed prana or confirmed that exists.

In 1970, a group of physicists wanted to measure prana's effects on the human body. Throughout the ages there have been many documented instances of yogis being able to do some pretty amazing things. Their subject for this study was a Yogi named Swami Rama. They observed Rama modulate his brain waves and his heart beat just by breathing. He also created a temperature differential of 11 degrees between his little finger and thumb. Rama’s hands never moved. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, pH levels, and stress hormones played no part in Rama’s abilities. As far as is known, his blood gases and nervous system were normal throughout each of the experiments. There was some other force at play, some more subtle energy Rama had harnessed.

Infusing the body with prana is simple: you just breathe. Controlling this energy and directing it takes a while. As far as Nestor could tell, Rama, through his writings and videos, doesn't elaborate on how to direct it.

So both of these questions that Nestor have are still pretty much unaswered.


Before yoga was called yoga. Before it was an aerobic exercise. Before it had any spiritual connotation. Yoga was a technology of breathing and thinking.

The Vedas are a spiritual text that contain the earliest known documentation of the word “yoga.” In two texts based on Vedic teachings, the Brihadaranyaka and the Chandogya Upanishads, are the earliest lessons of breathing and the control of prana.

Around 500 BCE, breathing techniques would be consolidated into the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Slow breathing, breath holding, deep breathing into the diaphragm, and extending exhalations all first appear in this ancient text.

The earliest yoga was a science of holding still and building prana through breathing.

Ancient yoga and its focus on prana, sitting, and breathing, has turned into a form of aerobic exercise. There is nothing wrong with modern yoga but it is a different practice from the one that first originated 5,000 years ago.

Yoga practices were never designed to cure problems. They were created for healthy people to raise their potential: to give them the conscious power to expand their consciousness, to heat themselves on command, control their nervous systems and hearts, and live longer and more vibrant lives.

Sudarshan Kriya

One of the reasons Nestor went on this exploratory breath journey is because he signed up of an introductory Sudarshan Kriya class many years prior. He had a transformative experience. When he finished his session, he lost his perception of time and he was dripping sweat. His clothes were completely drenched. He felt incredible for days after. He spent the next decade of his life trying to figure out what happened that day....which is how we ended up with this book!

Sudarshan Kriya was developed in the 1980s by a spiritual leader named Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who learned under the great Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Tens of millions of people around the world, practice Sudarshan Kriya through The Art of Living Foundation. Tummo has a similar effect because both were designed from the same ancient practices.

Sudarshan Kriya requires more than 40 minutes of intensive breathing. It takes you through breathing at a very rapid rate, to several minutes of slow breathing and then down to hardly breathing at all. Then you repeat.

After a decade of conducting various lab experiments, analyzing his blood gases, and scanning his brain James Nestor came to learn that he has been searching for answers in the wrong place. What he experienced was prana. After breathing so heavily for so long, he had built up too much prana and his body wasn't ready for it. This is why he was sweating profusely and experienced a shift of consciousness. Sudarshan means "good vision" in Sanskrit. These pranayama techniques were refined over a thousands of years so that the energy can be controlled and redistributed to provoke these "good visions".

It takes months / years to master. The key with these breathing practices is to have patience, and take it slow.

Breathing Can't Do Everything

Breathing can't heal everything. We've all needed modern medicine at some point. You're not going to breathe your way out of an embolism. If you think it can then you're missing the point. If you break it down...breathing is fundamentally about maintaining health and wellness. It can certainly lead to more extraordinary things but in its basic form...think maintaining balance within the body and maintaining health and wellness.

From my person observations, this is how it goes...if you go into the doctor for a mild chronic illness you're going to get prescribed something and sent off. If you go in with something serious or emergency then you get more attention.

Doctors don't have time to spend on prevention and treatment milder ailments. Its not all their fault either....many people don't feel like the doctor has done anything unless they've been prescribed something.

A shift needs to occur within the individual to know that they have this innate ability to profoundly impact their health and that the answer is not always in a pill.

Breathing practices are a form of maintenance that prevent some of these milder problems from forming, or prevent them from progressing into something more serious.

Disease of Civilization

Most of the top killers we presently face (diabetes, heart disease, and stroke) are caused by the food we consume, the water we drink and the environments in which we live and work. They are diseases humanity created.

How we interface with our environment determines what genes are turned on / off. Just because you are genetically predisposed to a condition doesn't mean it will get the condition.

So just as we are cognizant about food, water, exercise and stress levels...breathing is just as important.

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