“Breath” by James Nestor: Beau 2 Boston Review

10 months ago, after firm, public defiance (“I’m not going to get it”) of the Covid-19 virus, I got it. 

I got it pretty bad.

Fever and chills, and a wheezing cough that would have made my Grandpa proud (big Marlboro guy). That was the personal itinerary for 6 consecutive days. 

It wore me down. 

On day seven, the fever stayed, firmly in park, and the cough remained, just as aggravating. I was irritated, fatigued, and frankly, a little scared. Then, as mothers tend to do, Nancy called. In a surprising yet refreshing change of pace, she challenged me. Looking back, it has become one of the more influential, cataclysmic conversations of my adult life.

Beau, you have Covid-19, right?

Yes, mom.

It is a respiratory virus, correct?

Yes, why are you asking me questions you kn—

You always try that self-improvement shit, correct?

(I sit-up, first athletic movement made in past calendar week)

Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t call what I do or read self-improvement sh—

Good, so why don’t you do that now!? Why don’t you look up some breathing exercises and ways to strengthen your lungs, that will definitely help you and your compromised immune system, wont it?

(Unclenched the blanket I was white-knuckling)

Yeah. Yeah I guess you’re right. I’ve just been tir—

Ok great! Well I was at Costco and I saw a book called “Breath”, you should read that! 

Oh. Oh yeah, I have heard about that book actu—

Are you still hanging you with Sunnie? It’s weird that you are 30 and single. Love you, feel better!

(end conversation)

The conversation was “cataclysmic” solely because it is what prompted me to read “Breath”. “Breath” is the game-changer, the book that changed how I breathe and live; Nancy was a necessary pawn.

But still, I’m grateful. 

She did force me from stupor, my ill-reverie, and she did plant the seed of reading “Breath”, with the aim that it would lead me to the strengthening my respiratory capacity. I’m not sure where the nudge came from—divine intervention, or one of her spontaneous Oprah deep-dives—but I am so glad it did. Aside from the works of JK Rowling, no book(s) has impacted my life in the way “Breath” did (insert hand-to-prayer emoji here), or done more for my running and fitness. 

I’m excited to share with you why:

“Breath” by James Nestor: my takeaways

  • Close your mouth:
    • Breathing in through your nose, and then out, will change your life. It is the simplest, most accessible change we can make to positively impact our health; our overall, whole-body health. You should never be breathing through your mouth unless you are practicing specific breathwork exercises that require inhalation/exhalation via the cram-hole, or you are in an anerobic state and feel like you aren’t able to take in enough air. Eventually, though, you can get to the point where nasal-nasal is possible during high level exertion, even the most intense cardio—it (nasal breathing) is why I feel confident about running a sub three-hour marathon.
    • Mouth breathing directly correlates with increased levels of fatigue and compromised immunity. You were correct as a child to make fun of the “mouth breathers”, and you should encourage your children now to do the same (joking, but not really). Over 50 percent of Americans are chronic mouth-breathers. This is a huge, fixable problem, that really isn’t confusing. In essence, your nose is equipped with filters for your breath. When you breath in through your nose, the cleanest and most maximal amount of oxygen is taken in. It doesn’t feel like it, not initially anyways, but you are actually taking in much more oxygen via the nose. And, as noted, the air is cleaner, as the filters (unscientific, crude label) within catch and process anything other than oxygen, i.e. bacteria and gases. Mouth breathers are fatigued because their body is running on less oxygen, requiring all other systems in your body to work harder, especially your heart and lungs. And they have weakened immune systems because the immune system itself, specifically the endocrine system, is operating in a compromised state (less oxygen). Author James Nestor conducted tests, on himself, comparing his vital health markers during extended periods of mouth breathing vs nasal breathing. The results, and his health, landed on complete opposites ends of the “health” spectrum.
    • Nasal breathing is for performance! Since switching completely to nasal-nasal, my heart rate has dropped dramatically, both at rest and during exertion. For example, when I am running and my heart rates is churning at a more efficient 145 beats per minute clip, versus the 165 average it used to (during my longer runs and races), I am using a significant less amount of energy. I am more efficient, and my body will use that extra energy for fuel. I noticed this effect directly during my last marathon, using nasal breathing to keep my heart rate lower, tapping into reserves of energy and avoiding severe fatigue.
      • This takes time and patience, being able to exercise in a nasal-nasal capacity. It is something you have to build up to, mile by mile or interval by interval.
  • Breath Less
    • In a one-minute period, if you were operating at your healthiest, most efficient state, you would inhale and exhale 5 times each. 5 plus 5, carry the one, equals 10. 10 breaths (10 to 12) is us in our best state. Unfortunately, as I’m hoping this mathematical set-up lead you to guess, we breathe a lot more than we should. 
    • When you breath less, your levels of carbon dioxide go up. Running counter to basic assumption, higher levels of carbon dioxide is a good thing. Oxygen goes where carbon dioxide goes, enabling greater oxygen absorption and balance throughout the body. That’s my take on the science, anyways. I think it’s right. I appreciate your trust.
    • More breathing—faster breathing—lead to increased levels of stressor hormones. The quickest way to put your body into a stressor state is to breath quickly, and in a shallow form. Breathing less, and slower, relaxes the body.
      • Before bed, or in moments when I want to calm myself and enter into a more tranquil, recovery-state, I focus on longer exhalations. Longer exhalations, in slow, diaphragmatic movement, activate the parasympathetic portion of your nervous system. Breathe like this to activate the healing processes of your body.
  • Train Your Lungs
    • Think of your lungs as something you can train, and strengthen. Do that, because it’s true, you can.
    • As Nancy urged me to research, there are ways we can impact our health through concentration on the lungs and our breath. Every day, because of this book, I do the following:
      • Open diaphragm breathing:
        • Laying on a foam roller, with it running down my spine, and my arms out wide, I breath fully and deeply. I use my diaphragm to push air down into my belly, breathing it back out in the same concerted form. This is a way to stretch and strengthen all respiratory muscles, combatting poor posture and rounded, shallow breathing patterns that I have developed over time.
      • 10 breath meditation:
        • For a ten-minute timed meditation (real aggressive bell gongs at end of 10 minute, to make me feel legit and to let my neighbors know I set the terms of floor 3) I breath in and out for counts of 6. 6 seconds in, 6 seconds out. That equals 5 breath cycles in a minute. I have found that my body responds so well to this controlled therapy, and it registers as a natural form of relaxation.
      • Long exhalations before bed:
        • If the “long exhalations before bed” bullet was confusing or ambiguous, basically, before bed, I exhale longer than I inhale. I hope that clears things up.

***I also taped close my mouth before/during bed so I was forced to breath only through my nose. My respiratory rate lowered, as did my heart rate. My girlfriend thought I was a serial killer.

It’s rare that I find a book that impacted me on so many levels, giving me so much to take away and tangibly apply to my life. Again, I think I’d have to circle back to the works of Harry and his marauding pals to find anything that so profoundly influenced me.

As I move forward with these posts and reviews—of this blog—I want to be careful not to encroach upon the “look at me and all the cool ish I am doing for my health” territory.

Very careful.

But, there are several different resources I have come across, leading to implementations in my life, that kinda wanna make me say “hey, look at me and all the cool ish I am doing for my health!” 

“Breath” is undoubtedly one of those resources.

I began this post/review with visit to a past personal state—me, sick, 10 months ago—to illuminate a progression. With zero embellishment, which is very hard for me to do, I’ve revitalized my health and immune system since then in a way that makes me confident telling Nancy that I, an adult, do not have health insurance…

I don’t actually advocate that—riding dirty on health insurance—but I do feel that now, after reading this book and applying key practices and breathing protocols, I truly am my greatest medicine and I’m in tune with my greatest healing powers. That connection was made because of my breath.

For anyone looking to better understand real health and anyone wanting to improve their health, I cannot recommend a book any more passionately than I am able to with this book. 

Review: 10/10

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