“When we breathe, we expand our life force.” – James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
I finished James Nestor’s book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art in quick order. Its unnerving when someone highlights something you’ve largely done unconsciously but inefficiently for most of your life and tells you why it’s essential that you change. This is one if those books that will be transformative to the open reader. I found it an informative, quick read. But for those looking for the Cliff notes version, here you go: Get in the habit of inhaling much more through your nose and exhale through your mouth, and then focus on optimizing the timing of your breathing:
“The perfect breath is this: Breathe in for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds. That’s 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 liters of air.”
Of course, there’s so much more to the book, starting with the science behind breathing, the impact of soft foods on the modern human’s ability to breath properly, the importance of carbon dioxide in the body, and the incredible possibility in what the human body is capable of through controlled breathing. A worthy investment in time that will make you think about how you do something that’s largely an unconscious and automatic function.
Regarding carbon dioxide, I’ve always thought of it as a waste product and that less of it would be better for the overall health of our bodies. Nestor turns that belief on its head:
“When we breathe too much, we expel too much carbon dioxide, and our blood pH rises to become more alkaline; when we breathe slower and hold in more carbon dioxide, pH lowers and blood becomes more acidic. Almost all cellular functions in the body take place at a blood pH of 7.4, our sweet spot between alkaline and acid.”
And consider the compounding impact of softer foods on the overall health of generations of humans:
“The more we gnaw, the more stem cells release, the more bone density and growth we’ll trigger, the younger we’ll look and the better we’ll breathe.”
Chapter 10, Fast, Slow And Not At All is the one that resonated most for me. For if everything in the universe is made up of matter, what does it mean for something to be “alive”? Nestor offers insight here as well:
“Everything around us is composed of molecules, which are composed of atoms, which are composed of subatomic bits called protons (which have a positive charge), neutrons (no charge), and electrons (negative charge). All matter is, at its most basic level, energy.”
“What distinguishes inanimate objects like rocks from birds and bees and leaves is the level of energy, or the “excitability” of electrons within those atoms that make up the molecules in matter. The more easily and often electrons can be transferred between molecules, the more “desaturated” matter becomes, the more alive it is.”
“The best way to keep tissues in the body healthy was to mimic the reactions that evolved in early aerobic life on Earth—specifically, to flood our bodies with a constant presence of that “strong electron acceptor”: oxygen. Breathing slow, less, and through the nose balances the levels of respiratory gases in the body and sends the maximum amount of oxygen to the maximum amount of tissues so that our cells have the maximum amount of electron reactivity.”
Optimizing our overall health and vibrancy through measured, considered breathwork isn’t new, but we seem to have forgotten many of the lessons. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art was an eye-opener, prompting me to think about how I’m breathing and what I’m chewing on, to be more concerned about waking up with a dry mouth, to consider a pallet expander for the first time since I was a teenager and counting to 5 1/2 as I inhale through my nose and again as I exhale through my mouth. Perhaps a small step towards a greater life force? One can hope.