The New Science of a Lost Art
by James Nestor
Publisher: Riverhead Books
2020, Hardcover, 304 pages
I’ve started reading BREATH by James Nestor, and I’m planning to write the full review for BLR # 104, on 2020 December 8. BREATH begins in a breathtaking manner, ala Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film Super Size Me, where in order to study the devastating effects of consuming fast food, the author eats nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days. James Nestor begins his book by subjecting himself, along with colleague Anders Olsson, to a similar harrowing and health-crushing experiment: they block their nose, and then for 10 days they breathe only through the mouth.
In the book’s Introduction, Nestor writes (p.xix):
“No matter what we eat, how much we exercise, how resilient our genes are, how skinny or young or wise we are — none of it will matter unless we’re breathing correctly. That’s what these researchers discovered. The missing pillar in health is breath. It all starts there.”
And the breadth of the problem is succinctly stated here (p.32):
“We’ve found ways to clean up our cities and to tame or kill off so many of the diseases that destroyed our ancestors. We’ve become more literate, taller, and stronger. On average, we live three times longer than people in the Industrial Age. There are now seven and a half billion humans on the planet—a thousand times more people than there were 10,000 years ago.
And yet we’ve lost touch with our most basic and important biological function.”
Nestor claims that most of us are breathing incorrectly, and that fixing our breathing will — in so many ways — enhance our health and happiness. This concept is astonishing. Nevertheless, this book’s 304 pages prove it to be true.
One reason I’ve been so quickly persuaded by the claims in BREATH is its combination of rock-solid science, ancient wisdom, anthropology, and autobiography — the author takes up a life-transforming quest to recover from years of breathing problems and sub-par health. Another reason I believe this book is my encounter with another book, the rare hardcover edition of “The Perceptible Breath: A Breathing Science” by Ilse Middendorf. Ten years ago I broke my NLB (“Never Lend Books”) rule, when I loaned this book to a sick friend. And then three months later he told me he was cured, because “Better breathing changed everything.”
BREATH by James Nestor is likely heading for some big wins, as the year 2020’s best book in two categories: Science, and Health. Don’t wait for my full review: Today, borrow this book (but not my copy), or buy this book (available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, or Kindle ebook) — and then start learning how to breathe.
— Michael Pastore