Several weeks ago a colleague suggested Breathe by James Nestor. I had seen the book several times on Amazon and been intrigued, so his recommendation was the final step in prompting me to pick it up.
Breathe is part memoire and part exploration of the history and science of breathing. The book interweaves the author’s personal experience with a survey of the research and practice in the area of breathing.
The basic premise of the book is that the way we breathe matters and that evolutionary pressures and human advancement over the last several thousand years have been making it harder and harder for humans to breathe the right way: slowly, deeply, and through the nose. Further, the author posits that a wide range of ailments are rooted in the way we breathe.
In support of this hypothesis, the author undergoes a variety of breathing exercises and experiments himself and dives into the history and science of breathing.
Is the Book Any Good
I’m not sure what to make of this book. On one hand, James Nestor is a great author. Can you imagine trying to make a book about breathing interesting? Nestor manages to do this. Hear me clearly on this point: the book is interesting and easy to read. On those grounds alone, the book is worth picking up and working your way through.
On the other hand, even after reading and enjoying the book, I am still a bit incredulous about how all-in Nestor has gone on the benefits of specific breathing techniques and practices.
My take is this: How you breathe does matter. Your nose isn’t there just to decorate your face and you should make a concerted effort to breathe through your nose, especially while sleeping. Breathing through your mouth means you ingest junk your nose is designed to filter out, you lose more moisture by mouth breathing than you otherwise would (potentially leading to chronic dehydration), and you lose some of the back-pressure that helps hold air in your lungs giving them more time to transact oxygen for carbon dioxide.
For the vast majority of us, what I just wrote is probably enough and if we all find a way to follow that advice we’ll be happier and healthier.
The more extreme breathing exercises Nestor talks about in the book are interesting to read about, but ultimately aren’t something I’m interested in trying.
My last bit of critique is that Nestor can be a tad melodramatic. There were certainly statements made in the book that were a bit over the top and left me rolling my eyes. These statements aren’t a major detraction as they’re relatively rare, but there were enough of them that I could see them completely turning off skeptical readers.
Should You Read the Book?
For most people, the answer will be a qualified “yes.” It’s an easy and interesting read. So if you’re somewhat interested in the book, yes, you should go for it.
I’d say this is particularly true if you’re generally into health and wellness. I know that I am, and this book has been motivation to shut my mouth and force myself to breathe through my nose more frequently when exercising.
On the other hand, if reading the book’s description on Amazon (or in this short review) leaves you wondering why the hell anyone would write or read an entire book about breathing, then probably skip this one.