Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out…While breathing is instinctual, breathing well is a conscious act. So says science writer James Nestor who, in his illuminating book, Breath (Riverhead Books, 2020) compiles some of the science and complexities of breathing. Breath is filled with thoughts and techniques, as well as product and service recommendations that can help you become a healthier breather.
Here are a few of Nestor’s hallmarks to breathing well:
- Breathe in through your nose. Taking breaths in through your nose allows more air to fill your lungs. If you have trouble breathing through the nose, it’s important to get that examined. I love standing among oxygen-giving plants and taking a deep breath through the nose.
- Exhale fully and deeply. Exhale through your mouth to get the stale air out of your lungs, allowing you to take in more air through your nose.
- Breathe slowly and less often. In medicine, a typical breathing rate is 12-16 breaths a minute. That is much too fast and shallow. It is healthy to pause between breaths. Practice taking just four breaths in one minute, spending 15 seconds on each breath cycle. Holding your breath is also a good exercise when followed by deep breathing.
- Fast breathing as part of vigorous exercise is also healthy if the breaths are deep and through the nose.
- Chew to develop the jaw and open the airway. Unfortunately, modern babies do not chew as much as we did when our species were hunter-gatherers. Our jaws are often undeveloped which can crowd the wisdom teeth and lead to snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. It is never too late to start chewing more to help develop the jaw and further open your airway for breathing.
In the book, Nestor introduces us to Anders Olsson of Norway, the founder of Conscious Breathing (www.consciousbreathing.com), and his stories are very entertaining. The book also opens our eyes to the history of breathing well as described in this excerpt reiterating a Zhou Dynasty stone inscription from 500 BCE:
In transporting the breath, the inhalation must be full. When it is full, it has big capacity. When it has big capacity, it can be extended. When it is extended, it can penetrate downward. When it penetrates downward, it will become calmly settled. When it is calmly settled, it will be strong and firm. When it is strong and firm, it will germinate. When it germinates, it will grow. When it grows, it will retreat upward. When it retreats upward, it will reach the top of the head. The secret power of Providence moves above. The secret power of the Earth moves below.
He who follows this will live. He who acts against this will die.
Dr. Scherger is founder of Restore Health in Indian Wells, a clinic dedicated to weight loss and reversing disease. For more information, visit www.restorehealth.me or call (760) 898.9663.