Is breath the missing pillar of health? Bestselling author James Nestor believes so. Nestor studied breath for more than a decade and found that 90% of us are breathing incorrectly, and by transitioning to nose breathing we can experience many immediate and long-lasting benefits to our health. Learn about Nestor’s radical breathing experiments and listen to find out his techniques for optimal breathing.
James Nestor is an author and journalist who has written for Scientific American, Outside, The New York Times, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and more. His latest book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, explores how the human species has lost the ability to breathe properly. This sounds impossible, but it’s true. Snoring, sleep apnea, asthma, allergies, and even autoimmune diseases are among the most prevalent diseases in the modern world, and all of them can be either exacerbated, or sometimes caused, by poor breathing. Nestor spent years in laboratories and ancient burial sites, working with researchers at Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and other institutions to figure out what went wrong with our breathing—and how to fix it. Breath was an instant New York Times bestseller and will be translated into more than 15 languages in 2021.
This episode sponsored by Anatomy Trains and Yomassage.
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00:49 Darren Buford: Welcome to the ABMP Podcast. My name is Darren Buford, and I’m the editor-in-chief of Massage and Bodywork Magazine and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP. I’m joined by my co-host Angie Parris-Raney, licensed massage therapist and Chopra Center certified in meditation. Our goal is to connect with luminaries and experts in and around the massage, bodywork, and wellness profession in order to talk about the topics, trends, and techniques that affect our listeners’ practices. Our guest today is James Nestor. James is an author and journalist who has written for Scientific American, Outside Magazine, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and NPR. His latest book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, explores how the human species has lost the ability to breathe properly. This sounds impossible, but it’s true. Snoring, sleep apnea, asthma, and allergies, and even autoimmune diseases, are among the most prevalent diseases in the modern world, and all of them can be either exacerbated by or sometimes caused by poor breathing. James spent years in laboratories and ancient burial sites, working with researchers at Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and other institutions to figure out what went wrong with our breathing and how to fix it. Breath was an instant New York Times best-seller and will be translated into more than 15 languages in 2021. For more information, visit mrjamesnestor.com. Hello James, and hello, Angie.
02:10 Angie Parris-Raney: Hi.
02:10 James Nestor: Hi, there.
02:12 DB: James, I came across a mention of your book when… I’m a subscriber to Outside Magazine, and I saw it mentioned, and I was like, oh my God, this is absolutely perfect for our audience, for not only humans in general but for our audience, specifically, because massage therapists and body workers incorporate breath into their work, so I thought it’d be super valuable for them to hear about your research, because it could change how they approach their practices and how they communicate and work with their clients. They’re literally on the front lines of this to be able to bring about change. And James, I should mention, you have two pulmonaut fanboys, fangirls, fan-people on this. We’ve read the book, we’ve digested the book, we’ve made adjustments to our lives, and we’ve made everyone sick around us by talking about breath constantly. I’m breathing differently, Angie’s breathing differently, we’re counting our breaths, her husband’s taping her mouth at night to prevent sleep apnea. So let’s get started. You refer to breath as the missing pillar of health, and the majority of us are breathing incorrectly, yes?
03:16 JN: Well, yeah, this was a claim that I heard from a scientist years and years ago, and it seemed absolutely crazy to me. I couldn’t believe it was true, but he said, “Just look at the numbers.” And just as you had mentioned, we’ve got about 50% of the population snoring, about a quarter with sleep apnea, about 10% have asthma, another 10% have COPD. I mean, it goes on and on and on, and you realize that all of these conditions are just so prevalent that we consider that they’re normal, just a normal part of growing up to have asthma, normal part of being an adult, but they aren’t normal. And we realize that we can do so much to help abate the symptoms of these problems, and in some remarkable cases outright cure them through proper breathing habits.
04:04 DB: And James, what are those proper breathing habits? I know that, from reading the book, it is, nose breathing is so important, and altering our lives and our approach, and we’ve been… The majority of us are probably mouth breathing all the time.
04:20 JN: Well, yeah, and in that, it seems so basic to so many people that, okay, I can breathe through my nose, I can breathe through my mouth. But what difference does it make? All you need to do is really look at the human skull to see what difference it makes. If you were to take a human skull and do a cross-section of it, which is something I’ve seen in various laboratories, you notice that the sinuses take up about a tennis ball size of space right here. And all that air has to go in through this labyrinth to make it down into our throats, into our lungs, and it’s not there by an accident. We didn’t evolve this just randomly. It’s there, all of these structures are there to filter air, to humidify it, to condition it, to moisten it, so by the time that air gets to our lungs, our lungs are gonna be better able and more efficiently able to extract that oxygen and use it for the rest of our bodies. So, just by breathing through the nose, you can get 20% more oxygen than by breathing equivalent breaths through the mouth.
05:23 DB: I know that you’ve found that the nose is treated like this ancillary thing. It doesn’t maintain or have the importance that other organs or functions of the body do. And can you explain that a little bit? It didn’t have the research and not enough people are investigating it.
05:41 JN: Well, if you look at the populations right now, about… And this number is fuzzy, no one knows exactly how many people are mouth breathing, but the estimates range from anywhere to maybe 20% to 50% of the population is habitually breathing through its mouth. And again, a lot of people think that this is normal and it’s fine. You go and see anyone in a gym, you see someone jogging around, they’re… Especially kids, it’s really prevalent in kids. But what happens when you do this over weeks and over months and over years, you can really start wearing your body down. You’re breathing much more when you’re breathing through your mouth, which causes a lot of unnecessary wear and tear. You’re exposing the lungs to whatever is in the environment. The lungs, you can almost consider them like an exterior organ, because they’re exposed to wherever you go. So that’s why you need this filter. You need the nose to really be your first line of defense.
06:34 JN: And it’s just something that is so not well recognized or appreciated now, but if you look in ancient literature, in medical texts from thousands of years ago, they were all saying the same thing, which is, you have to breathe through your nose. And if you don’t, you’re gonna suffer a lot of problems. And there’s six books in the Dao that were written beginning about 1200 years ago that were saying that, that mouth breathing is gonna cause illness, nasal breathing is gonna allow you to celebrate good health.
07:10 DB: So your interest in the topic, it began because of your own health. I think you had some bronchitis and some pneumonia issues, and it was a check-in with your doctor… I think… Were you also… Did this happen around the time that you were writing, free-diving, and researching breath there? Can you give us kind of a chronological… Like a history of how you got into the topic?
07:32 JN: Sure. It was years before I had ever discovered free divers, so I had been… I surf a lot here in San Francisco, and I’m pretty active, just doing martial arts a bunch, thinking I was eating right, thinking I was doing everything right. But I was suffering from chronic respiratory problems. I was getting bronchitis a lot, I was getting colds a lot, I was getting mild pneumonia, and finally my doctor mentioned, she said, “Maybe a breathing class can help.” And I thought, okay, so I went to this class, had this very weird experience. After about 10 minutes of breathing in this rhythmic pattern, had just started sweating profusely, didn’t make any sense to me. Went back to my doctor, I said, “What happened? You obviously… You’re a doctor, you know this stuff.” And she had no idea. She said that I must have had a fever or the room was too hot, but none of which was true at all, she had no idea what happened.
08:25 JN: So as a science journalist, I didn’t wanna write a memoir about this, so I just filed it away and kinda forgot about it for a number of years until I met free divers who showed me the real power of breathing, who showed me that they are able to do things that are considered scientifically and medically impossible by harnessing their breath, and I thought, wow, if breathing in certain ways can allow you to hold your breath for eight minutes at a time, dive down to 300 feet without even fins on, what else can it do? And it opened that door and I started researching it right from the get-go right there.
09:01 AP: And you paid $5000 to do a research study, so there’s a little bit of maybe craziness to all of that.
09:12 JN: Well, I didn’t wanna pay $5000, and it ended up [chuckle] being a lot more than that, a lot of my book advance was spent on that. So, that came about through conversations with the chief of rhinology research at Stanford. A big nose guy. He was telling me the wonders of the nose, we had several lunches, long interviews, he was telling me about cilia and mucosa and how different nostrils will elicit different brain waves on one side of the brain, like crazy stuff. And he was also explaining to me how damaging mouth breathing was. He says, it can actually damage the skelecature of your face. It’s so common that these kids who mouth-breathe have this face called adenoid face. You can see it all the time. Their faces are very long, they look a lot like mine, ’cause I think I was doing this a lot when I was younger, and their mouths are open like this. So I asked him, I said, “How soon does this damage come on?” And he said, “I don’t know, no one’s tested it. It would be unethical to [chuckle] give 20 children and have them mouth-breathe for five years.”
10:20 JN: So I volunteered for a study. He had… Even at Stanford, he’s like, “I have no money for this,” and so he said, “If you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna have to pay for all of these tests,” which were just insanely expensive. Got a nice view into the healthcare system that way as well. And luckily I had someone else, breathing therapist, great guy, Anders Olsson, one of the best breathers in the world, flew from Sweden, ’cause he had been talking about the benefits of nasal breathing for so long he wanted to put his money where his mouth was, literally, that pun was not intended, [chuckle] but I’m gonna own it since I just said it. And he flew out here for a month [chuckle] and rented a room across the street from my house just to test this stuff.
11:02 DB: I really think the listeners need to know exactly what you did. You plugged your nose, right?
11:07 AP: For 10 days.
11:09 JN: Yeah, getting a little PTSD. It was actually [chuckle] in this room that my wife kicked me out of the upstairs, so I had to come down to the lower stairs here, make this my mouth-breathing dominion, and I’m very glad I did. But the point of the study was not to do some sort of jackass stunt. I had no intention of doing that at all in this book. I had no intention of being part of this book when I first started writing it. But no one else was gonna do this, and so, we plugged our noses for 10 days, which sounds crazy, people are like, “Oh, how could you do that?” I was like, well, why don’t you go talk to 25% to 50% of the population, [chuckle] ask how they deal with that every day? Ask people with chronic sinusitis who half the year are plugged up.” So we were lulling ourselves into a position that so much of the population knew, that this wasn’t like we were eating Big Macs every single day every meal.
12:06 JN: We were just breathing in a way that a lot of people already breathed. The difference was we were measuring everything, so we had this full laboratory set up down here. We had about $15,000 worth of equipment down here to test everything three times a day. And what we found is, mouth-breathing was so much more damaging and the damage comes on so much more quickly than anybody thought. Nayak down… Jayakar Nayak down at Stanford was stunned. In a single night of mouth-breathing, I started snoring for an hour and a half. Within three days, I was snoring four hours throughout the night, was choking on myself, sleep apnea. Huge stress, my blood pressure went up about 25 points. I mean, it was outrageous and if you look at what happened to us, just breathing that way for a few days, then you look at the population and see the major problems of the population, all tied to inflammation. They’re tied to hypertension, they’re tied to sleep apnea, obstructive breathing, and you realize you’re like, “Oh my God, so many of us are not breathing correctly.” And that is, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many other researchers, the foundation of why so many of us stay so sick for so long. So, you have to fix that breathing first and foremost, then you can do other things.
13:27 DB: After those 10 days, you then repeated the experiment. You removed the plugs from your nose and everything changed, right?
13:35 JN: Yeah, so I had been told repeatedly when I first started really researching this book years and years ago, that how we breathe didn’t matter, because our bodies would always compensate. ‘Cause our bodies are gonna find a way of breathing, which is wonderful, which is a great thing, right? That doesn’t mean that breathing in a certain way is good for us, it just means your body is gonna find a way of getting oxygen, but eventually it’s gonna break down. So, this whole thing, how we breathe don’t matter, this is a stupid book, it’s a stupid idea. All these other researchers who have studied this stuff at Yale, at Harvard, at Stanford are wrong, this is what people [chuckle] were telling me, which I thought was just crazy talk. So, I saw in my body and the data shows it that simply switching the pathway through which we breathe and practicing very simple, healthy breathing habits, my snoring completely went away. My sleep apnea completely went away. My blood pressure dropped about 20 points in the first day.
14:33 JN: So stress levels disappeared, athletic endurance increased, I mean, I could go on and on and on, and the neat thing was it wasn’t just me. If it had happened to me, it’s like, that might have been pretty interesting, the other subject, Anders, the exact same thing happened to him, and we have all the data here. We were meticulous about it, and to people who actually study this, scientists and researchers who study it, they’re not surprised, right? They say, “Of course, if you’re breathing improperly, you’re constantly in that sympathetic state, you’re stressing yourself out, your body is gonna break down.” It’s so simple and yet nobody… I won’t say nobody, very few people are really paying attention to it.
15:17 DB: Let’s take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.
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16:11 DB: Now, let’s get back to the podcast.
16:14 AP: How you are explaining the efficient delivery of oxygen to all of the cells through… That was why we need CO2 and that helps to interact with the hemoglobin so that it releases more oxygen efficiently through the bloodstream. And when I was going through that part of it, and then you got to what you were doing to condition and train yourself to nose breathe, and all it was was this little Charlie Chaplin mustache, moved down over the lips and so, I’m telling my husband, I’m like, “Hey, we got a really cheap experiment we can try here. You wanna try this with me?” And he did and it has changed our lives. We’re probably on two and a half weeks right now of doing this, and it’s fascinating what you’re saying, because he was on a BiPAP machine as opposed to a CPAP machine, so instead of it constantly pushing the air to the lungs, it gives it a break so he’s not working against the exhale, or the air on the exhale. It was just uncomfortable and it’s like, nothing he’s gonna use, and he’s like, “And if I can change all of this by a simple piece of tape, well, why am I not gonna try this?”
17:25 AP: And he’s getting through the night, no snoring. I mean, we don’t have maybe the tools to measure all of this like you had, but just with how he’s feeling and it’s just been like, now he is like your disciple, probably going out there like, “Hey you guys, we got the greatest thing that’s ever gonna change your life. It’s a little 99 cent piece of tape [chuckle] and it’ll change your life.” They’re looking at us like we’re crazy. But, I just have to say, it has changed [chuckle] our life, so that’s been fun.
18:01 JN: This… It sounded nutty to me too. ‘Cause when you think about tape over the mouth, you’re thinking like Pulp Fiction or some hostage situation. [laughter] Nobody…
18:10 AP: It actually did the work for the criminals.
18:12 JN: Nobody wants that. [laughter] I guess, some people want that, they’re into that and that’s cool, that’s great. [laughter] They’d willingly elect for that. So it sounded nuts to me until I walked over… I was with Jayakar Nayak, the doctor down at Stanford, and I talked to the main breathing therapist, doctor of speech language pathology at Stanford, I was talking to her, and she mentioned she had this roll of tape on her desk. I was like, “Well, what’s that?” She’s like, “I’m training patients to tape their mouth.” And I had heard about it before, but it was mostly sketchy YouTube stuff. And I said, “Okay.” So, the doctor of speech language pathology at Stanford is doing this. Now she’s doing a study with 200 people, she’s just getting this off the ground, looking at sleep tape and sleep apnea and snoring. And then I met Dr. Mark Forhenny, who’s been doing this for decades, he’s a leading researcher in sleep and dentistry, and he said, “Well of course, because when you breathe through the nose, you are gonna open your airway more.”
19:17 JN: Steven Park at Albert Einstein Medical School said the exact same thing right now with if you open your mouth, your tongue naturally goes back in your throat. When you close your mouth, your tongue naturally goes up. So guess what happens when you close your mouth, breathe through your nose and your tongue goes up, your airway opens. Now, this doesn’t work for everybody. Some people who have, in states of obesity or even people who have a lot of muscles, they have to do a lot more work, but I can’t tell you… I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from people that are like, “I’ve been dealing with snoring or my spouse has been snoring for 30 years. We’ve tried every medicine. We’ve tried every gizmo and a piece of tape worked for us. Like, why the hell didn’t we know about this 20 years ago?”
20:06 AP: I know.
20:07 JN: And that was my question, I was like, “Why isn’t everyone doing this?” And then you hear people that say, “Oh, it’s dangerous,” and they don’t get that this is not a fat piece of duct tape, this is thin piece of hypoallergenic surgical tape that comes off with your tongue. You can open your mouth at any time and open it. So it’s just to train the jaw shut.
20:29 AP: How it’s just retraining in the brain like how you said too where if you don’t use it it atrophies. So on a subconscious or… Yeah, like a subconscious level while you’re dreaming and sleeping, you’re already training your brain now through this muscle memory, and so now it starts to cross over into the conscious waking state, and now you have even more of an awareness. So it almost like a… It’s like the kickstart so that you can continue with that training almost in the conscious state.
21:00 JN: And it’s more therapeutic during… Sleep is so essential for removing toxins from the brain, we know that, and by breathing through the nose, you’re able to activate more connectivity throughout certain areas of the brain which help you to remember things, which help you to have closer command of your emotions, and they believe that this is one of the reasons why these people with ADHD who just… They get furious all of a sudden, their huge population are mouth breathers and they’ve… It’s so sad, these kids because they’ve been given Ritalin and all these other drugs, nothing’s working. And then they remove their tonsils, which can be very effective or their adenoids, and they actually let them to get a good night sleep and to breathe and they’re transformed. They’re like, they no longer have ADHD, and people are still scratching their heads by saying, “Oh, that’s a coincidence.” There’s no coincidence at all. They can breathe, they can go to sleep. They don’t have sleep apnea. So this stuff is… The thing that just amazed me about it, is it’s so simple. There’s not a huge leap of logic to think if you’re breathing 25,000 times a day, if you’re doing that improperly, it’s gonna wear your body down, of course it is.
22:11 DB: Angie mentioned the atrophy that can occur. So mouth breathing, begets more mouth breathing, begets more problems, but by breathing through the nose in that proper filtration, are you actually increasing the airways because you’ve now changed your patterns?
22:27 JN: Yes, with that pressure, when you breath through the mouth, you just take a few breaths, there’s no pressure. So those tissues in the back of your throat are gonna tend to droop down. When you’re breathing through the nose, so negative pressure, there’s a vacuum going in, there’s positive pressure going out. So you’re pushing those tissues through the back. And the back of these tissues… This is one big muscle, and the less that you use it, the more flabby it’s gonna get just like anything else. So the more that you condition this, you can do this through chewing, you can do this with oropharyngeal exercises, which is this huge new therapy, which is having this incredible effect on sleep apnea, and this is studied. This is in scientific studies. So you’re just activating this, you’re eating soft foods all day, you’re breathing out of your mouth, it loses its shape just like anything else. Again, it’s so simple and yet it’s so overlooked.
23:28 DB: James, can we ask you about, if there is, what is a proper breath or a proper breath cycle?
23:38 JN: Well, it depends on what you’re doing, because a proper breath when you’re jogging, or when you’re rowing is gonna be different than a proper breath at rest. So you wanna breathe as closely in line with your metabolic needs as possible. So you don’t wanna over-breathe and you don’t want a severely under-breathe either. What they’ve found… What researchers have found that at rest, if you breathe in about five to six seconds… I say 5.5, and now people are writing me saying, “What if I’m a half a second off, is that gonna hurt my health?” And I’m like, “Oh my God, what have I done?”
24:13 JN: So I’ve changed my script to say four to seven seconds in, four to seven seconds out. Anything in that range is great. So if you breathe in these paced, pattern, you are able to breathe so much more efficiently, you get more oxygen, but you also… The bio-mechanics of doing this, you’re breathing these deeper breaths, which is allowing the diaphragm to go down a little lower, which is allowing that diaphragm to softly massage these organs and help release lymph fluid to get rid of these toxins in your body, which is something I just learned about from a doctor last week, which I’ll be putting in the new edition of the book.
24:57 JN: But the key is, you are able to do more with less, with less effort, and it’s no coincidence if someone were to put a blood pressure monitor on and take your measurement and then breathe this way about five to six seconds in, five to six seconds out, and take your blood pressure after that. It’s no coincidence your blood pressure, especially those with higher blood pressure, can go down 10 to 15 points. You notice your heart rate beating so much slower because you’re allowing the diaphragm to do a lot of the work for the heart. And if you can just do that in a couple of minutes, imagine what your body’s gonna do after a couple of days, a couple of weeks, a couple of months. That’s why these people are able to heal themselves of chronic conditions just by normalizing their breathing.
25:45 DB: Angie and I were on a hike with a bunch of our friends when we were debating the book, and we were halfway through or maybe a quarter of the way through it, ’cause I said to Angie and I was like, “Wait. Am I supposed to breathe in through my nose and out through my nose?” Because in yoga, in meditation, often they’ll say, “Breathe in. Now breathe out through your mouth.” But you’re talking breathing in and exhaling through the nose.
26:08 JN: Another thing I’ll be really clarifying in future editions, [chuckle] ’cause I’ve gotten about 400 emails on it of people who were like in the middle of a yoga class and protesting with the instructor, and I’m like “Oh God, what have I done?” So…
26:27 JN: When you’re doing a practice, a pranayama practice, you’re doing Kriya, you’re doing Wim Hof, you’re doing Tummo, some of these have you exhaling through the mouth, aah. Lion breath haa. Perfectly fine, especially with like Ujjayi breath, completely fine, because this is a conscious practice that you are doing for a finite amount of time, and there are benefits to these practices exhaling through the mouth. What I was talking about is habitual mouth breathing, and as a habitual practice, including while exercising, exhaling through the nose has so many benefits, it’s gonna save you about 40% more moisture. So it moistens the air when it comes in along with heating it and condition it, and when you breathe back out, it captures that moisture, so it’s like this closed system for the moisture. So if you’re one of those people jogging around with one of those belts, which I’ve been seeing more and more of that have seven little water bottles on it, it’s probably because you’re mouth breathing so much that you’re getting so thirsty. And a lot of people say… A lot of my friends are joggers, they said, “I tried it for a day. Didn’t work, man. So I’m back to mouth breathing.”
27:51 JN: Well, these things can take a while, and what Dr. John Douillard has found and Malfeton and so many other trainers, is that sometimes it takes weeks or months to acclimate yourself to really change this habit. But I can tell you, and again, I’ve gotten so many messages about this and I’ve heard this from breathing therapists, especially for athletes, the benefits are tremendous, breathing through the nose. ‘Cause if you’re able to perform at the same level with a lower heart rate using less energy, guess what, you can push even harder and you can go longer and you can recover faster doing that. So that’s a long, very long way of saying, exhaling through the nose, known benefits to it, do not worry about doing this and breathing, even if you’re doing yoga that asks you to inhale through the mouth, totally fine, just I’m talking about habitual nasal breathing versus mouth breathing.
28:49 AP: And I’m curious because we live in Colorado and we climb at altitude, and so one thing I’ve noticed is when you’re starting to do that ascension and you’re getting into elevation, it can be really hard to breathe through the nose. It’s like, “This is not gonna happen. I have to take it in through the mouth.” But it’s almost like you hit a certain point where somehow things are kinda catching up and then you kinda can go the next little bit and almost get into a little bit of a flow where you are kind of doing the breathing in through the nose and out through the nose and so what’s happening on a pH level? Or what’s happening at that point?
29:33 JN: So Luciano, Dr. Luciano Bernardi did studies into alpine climb, elite climbers and found that you will… If you’re breathing slower and you’re breathing through the nose, especially at altitude, you are getting more oxygen. So part of that is from the pressure, part of that is because it’s slower and it gives your body more time to absorb more oxygen. A lot of that is deeper breathing means lower breathing, guess where most of the blood is in our lungs, it’s in the lower lobes. Guess where most of the gas exchange happens, it’s in our lungs. So also nitric oxide you’re getting more nitric oxide in your nose, which helps in gas exchange and vasodilation too. So that’s been proven, and he has every imaginable table showing the benefits of slower breathing. I think that a lot of us, we have a pretty low CO2 tolerance, and so we’re responding to that as well, but this gets a little technical, but I’ll try to really simplify it. Patrick McKeown, known breathing therapist, been doing this for 20 years, shared with me this chart, which blew me away. He said, “If you’re breathing 20 times a minute, so that means you can only breathe about up here, like high into the chest. If you think about it, think about you’re just bringing in air into your nose, into your throat, into the bronchus, and you’re pushing it back out. So only half that air, if you’re breathing 20 times a minute at an average of six liters, actually makes it into your blood stream.”
31:06 JN: So if you slow that down to 12 breaths a minute, you get about 70% of that air, so huge, huge. And if you slow it down to six breaths a minute, you get 85% of that air makes it through the alveoli, through the alveolar ventilation is what it’s called. And the physics of that makes sense because more gas exchange down here in the lower lungs, if you’re just bringing in air in here and pushing it back out, you are overworking your heart and your, in some ways, mildly asphyxiating yourself, you’re causing yourself to, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. So it’s not easy, but I would suggest anyone, if they question this or want more, check out the work by Luciano Bernardi, who about 20 years ago did some fantastic studies into this.
32:01 DB: In the book, when you’re running with your friend, I’ve run too and I totally could relate to the claustrophobia or the air hunger. Holy cow. How did you overcome that, just by nose breathing?
32:15 JN: I think I overcame it by understanding what was happening in my body. By understanding and seeing so many times on a stationary bike of a gym right near my house, so we went in there every day with pulse oximeters all this stupid stuff to see what would happen if we breathe when we’re pumping it out on a bike, going as hard as, not as hard as we can, but close, entering zone three, zone four, right at the border line of anaerobic respiration, we were looking at our pulse oximetry, looking at our blood sats the whole time. And I switched, so I would, at this level, I would be breathing maybe 30 or 40 times a minute, which is about average when you’re really chugging away, but I switched, we forced ourselves to breathe six times a minute, just these huge cycles of breath, and our oxygen didn’t go down, it went up, by breathing six times a minute, and it was not fun, but what we’re responding to is…
33:17 JN: Is carbon dioxide is your trigger to breathe. It’s not oxygen, it’s when CO2 goes up, that is the trigger for breathing. And this is something I got wrong, that some people are like, “You know, I feel I out of breath, because I don’t have enough oxygen.” It’s carbon dioxide. So anyway, I would… Pulse oximeters are the latest craze, everyone’s got ’em because of COVID. I would highly suggest people do their own experimentation. On a bike, it’s really easy ’cause you’re sitting there stationary and you can watch what happens when you breathe slowly. And more often what I found is my oxygen would go up. It was never going down, but maybe it was at 94, 95, and I recorded it at 96, 97.
34:03 DB: We’re living in this pandemic right now, and you probably obviously finished the majority of the book pre this, has that changed anything or the way you think about anything?
34:13 JN: Yeah, it’s funny, this book came out on May 20… No, June 26th. And I believe it was June… No, it was May 26th, sorry, it’s been a long couple of months. And some people were saying, they’re like, “Oh, good job timing this just right. This thing was in catalogues in September people, [laughter] so we had… The book was done a year ahead of time, because publishing is this is how it works. You finish a book, you wait around a year, it goes in catalogues, they have to print it, all that. So there was no preconceived notions of releasing this during COVID. And it was so absolutely surreal to having worked with these researchers who for decades have been talking about the importance of breathing, respiratory health for immune system function, respiratory health for longevity. [chuckle] And then to have this pandemic come about, which guess what it does, it robs you of the ability to breathe and your body totally shuts down. So we were all looking at each other saying, “This is completely weird,” but it’s shocking to me, completely surprising. We figured now is not a good time to release a book during a pandemic, but we figured the editors, were like, “Let’s get it out there, maybe it’ll help some people during this time.” And so, that’s what happened. Complete spooky coincidence.
35:44 AP: Yeah, like thank you for having the foresight 10 years ago or however long it took for you to put this whole [chuckle] thing together, but we were talking about that even before we got with you, about the journey that you’ve had, and who you’ve talked to, and the researchers who had brought all of this information forward, and then it got forgotten. And then another researcher comes forward and then it gets forgotten again. And so it’s just fascinating that now it’s almost like there’s this divine timing here where maybe, maybe we’ll pay attention to those breath that we take for granted, but if you don’t have it, wake up in the morning and be thankful you’re breathing. It’s kind of surreal.
36:29 JN: I think the difference now is maybe 100 years ago, scientists would pooh-pooh this, ’cause it was really hard to measure healthy breathing, and it was hard to measure what was happening, even though 100 years ago, we found how powerful CO2 was and the oxyhemoglobin dissociation curve, all that was done 100 years ago. At Yale, Yandell Henderson was talking about CO2 100 years ago and saying so much of what I’m saying now, but the differences now is we have machines. A lot of people have these machines in their house, where we can so easily measure how profoundly just a few minutes of breathing can affect our bodies, pulse oximetry’s good, heart rate variability, a lot of people have those on their watches now, blood pressure monitors. These are common instruments, they’re cheap. And if anyone’s skeptical about it, I would just suggest they take their own measurements, and don’t believe the experts in the field who have been studying this for 30 years, [chuckle] you can believe your pulse oximeter or your blood pressure monitor. And then you can start looking at the… The science is absolutely solid, there’s such a solid foundation of it. Why this hasn’t been widely distributed, a lot of people have different ideas on that. Some doctors at top universities have told me, “There’s no money in making this, so what incentive would anyone have to teach people how to do this and to not come and see me every two weeks?”
38:03 JN: And this is not my opinion, to be clear, this is what I… I won’t tell you his name or the institution he’s at, but it’s in the top three in the US. This is what I kept hearing people say over, and over, and over, just like sleep tape, a teeny piece of tape. He’s like, “What advantage would that be to the US economy?” I said, “Well, it’s a big advantage to the people who have been suffering for 30 years and maybe they should be considered in this equation.” So, that’s what I’m hoping that I, as a journalist, I was able just to go into these worlds, talk to these people and sort of catch this wave that I thought was happening. I said, “Are things really changing in this world, in our understanding of dentistry, and our understanding of breathing, nervous system function, or is it just because I’ve been writing about it for so many years?” But… And I could still be a bit myopic, but from what I’ve seen and what I’m hearing from people, it really feels like there’s a big change happening and it’s about time is all I gotta say.
39:07 DB: It was incredibly frustrating, like Angie mentioned, to read all of the pulmonauts who had done all of this research over the past, and I’m talking about the more modern day and contemporary over the past 100, 150 years who had done all of this research only to be dismissed, forgotten, and then the cycle would occur again, and again, and again. It’s so frustrating. And one of the final things that I’d written down on my notes today was like, “How do we ensure this doesn’t happen again?”
39:36 JN: Well, we have different means to disseminate information now, and a lot of those people… I did not look for those people who had that specific story arc, they weren’t the people that I picked out and handpicked in here, but they all had it, and it was driving me… My poor wife had to hear about this, night in, night out. Like Yandel Henderson, this is the guy at Yale who was there for 30 years talking about CO2 and how it can be used. Like, they used to carry CO2 tanks on the back of fire trucks to help people with stroke, help people… It was never disproven, and then just poof, it just went away. The same thing with Carl Stahl, who has worked with emphysemics, and I heard… My father-in-law is a pulmonologist, so a very conservative dude, and I sent him the X-rays, I said, “Well, there’s x-rays, and listen to what all these experts said about… Here’s the data.” And he was like, “Oh my god, why haven’t I heard about this?” I said, “Yeah, why am I the one digging this up?” Shouldn’t a scientist or researcher be doing this? But these patterns, just over and over and over. That’s why I called it The Lost Art. It should be The Lost and Found Art, and hopefully it’s found now.
40:50 AP: Exactly. Well, even how you talked about tribes too, a lot of these ancient cultures and just how they were even teaching little babies from the very beginning to close their mouth and that that would be the secret to a long life. It’s just… To your point, it’s just fascinating how even before we had all the scientific measurement, somehow through our observation and conscious awareness, we knew that these were the tropes, and then now it’s just… Now we have science to back it up, so now it can be validated, maybe more, and we’ll adhere to it, but yeah.
41:28 JN: That’s the exciting thing, is for thousands of years, they were doing empirical studies and then finding that these people were obviously affected by this, which is why they spent the time to write about it in these books and disseminate it throughout their culture. That’s what yoga is. Yoga started with… As a technology of breathing, that’s what it was, but it’s… And a lot of people say, “Well, that was, then this is now. Things have changed.” But that’s why the measurements come in so handy, you can take these things that had been studied empirically and apply modern scientific methods, and what’s scary is so many of them are checking out. No one thought that you could breathe in a way that super heats your body and sit in an ice bath without your core temperature going down and not get frostbite, not get hypothermia, and there it is. Now it’s on video, and there are the measurements, and that study was published in Nature, the most prestigious scientific journal in the world. So… But the more that science gets into this, the more I think we can all help push this thing forward. I wanted to be careful not to point fingers to blame anyone. Science changes, our understanding of medicine is constantly changing, let’s just acknowledge that and take what we know now, and really push it forward.
42:41 DB: The last thing I wanna mention is, we’re not doomed, right? This is reversible, right? The damage we had done to our bodies, we can increase bone density as we age, we can… We didn’t even touch on it, but one of the things you mentioned in the book is the lost art of chewing and how the industrial age totally shifted us from many hours of chewing per day to eating soft foods, and it totally changed our orthodontics, and again, everything has shrunk the size of our breathing capacity, and every one of those effects begets more negative effects. But I just wanna make sure, we can still come out of this, right?
43:21 JN: Well, that was the point of setting the book up like I did. It’s so the beginning is a bit of a bummer train, it’s just like, “Here’s what’s happened in evolution. Here’s what happened in our culture, here’s the result of that, all of these chronic conditions.” But that’s just the very, very beginning. The core of the book, it’s like you first have to acknowledge what these problems are, and to know that so many of them aren’t just hereditary. A lot of people are just like, “Ah, it’s genetic, I’m sick, that’s how it is.” But you can turn genes on and you can turn them off, and you can do this by selecting the environment, the inputs in your environment, and breathing is definitely a powerful input. As is food, as is exercise. No one would say those aren’t important, but breathing needs to be considered along with those.
44:06 JN: But the core of the book was to acknowledge that and say, “Okay, how can we fix this?” Especially for an adult. It’s easier to fix things for a kid because their bones are modeling and they’re developing. As an adult, you’re just like, “Ah, I’m in middle age, what am I gonna do?” But it turns out, we can do a whole lot. We can increase our lung capacity, we can improve our airways. I showed about a 20% increased 15% to 20% increase in my airway by adopting different habits, there’s a CAT Scan a year before and a year after. So, if I can do that, anyone can. And that’s… I would like to think that this is a book of hope. We have the insight now, we have the research showing this stuff is real, and now we have the tools to help improve ourselves through breathing.
44:54 DB: I wanna thank our guest today, Mr. James Nester, for joining us. Angie and I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s fantastic. We’ll put all the information in the show notes. And James, where can listeners find out more information about you at?
45:10 JN: My website, mrjamesnestor.com, that’s an M-R. Some other jerk took James Nestor tag, so I had to go Mr. There. You can put a backslash breath in there and that takes you to the breath portal. There are free videos, there’s a few free Q&A, there are all those scientific references are on there as well. And I’m on social media, I’m trying to get better at it, and I still pretty much suck at it, but Instagram and Facebook, I’ve been posting stuff on that as well.
45:40 DB: Thank you, James.
45:40 AP: Awesome. Thank you.
45:42 JN: Thank you very much.
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